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Marcin Pieńkowski: Festivals are not just about showing movies

26/05/20
Marcin Pieńkowski, phot. Anna Jochymek
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cineuropa.org (Marta Bałaga): We talked to the artistic director of Poland’s New Horizons International Film Festival, Marcin Pieńkowski, about the gathering’s new November dates – and his kids’ love of Asterix

Postponed due to the pandemic, the 20th edition of the  New Horizons International Film Festival will now take place in November, alongside its sister event, the  American Film Festival. But before that happens, it is inviting its audience to its house party, set to take place on 23 May. We spoke to artistic director  Marcin Pieńkowski to find out more about this year’s developments.

The 20th edition of the festival will take place from 5-15 November.

Cineuropa: You have moved this year’s edition to November, which will surely mean quite a departure for an event considered as a “summer festival”?

Marcin Pieńkowski: We had no choice. This year’s edition needs to happen due to the various subsidies we have received. Also, there are over 50 people working for the New Horizons Association – we have a responsibility towards our employees, but also towards the viewers and artists. Poland’s autumn cultural calendar is already getting busy, so the combination of these two festivals seemed like a good idea, even though they have a slightly different audience.

In some ways, this year is already lost. We can’t delude ourselves that we will have a normal festival. Now, more than ever, everyone needs to take these established routines and put them aside in some drawer. It’s like talking to my children. They ask, “Dad, when will they show Asterix?” “Tomorrow.” “But I would like to see it now.” Some things you just need to accept. Instead of thinking about it as a “summer event”, let’s just enjoy any little signs of normality, like going out and having a coffee. Luckily, we have a loyal audience, and we were flooded with positive reactions. We really want to have a “physical” festival, even if it means a limited number of viewers or showing some films in other cities.

What do you think about the concept of online festivals, given that it’s not what you chose to do this time?
Festivals are not just about showing movies – we know that. It’s about a certain atmosphere, observing mutual reactions. I respect such festivals as CPH:DOX or Vilnius, which were forced to go online straight away. Perhaps it can mobilise other events to have a spare wheel in their trunk in the form of a VoD platform. Because, as it turns out, you never know! But nothing can replace a physical festival. I don’t know how long it will take, but everything will eventually return to normal. Cannes will always be Cannes and Real Madrid will always be Real Madrid – one or two difficult years won’t change that. In the case of New Horizons, I would rather not compare it to Polish football clubs, though.

Still, you will have to experiment, as all of the industry events, including Polish Days, will be held in the summer (27-29 July). What are your plans?
Everything will be online. This year’s edition of New Horizons will be for local viewers, let’s not kid ourselves – not many international guests will be able to come, maybe none at all. But our industry needs a proper kick, as they are all dormant right now. The idea is to help smaller films, some of which were supposed to screen at cancelled festivals, and the Polish Days formula will stay as close as possible to what it was before.

I think we are finally moving from the “cancel and postpone” stage to “adjust”. You won’t do certain things this year, and the sooner you understand that, the better. The worst are the panicked decisions, like DAU [+]’s Ilya Khrzhanovsky uploading films to his platform to stream for €3. They can really harm movies. That and giving away content for free, which drives me crazy. Unless it’s for charity, it’s the worst thing we can do – it’s harakiri. Because once the cinemas open, people will still prefer to watch films online or in a pub that doesn’t pay for the licence. It was cool that during the quarantine, our viewers were streaming our films legally, and maybe it’s good that sometimes we need to learn how to get close to them again. But our main task should be about convincing people to return to the cinema, and VoD should be viewed as a plan B, not a priority.

How do you decide which online initiatives to pursue, like the upcoming “house party”? How do you avoid making your audience go: “Not another webinar…”
These fashions are changing. At first, we were encouraging people to #stayhome, explaining which of our films could be watched online. Later, there were, yes, webinars, so we did one with [director of the festival] Roman Gutek to show that we were still here. And now? Now it’s time for something new. For our house party, we asked the whole team to choose a song and record some videos. We want to connect – break the fourth wall, turn to the camera and wink. So yesterday, I finally had my hair cut and dressed up as Marty McFly from Back to the Future, and I want to tell our audience on Saturday that I came back from the future, where I saw full cinemas and people without masks. I chose “The Power of Love”, too. Just to stay optimistic.

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