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It is going to be a rebellious edition [an interview with Marcin Pieńkowski]

Kuba Armata
The Program of the 8th American Film Festival Has Been Announced!

The audience and atmosphere of our festival are very much appreciated by the filmmakers. The fact that  in the middle of summer, people take time off work to come and face difficult, demanding movies is probably the biggest reward that we could dream of – says Marcin Pieńkowski, the artistic director of the international film festival T-Mobile New Horizons.

Kuba Armata: This is your first edition of the festival as an art director. Has that changed your perception of New Horizons in any way?

Marcin Pieńkowski: I have been participating in New Horizons from the beginning, at first as a spectator, but I have always been aware of its meaning. The fact that I started to promote the festival was accidental and resulted from expediency rather than from the calling. This job required clear rules. You sell the product even if it is an important cultural event such as New Horizons. When I called some journalists, it usually was a pleasant conversation as they knew what it is all about. Now I am going back to my roots, to the thing that I love, as above all else I am a film expert and a cinema historian. The new role at the festival is my youthful dream come true. I have always wanted to be a programmer but becomingan art director of a festival such as T-Mobile New Horizons did not even cross my mind. This is a kind of the offer that comes just once in a lifetime.

What has changed then?

I am more aware of how this whole logistic and business machine looks from the backstage. Unfortunately programming a festival does not look like going to the shop and picking whatever you want. To get a film that you want, you have to work really hard. Now I can see how many relations controlling the market there are. I was aware of their existence but I did not realize that there are so many hidden catches of which a spectator has no idea.

What do you feel just before the beginning of the festival? Excitement, joy, stress? Responsibility , especially in the context of an event which a big amount of people has been raised on, must be pretty huge.

I am confident of my taste in films. I also feel that never before in my life have I faced such a challenge. I feel a lot of stress because the responsibility is indeed great. If I said that I am calm and cool I would be a hypocrite. I see how the tickets and passes sale is going so I know that the turnout is going to be good. But that is not all. The main thing is that people leaving Wroclaw can say that a lot of films made them interested, angry, provoked so they will remember them for long. I do realize that a lot of changes or risky decisions are my responsibilities and are on me.

The biggest change is probably resigning from other competition and giving more attention to the most important one- New Horizons International Competition. Where did that come from?

We are not giving up those sections, only their formula is changing. When we met Roman Gutek for the first time thinking of this year’s edition, he was convincing us that such a big amount of competitions make the prizes less prestigious. We also wanted to favour our main competition as the most important section of the festival. We intend to make it a platform of important, radical and non obvious cinema again. We want the spectators to watch those films and I think it is going to happen this year. Some time ago this competition gained a reputation suggesting that the films shown there are only the ultra difficult and experimental ones. Of course there is room for this kind of films but not only for them. Once there were names such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul or Bruno Dumont in the competition when hardly anybody in our country recognised them. Back then the competition played a completely different role.

Is it harder now to find new horizons?

Definitely it is. The festival started in 2001, we showed films by Kiarostami, Reygaas, Sokurow, which could not be seen anywhere else. It is enough to look at how many distributors operated those days and how many do now. Distribution of the art-house films used to be sygnificantly smaller. Nowadays the situation is completely different. We have a large group of the festival participants here who have been with us since the first edition which makes them very demanding. They have already devoured so many films, including the difficult ones, that it is not easy to satisfy their taste. Especially that it is really hard these days to find a good slow cinema,  the example of which is the competition in Rotterdam. Cinema is changing and it is not easy to find new notable names.

What is this year’s competition going to be like then?

I think it is going to be diverse. There is room in it to mention slow cinema as well as a total experiment. We also have classical cinema but made in Yiddish which makes it a fragment of a completely different world, something fresh, for me it is the new horizons. Some may have doubts about the presence of a film  ‘Birds Are Singing in Kigali’by Joanna Kos- Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze but in my opinion it is one of the most daring and uncompromising Polish films in recent years. We are constantly searching using our intuition.

We are searching for the new horizons hidden if a form, subject, artist’s courage to go upstream or even controversy.

In the competition there are as many as three Polish films. Along with ‘Birds Are Singing in Kigali’- ‘A Heart of Love’ by Łukasz Ronduda and ‘Photon’ by Normana Leto.

I am very curious especially about the reception of Normana Leto’s film. As it is a bit in the shadow of the remaining two which have already been shown at big festivals abroad. ‘Photon’ is the most experimental of them, it is an interesting meeting of science and cinema. I believe that the audience like watching Polish films, people are curious about our native productions. I am happy they are daring and bold. The fact that we have as many as three films in the competition is significant. It means that something is happening. ‘A Heart of Love’ was a big surprise for me. It does not fall into a trap of biographizm but at the same time penetrates the world of the characters in a fantastic way. Łukasz Ronduda is an interesting figure, as not everybody from the circle of art is able to enter the world of the films and feel it in such a way. ‘Birds Are Singing in Kigali’ on the other hand I consider to be one of the most important Polish films about mourning and dealing with death. This film is absolutely penetrating, acute. Cool, consistent, well-acted, daring and uncompromising.

We are talking here about the competition but Cinema of Resistance is also widely talked about.

I remember when we started discussing it with Małgosia Sadowska who is a curator of the section. This idea has been slowly sprouting in my head since a book ‘Filmowe oblicza kontestacji’ (‘Cinematical faces of contestation’) by Konrad Klejsa was published. I have always enjoyed countercultural cinema I have liked the way it responds to economic and military crises or to terrorism. As a result I was thinking more about the counterculture Małgosia, however, about the resistance. We were aware of what is going on around the world and we really wanted the section to correspond to that. While attending numerous festivals we noticed that those films are the area of interest not only for documentalists but also for filmmakers such as Aki Kaurismäki, Kornél Mundruczó, Michael Haneke or Fatih Akin. It is really fascinating on the one hand but on the other a little frightening that we managed to present a certain phenomenon. In general it is going to be a rebellious edition. A scream of protest spreads all over the festival. Mohsen Makhmalbaf will be our guest. He will show a film which was left on a shelf for 26 years due to censorship. Mohammad Rasoulof, Šarūnas Bartas and Kornél Mundruczó will also join us. This is the edition of rebels, outsiders and the rejected ones. One of the sections is devoted to the cinema of Israel which is also very turbulent.

Is this cinematography a discovery for you? You are presenting a film by the master Rama Burshtein, next to ‘Bar Bahar’ a brilliant debut by Maysaloun Hamoud.

We have an ongoing tradition that every year we take a closer look at one national cinematography. The idea of Israel appeared very early and was obvious for all of us. Anyway, there were a few films from this country at the festival last year. There is a lot going on there and Israeli cinema is growing strong. They have a lot of very interesting debuts, especially those made by women. It is hard to find another cinematography or country which would be in the full sense of the word so multidimensional. Israel is a pulsating place.

It is obvious that the spectators will come in crowds to see the new film by Haneke, Zwiagincew, Östlund. But are there many more inconspicuous films which turn out to be very special such as ‘Bar Bahar’ at this year’s festival?

Finding such films is the greatest pleasure. Creating a festival full of hits and certs only, is not a rocket science. It is much more difficult to collect titles such as ‘Closeness’ by Kantremir Balagov or ‘Western’ by Valeska Grisebach. From Rotterdam we brought a modest but very interesting Croatian film ‘A Brief Excursion’by Igor Bezinovic. For me a great discovery was ‘A Ghost Story’ by David Lowery. I saw it at Sundance Film Festival, not so long ago it had its European opening night in Karlowe Wary. It is very newhorizontal cinema despite Rooney Mara and Cassey Affleck starring in it. I am happy we can show such films during the festival. I do not worry about the masters, they will stand up for themselves.

A set of Midnight Madness looks very interesting this year. It includes, in my opinion, one of the best last year’s debuts ’Hounds of Love’ by Ben Young.

A fantastic, exceptionally stylish film. Also this section was important for me to be diverse. There is ‘Free Fire’ by Ben Wheatley in other words a great fun with cinema. A true Midnight Madness is ‘Kuso” by Flying Lotus. I am very curious of how it is going to be received. We also have a new film by our good friend Amat Escalante and I know that the audience cannot wait to see it.

You attend a lot of big international festivals. How is T-Mobile New Horizons perceived abroad?

Very favorably, the festival became known as a place with a strong, bold program. It is really nice that people recognize us and there is no need to introduce the event. A lot is also said about our venue which is New Horizons Cinema. About full rooms during the most demanding films. Young filmmakers want to come to us and those more experienced want to come back to Wroclaw. I remember when a well-known Canadian director Denis Côté contacted me himself asking if we were interested in his new film. The audience and atmosphere of our festival are very much appreciated by the filmmakers. The fact that  in the middle of summer, people take time off work to come and face difficult, demanding movies is probably the biggest reward that we could dream of.

By Kuba Armata

Kuba Armata

Dziennikarz filmowy. Pisze m.in. dla "Kina”, "Magazynu Filmowego” i Wirtualnej Polski. Autor ponad dwustu rozmów z ludźmi kina m.in. z Davidem Lynchem, Darrenem Aronofskym czy Xavierem Dolanem. Członek Międzynarodowej Federacji Krytyków Filmowych Fipresci.

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