FFY3: Film Festivals and East Asia

January 8, 2011 at 11:52 am

I am pleased to announce the publication of our new volume from the Film Festival Yearbook undertaking, the third one in a row. Co-edited by myself and Ruby Cheung, this one is dedicated to Film Festivals and East Asia and is available to order from our web-site; it is also possible to order it in combination with our previous volumes, Film Festivals and Imagined Communities and The Film Festival Circuit, at a special price. Working on this volume was extremely engaging and exciting. The collaborators were based all over the world, as usual, and we managed to gain insights into a little known but thriving area for film festivals.

The table of contents features:

FILM FESTIVALS AND EAST ASIA

East Asia: ‘New Localism’, ‘Full Service’ and Film Festivals
Dina Iordanova

Part I: Contexts

Asian Film Festivals, Translation, and the European Film Festival Short Circuit
Abé Mark Nornes

East Asian Film Festivals: Film Markets
Ruby Cheung

Japan 1951-1970: National Cinema as Cultural Currency
Julian Stringer

News for Whom?: Critical Coverage of the 10th Jeonju International Film Festival
Adrian Martin

Washington, Pusan, Rotterdam, Udine and Back: Programming East Asian Films for American Audiences
Tom Vick

Comrades and Citizens: Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals in China
Ragan Rhyne

Part II: Case Studies

Bulldozers, Bibles, and Very Sharp Knives: The Chinese Independent Documentary Scene
Abé Mark Nornes

Programming Southeast Asia at the Singapore International Film Festival
Felicia Chan and Dave Chua

Taipei Film Festival: Creation of a Global City
Yun-hua Chen

Tourism and the Landscape of Thai Film Festivals
Adam Knee and Kong Rithdee

North Korea’s Pyongyang International Film Festival
James Bell

Between Europe and Asia? A Chronicle of the ‘Eurasia’ International Film Festival (Kazakhstan)
Birgit Beumers

Part III: Resources

The Resources: Necessary Groundwork
Dina Iordanova

Interviews
1. ‘I believe in “film as art”’An Interview with Li Cheuk-to, Artistic Director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF)
Ruby Cheung
2. A Platform to the World: An Interview with Kim Ji-seok, Executive Programmer of the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF)
Seunghee Lee
3. ‘It’s very simple. We like to give the audience the chance to see good films’ An Interview with Hayashi Kanako and Ichiyama Shozo of Tokyo FILMeX
Chris Fujiwara
4. Do Vodka and Sake Really Mix? An Interview with Natalia Shakhnazarova, Executve Director of Pacific Meridian: Vladivostok International Film Festival of Asian Pacific Countries
Alex Fischer

Tables
Location Map (Alex Fischer)
Table 1: The Asia-Pacific Film Festival (1954- ) (Sangjoon Lee)
Table 2: East Asian Festivals by Decade (Ruby Cheung and Alex Fischer)
Table 3: Festivals Featuring Significant East Asian Cinema Content (Andrew Dorman and Alex Fischer)
Table 4: Film Festivals in Mainland China (Ma Ran)
Table 5: Film Festivals in Hong Kong (Ma Ran)
Table 6: Film Festivals in Taiwan (Yun-hua Chen)
Table 7: Film Festivals in Japan (Alex Marlow-Mann)
Table 8: Film Festivals in South Korea (Yun Mi Hwang)
Table 9: Film Festivals in Singapore (Dave Chua)
Table 10: Film Festivals in Central Asia and the Asian Part of the former USSR (Birgit Beumers)
Table 11: Documentary Festivals in Asia (Abé Mark Nornes)
Table 12: GLBT Festivals in Asia (Ragan Rhyne)
Table 13: Monetary Value of Awards at Top Festivals in East Asia (Alex Fischer)

Bibliography: Film Festivals and East Asia (Alex Fischer)

What is New in Film Festivals Studies Thematic Bibliography on Film Festival Research: Update 2010
Marijke de Valck and Skadi Loist

Isaac Passy (1928-2010)

August 19, 2010 at 5:16 am

A few days ago, early in the morning, my mother called from her summer house in a Bulgarin village a to tell me that my one time professor, the venerable Isaac Passy, had passed away the previous day. He had been born on a Friday, the 13th, back in 1928, and it was again on a Friday, 13th that he had passed away. His life spanned over 82 years. Born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second city, in 1928, he came from a family of Sephardic Jews and was one of those Jewish Bulgarian intellectuals who opted to stay in Bulgaria rather than emigrate to Israel, even though they had the chance to do so. Had he emigrated, Passy would have been much better known today in international academic circles. However, for whatever reason, he chose to stay on and worked most of his life as Professor of Aesthetics at the University of Sofia. People like me undoubtedly benefited enormously from his presence on the faculty as he largely set the tone for our academic futures.

He was Chair of the Aesthetic section but I understand he resigned from the University in 1993 in order to protest the blanket lustration measures taken against all those who had previously been members of the Communist party. As a principled man, he thought that the approach was inconsiderate and rude.

At the time when I arrived as a freshman in  Philosophy at Kliment Okhridsky University (my B.A. studies spanned over the normal course of five years, 1978-1983), he must have been 50 years old. To the students, Isaac Passy always looked the same, precisely the same as in the picture above: always wearing a turtleneck sweater, glassess, a reddish beard, his red hair brushed to the back. This ‘informal uniform’ of Passy encoded an intended message of non-conformity: most of the other professors wore nondescript suit and ties. Attending his lectures in the large 63rd auditorium of the University had some ceremonial nature to it and made everyone feel special. We all sat there quietly in anticipation of his arrival; he would be always punctual to the second, would speak slowly (reading from notes, of I remember correctly), disbursing of aesthetic wisdom with controlled elegance. There was little improvisation, everything was professionally rehearsed and his presentation style, which I would judge as somewhat stiff today, nonetheless relied on impeccable delivery carried out to highest standard. He spoke in official tone, slowly, occasionally interjecting measured jokes that were delivered in an accessible way, and were always of a kind memorable enough as to ensure they would be repeated by members of the audience later on. He knew how to control our admiration all the time.

Whatever he did, Isaac Passy was one of these academics who knew how to create incessant esteem. He managed to maintain the high level of appreciation to whatever he would be engaged with steady over the years. Everything that he put out was immediately celebrated as a great contribution to aesthetic scholarship (not a small achievement for a country where the cultural sphere is markedly skeptical and nihilistic to any intellectual achievement). There was, of course, quite a bit of posing and showing off in all this. But it was all for the purposes of building respect to intellectual inquiry and lofty ethical principles. Thus, it is all natural that the tone of perpetual admiration that accompanied this man’s life would not recede after his death. The obituaries compete in bestowing praise, and speak of him as a ‘brilliant’ philosopher whose ‘works blazed pioneer paths’.

Trying to assess Passy’s work objectively, one should say that he was producing regularly lucid and elegant writing, even if on subject matters that appeared quite traditionalist, preoccupied with explorations of classical thinkers mostly in the area of aesthetic (and, like in the case of Nikolay Berdyaev, spirituality). His works included treatises on “The Tragic” (1963), “The Comic” (1972), “The Aesthetics of Kant” (1976), “German Classical Aesthetics” (1982), “The Metaphor” (1983), “Friedrich Nietzsche” (1996), “Arthur Schopenhauer” (1998), “Contemporary Spanish Philosophy” (1999), “Russian Thinkers” (2000), and so on. For a more detailed listing, see the Wikipedia entry on Passy, which contains a reliable account on his published work. His most original writing, in my view, was to be found in the studies that he produced in the 1980s in order to resurrect somewhat forgotten Spanish philosophers like Jose Ortega-y-Gasset or Miguel Unamuno (Passy was a polyglot and in command of Russian, French and German; in this case, however, he was clearly benefiting of his fluency of Ladino, a variant of Spanish which is spoken by Sephardic Jews in Bulgaria, and which was also the maternal tongue of writers like Elias Kanetti). As Head of his department, he was not dictatorial and was not trying to impose his own view of things — he was letting others work on the material and in the manner they wanted. It created a good creative atmosphere that allowed younger people develop in the way they felt it was right for them.

After the end of communism and well into his 17 year long period of retirement, Isaac Passy did not retire. He maintained an active programme of publication in Bulgarian media over all these years; it was great to see him persevere in placing his sober intellectual texts in a variety of newspapers that had in the meantime gone down in the world and now bordered on vulgarity and profanity for the most part of their content. Evidently, Passy had belief in the intellectual capacity of the nation even during periods of intellectual impoverishment and decline. He was one of the people who would persistently water in a place in hope to see green sprouts come out some day.

I had not seen Passy in person for a number of years. During a visit to Sofia last year I called him on the phone and talked to him briefly, for about ten-fifteen minutes. One felt I was talking to an old man, who reacted slowly and kept the conversation to basics. I am not sure he recognised me, yet he was polite and encouraging in response to the brief report I gave him on the phone about my own career advancements. It was yet another encounter when I was reminded of the benevolent paternalism that permeated all interactions with Bulgarian academics. Passy was the best of them all, but inevitably they were all behaving as well-wishing mentors who were making a conscious effort to encourage women like me to persevere in intellectual endeavors (not that they really believed it was possible or desirable for us to do so). Back at the time I worked on my PhD (1983-1986) there was much less informal talking to the professors than there is now. I cannot recall ever receiving very detailed feedback from him, nor do I remember sitting in lengthy meetings, let alone being taken out for coffee or lunch (as I regularly do now with my PhD students). We would always meet in his office, the exchange was stiff and official. Professors back then did not befriend students, the distance was kept. Thus, the respect was bigger. Ultimately, it was a good experience, and I am forever grateful for Professor Passy’s unswerving support to my work.

Having worked in the context of North American and British academia for nearly two decades now, I have had many opportunities to appreciate the high quality of the education that we received in the context of my studies at the Philosophy department of Sofia University. With the exception of modern day philosophy (which was taught to us as a discipline called ‘critique of contemporary bourgeois thought’), we received a really excellent grounding in theory, studying the philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome in detail, as well as engaging in extensive studies of continental philosophy and German classical philosophy in particular. My own doctoral thesis, on Schleiermacher and the Iena Romantics, was inspired by work that was going on at the time within the department, linked to scholars such as Ivan Stefanov and Iskra Tsoneva, and, most of all, by the collaboration with a friend fellow-student, Kalin Yanakiev, who went on to become a well-known academic intellectual and is now a Professor of cultural studies at the same University. Still, it was Isaac Passy, in his capacity of Head of Aesthetics, that made it all possible for us. It was his encouragement and his guidance that kept me going. Many of the choices I made for myself back in those years were influenced by remarks that he would have uttered somehow fleetingly but that would stick in my mind.

Isaac Passy was married to a beautiful white-haired woman who, if I remember correctly, was a scientist. His son, Moni (Solomon) Passy, was a friend from my high school and student years. He was a few years older and studying for a PhD in mathematical logic, a degree he obtained at some point in the 1980s. Later on, when many of us emigrated, Moni stayed in Bulgaria and got involved in politics. At one point he even served as a foreign minister, a suitable job for him as he always had a penchant to flamboyancy and liked to be in the limelight. There was also a daughter, Sophia (Lyocheto), who I believe lives in emigration somewhere in the States.

Dina Iordanova

19 August 2010

Tadjik Baimurat Allaberiyev (37) sings Jimmy Adja

May 3, 2010 at 11:09 pm

The song is from the popular Indian film Disco Dancer (1983), a response of sorts to Saturday Night Fever; the original clip from the film can also be seen on YouTube. A Tadjik citizen of Uzbek origin, Baimurat is a guest worker in Russia, where, in 2008, he became a local viral sensation that has been compared to the Susan Boyle phenomenon in the UK. Born near the Afghan border and having worked as a cotton picker, he now works in a storeroom in a shopping centre in Kolomna, central Russia. His overnight celebrity status secured coverage in The New York Times and other high profile media around the world; he also had the opportunity to state his opinions on the enormous popularity of Indian cinema in the former USSR.

Why is this clip of particular interest to me? Because
– first, it shows a cinema viewer from a remote country; we know very little of the film viewing habits of the audience in Tadjikistan.
– second, the subject is a migrant worker who lives in diaspora. We thus learn what film material has been available for him to view. I would speculate he may have seen the 1983 Indian film in a cinema and perhaps, later on, on a DVD. He says he learned the song from listening repeatedly to a cassette.
– third, it points at the fact that his popular culture preferences are not as commonly believed and in this case reveal that a Bollywood product is definitely more popular than, say, a Hollywood blockbuster.
Thus, it is yet one more example that feeds into my interest toward Cinema at the Periphery. In Korea, there is even a dedicated Migrant Worker Film Festival, which caters to this type of Gastarbeiter audiences.*

© Dina Iordanova
4 May 2010

*Hwang, Yun Mi, ‘Under the Migrant Lens: Migrant Worker Film Festival in South Korea,’ In:Film Festival Yearbook 2: Film Festivals and Imagined Communities >, 2010.

New Book: Cinema at the Periphery (2010)

April 24, 2010 at 12:47 am

A long time in the making, “Cinema at the Periphery is finally out, published by Wayne State University Press in Detroit as part of their series on Contemporary Approaches to Film and Television, under the general editorship of Barry Keith Grant.

Our idea for this project was to explore marginal cinemas from around the world by bringing them together in a comparative perspective. Because, as we see from Iceland to Iran and from Singapore to Scotland, a growing intellectual and cultural wave of production is taking cinema beyond the borders of its place of origin and ventures into exploring faraway places, interacting with barely known peoples, and making new localities imaginable. In an array of films that are made in the context of these traditions, previously entrenched spatial divisions no longer function as firmly fixed grid coordinates, the hierarchical position of place as “center” is subverted, and new forms of representation become possible. Thus, for the project Cinema at the Periphery (first a conference in 2006 and now finally a book), we assembled criticism that explored issues of the periphery, including questions of transnationality, place, space, passage, and migration. The brief to the contributors was to examine the periphery in terms of locations, practices, methods, and themes. The volume includes geographic case studies of small national cinemas located at the global margins, like New Zealand, Denmark or Scotland, but also of filmmaking that comes from peripheral cultures, like Palestinian “stateless” cinema, Celtic-language film, Australian Aboriginal films, and cinema from Quebec. Therefore, the volume is divided into two key areas: industries and markets on the one hand, and identities and histories on the other. Yet as a whole, the project is to illustrate that the concept of “periphery” is not fixed but is always changing according to patterns of industry, ideology, and taste. Most importantly, however, Cinema at the Periphery proposes a workable approach that allows us to link the inextricable interrelationship that exists between production modes and circulation channels and the emerging narratives of histories and identities they enable. It includes some really important writing by leading authors in the field of transnational film studies.

Let me take the opportunity and make an important link here. Back in June 2006, at the inaugural conference that marked the beginning of this project, we recorded the presentations of many of our guests and made them available on-line. Some of these, like Faye Ginsburg (NYU), Mette Hjort (Lingnan), Patricial Pisters (Amsterdam), Sheldon Lu (Santa Barbara), Laura Marks (Simon Fraser), Bill Marshall (Stirling), and Duncan Petrie’s (York) talks became the basis of chapters in the current book. Others, like Dudley Andrew (Yale), John Caughie (Glasgow), Pam Cook (Southampton), Hamid Naficy (Northwestern), Rod Stoneman (Huston Film School), Kristian Feigelson (Paris), published their work elsewhere. While still others, like Lucia Nagib (Leeds), opted to participate in the book but by presenting us with texts on topics that differed from those that they presented. We also commissioned several essays that were added to the two parts of the volume (Industry and Ideology). These included contributions by all three of us — myself and David Martin-Jones (both still at the University of St. Andrews) and Belén Vidal (who since moved to take up a job at King’s College in London) — who acted as editors of the collection. We also included a specially commissioned piece by Kay Dickinson (Goldsmiths) (on Palestinian cinema in an international context). Back then, a number of reviews of the event appeared in the film press. Here is a link to the one published in Senses of Cinema.

Reviews of the book are still to materialise, and I would be most excited to see this volume reviewed internationally, at the periphery and in those locations whose cinematic cultures we aimed to discuss (e.g. Spain, Quebec, Denmark, Brazil, Morocco, New Zealand, Australia, China, Palestine, and others). If you are writing for the film journals in these (or other peripheral) countries, where there is likely to encounter particular interest to the writing included in the volume, for review copies, please be in touch with the Press’s coordinator Sarah Murphy at murphysa@wayne.edu. For the time being, we only have Ruby Rich’s lines that describe the book as a ‘collection of reflections that challenge conventional definitions of national film cultures’ that we can quote.

The Only Popular Tax Ever Known: The UK Robin Hood Tax Campaign

April 13, 2010 at 2:59 am

The proposal to tax banking profits for the benefit of a variety of not-for-profit causes came to prominence with this short video, released in the UK in early February 2010, starring the ever popular Bill Nighy and directed by Richard Curtis, whose name is usually linked to feel-good British rom-coms like Four Weddings and a Funeral (which he wrote) and Love Actually (which he wrote and directed).

The argument in favour of the tax, an apparently grass-roots initiative, has now proliferated into a wider scale campaign (reportedly supported by more than a million activists) which is headquartered at an own web-site that represents a consortium of various activists and other non-profits (or ‘charities’, as they are called in the UK). It has been gaining momentum last week since the announcement of the coming elections on 6 May 2010. Supported by influential American economist Jeffrey Sachs (a man revered and loathed in different circles), the proposal is for a variation of the so-called Tobin tax, which makes provision for imposing a very small ‘spot’ levy on large financial transactions of the type that investment banks are regularly involved with.

Supporters of the tax were involved in events around Hyde Park’s Speakers corner last weekend. It all happens as Swiss-owned bank UBS is reporting a first-quarter pretax profit of 2.5 billion Swiss francs ($2.4 billion), compared with a loss of around 1.5 billion francs a year earlier. The campaign have just released a new video, starring Ben Kngsley as a banker (as well as a bunch of up and coming ethnic minority actors as the hooded boys who rob him in the ‘bank directors only’ car park).

In addition, here is a short video, again featuring Bill Nighy explaining why is this a good idea (as ‘no one is targeted, no individual is being punished’, and ‘it could be the only popular tax ever known’) and asking that people keep an eye on the campaign that appears to be gathering pace.

New Book Announcement: Moving People, Moving Images

March 12, 2010 at 4:50 am

Co-written with my colleagues William Brown and Leshu Torchin, Moving People, Moving Images: Cinema and Trafficking in the New Europe is the first title in our new series on Cinema and Transnational Discourse (St Andrews Film Studies, 2010). The next title planned for the series will look into the wide range of cinematic representations of international terrorism in cinema.

We hope to find a wide exposure for this volume, far beyond the narrow film studies field (it is no accident that this was also the best-selling title of all the books we introduced at the recent multiple book launch event at the BFI Filmstore on Southbank in London). It is a volume on the representation of human trafficking in international cinema, and even though it is a ‘film studies’ work, we believe it is really of interest to much wider circles as these are matters of immediate concern to social workers, migration specialists and activists. The book discusses a range of films, both feature and documentary, reflecting the situation with human trafficking in a great variety of countries — from Turkey to Sweden, from Sri Lanka to Greece, from Serbia to Italy, from North Africa to Spain, and so on.

ISBN (13): 978-1-9066-7803-6 (paperback)
180pp.
Price £17.99 (UK), $29.00 (US)
Available for purchase by clicking through to St. Andrews Film Studies bookshop

The volume is divided in three parts, which include respectively general essays; close analysis of fifteen important international films on trafficking; commentary on the political aspects of the usage of these films in the context of activism.

Here is a more detailed Table of Contents

PART ONE. Landscapes
William Brown – Negotiating the Invisible
Leshu Torchin – Foreign Exchange
Dina Iordanova – Making Traffic Visible, Adjusting the Narrative

PART TWO: Close-Ups

In-depth analyses of The Bus (Turkey/Sweden, Tunc Okan), The Guardian Angel (Yugoslavia, Goran Paskaljevic), When Mother Comes Home for Christmas(Greece/India/Germany, Nilita Vachani), Wesh wesh, qu’est-ce qui se passe? (France, rabah Ameur-Zaimeche), Poniente (Spain, Chus Gutierrez), Spare Parts (Slovenia, Damjan Kozole), Promised Land (Israel/France, Amos Gitai), Ghosts (UK, Nick Broomfield), It’s a Free World… (UK, Ken Loach), Import/Export (Austria, Ulrich Seidl), Love on Delivery and Ticket to Paradise (Denmark), The Silence of Lorna (Belgium, Dardenne Brothers) and Taken (France, Pierre Morel).

Part THREE: Traffic Jam
Film, Activism, and Human Trafficking

Excerpts of reviews:

Moving People, Moving Images tackles human trafficking, one of the most serious consequences of the massive movement of people enabled by post-Wall processes of economic and cultural globalization in Europe. While immigration, migration, exile, and the illegal movement of people have been the subject of much work in film and media studies recently, few volumes would take such a bold stand in favour of the possibility of filmic activism. One of the attractions of this book is precisely that it refuses to tread lightly and tentatively across the well-established divide between cinematic representations and socio-political issues. It makes a provocative argument for the political effect of films and proposes that human trafficking should not be the rightful, let alone the exclusive, domain of governments, NGOs, activist organizations and the social sciences.
— Aniko Imre, University of Southern California

Moving People, Moving Images is a groundbreaking and much-needed study of the intersections between film and human trafficking. Through a sophisticated and versatile approach, and against the backdrop of theories of economic globalisation, transnationalism, post-colonialism, identity and modernity, it offers a theorisation of human trafficking that engages with a range of published work on social and critical theory as well as on film studies…. This volume is both a complete and valuable teaching tool, and a precious resource for future research, and sets the agenda for more work in this all-important area.
— Laura Rascaroli, University College Cork, Ireland

Available for purchase by clicking through to St. Andrews Film Studies bookshop

Book Is Good But Film Is Better: Tromso International Film Festival, Norway

January 26, 2010 at 3:59 am

‘Book Is Good But Film Is Better’: this is what a bookmark that I picked up at the festival, featuring the raindeer-horns logo of the festival, reads. I agree.

Located on a fjord more than 200 miles north of the Polar Circle (the Nowegian classic Ni Liv was shot in the area) and thus perhaps the northernmost festival in the world, the International Film Festival in Tromso (Norway) celebrates its twentieth anniversary with this edition, which this year is called Frozen Land-Moving Images. Started in 1991 by a local cinema exhibitor, Focus cinema’s Hans Henrik Berg (who died two years ago), the festival has grown to become one of the largest most important events in Scandinavia. Originally taking place in the cinema that Berg was running, it now uses multiple venues around town: the six-screen multiplex, the old cinema (a 1915 building), as well as various other adapted locations; it is amazing that all these were fully available to the festival organisers for the duration of the festival and that all were really high quality venues with excellent seating, accessibility and visibility. The former cinema building is no longer used for screenings but it has been remodeled into a light-filled library which is one of the architectural landmarks of the town, displaying the traditional clean lines of Scandinavian design. The new FocusKino multiplex is just down the street. During my stay in Tromso I could not help thinking of St. Johns, Newfoundland, on a daily basis — so closely do these two towns resemble each other that they should be twinned, in my opinion. The weather was not particularly cold for the duration of our stay (it would have been colder in Newfoundland), but still it was nice to be able to order food in the local eateries by dispensing of food vouchers that were reading ‘Frozen Land/Hot Food’.

The festival takes place in mid-January and is thus one of the earliest events on the global festival circuit. This is the period when the sun has not really shown up here for a few months; it is not really dark all the time and there is a period of daylight over several hours. Simply the sun never comes above the horizon during this period; it was scheduled to be welcomed on 21 January but the morning was foggy and the promised ceremony never took place as nothing of the sky was to be seen, so thick was the fog (the husky ride did not take place, either, as the snow on all the tracks was melting this January). Tromso is also known as the best place in the world to observe the Northern Lights, but we did not get the chance to see them, either. Still, our caring host Randi took us on a wonderful cable car ride to a nearby mountain, from where we could look over the area and the island.

The most interesting screening programme is the one that takes place daily in open air. The photo I display above is showing one of the screenings, but it is from a past year. Things look even nicer now, with the screen being entirely cushioned in snow, like a giant snowy sculpture, and with other snow sculptures and an igloo standing next to it. It is not very warm to watch a film here, true, but it is perhaps one of the most interesting open-air events that I have come across*. This year the main attraction is the screening of Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, with a special musical score by Swedish composer Matti Bye. On Thursday morning, 21 January, just at 9 am (still before dawn), I passed by to see a group of little citizens of Tromso, 6-7 year olds, preparing to view a film in open air. Some of them were being seated by their teachers on bean bags in front of the screen, on the icy ground, while others were orderly seated at the three-tier seating area that had been cut out of ice at the back of this improvised open air theatre.

The festival awards a range of trophies; I most liked the description of The Norwegian Peace Film Award which ‘is awarded a film spotlighting direct, structural or cultural violence’, as the festival organisers believe that ‘films that focus on oppression and abuses of power can make a difference’ (this time around it has gone to the Georgian The Other Bank, which has won a host of international awards since I wrote of it in March 2009). The festival sells over 50,000 tickets, a particularly noteworthy fact, given the population of Tromso itself is about 65,000 in total — and indeed, local people are to be seen at all screenings, even at those taking place at 9 am. Another noteworthy detail is that the six-screen multiplex in town is entirely dedicated to festival screenings during the week of the event, a rare instance where commercial interests and obligations are suspended in order to make way to public service type cultural activity (ultimately possible because the city has got a big say in the way the cinema is run). We were invited here by director, the beautiful Martha Otte (pictured), a transplanted American who has lived here for more than thirty years and who has run the festival since 2005. My own involvement was in a panel discussion on film festivals which was never publicly listed for some reason, and at which I participated along Jonathan Rosenbaum, Christoph Mercier from Fox Searchlight (who told us how Hollywood strategically utilises festivals by rolling out new titles through a careful selection of a circuit of festivals where these films are entered in order to enhance their subsequent box office performance in Europe), and Variety’s Jay Weissberg. It was also an opportunity to meet the transnationally-operating programmer Neil Young who blogs on festivals and films out of Sunderland at Jigsaw Lounge (that is, when he is not busy with his equestrian day job).

Too many films to mention here, so I will skip writing about this. From among the screenings I attended, I feel I ought to mention one though: It took place at the oldest functioning film theatre in Northern Europe (built in 1915), this showcased two recent documentaries (the second one not yet finished) by locally-based Knut Eric Jensen (best-known internationally for his cult documentary Cool and Crazy**). There was also a discussion with the director, of which I could not understand much as it was in Norwegian — the cinema was full and before entering the theatre, the line stretched all across the pedestrian street in front of the building. I can barely recall another event where I would have seen such unanimous and excited expression of approval and admiration to a filmmaker like the support I witnessed during this screening; I do not know how he does it, or perhaps such sincere expressions of unreserved admiration may be a feature of the Nordic character. In any case, the ovation the director received was quite something and was clearly meant to express support for the person, not so much for the specific films that were being shown.

* Kay Armatage has written a piece on the theme of open air screenings at festivals, published in the special issue of Film International on festivals, 2008.
** See Bjorn Sorenssen’s excellent analysis of this film in the 24 Frames: Scandinavian Cinema book.

© Dina Iordanova
26 January 2010

‘Ayde!’ and ‘Lele pile’

January 16, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Looking at the December issue of the once authoritative newspaper Kultura (which has nowadays lost much of its previous ground in Bulgaria’s social context), I see they have marked the twentieth anniversary of the changes by running a piece called 20 Years Later, referring to materials published in the newspaper back then. The author of this review does not happen to have found an article of mine, which run on their front page about April 1990, of importance. However, when I recently discovered and re-read this text, I was genuinely struck by its predictive power. It was called Ayde! (difficult to translate it, but perhaps Screw it, let’s do it may come close in this instance). It contained a forewarning to what I thought was to come: a deluge of what later on came to be known as pop-folk, turbo-folk and, a term that only came in circulation later, chalga; mass popular culture that most of us truly abhorred back then… If I remember correctly, when writing that piece, I did not even believe myself very much. Twenty years later, though, the chalga has become the mainstream and has grown really strong roots.

Thus, twenty years later, my predictions have not only come true but have far surpassed my imagination. And, as I am largely absent from Bulgaria, I am told, I have not really been exposed to the excesses that my friends and family who are based there have been treated to over the years.

In any case, my recent visit in December 2009 gave me some exposure, as it is virtually impossible to avoid the chalga; it is ubiquitous and inescapable. There are at least five or so 24-hr channels that broadcast nothing but. The first pan-Balkan channel, called Balkanika, also broadcasts mostly chalga in blocks sourced by the various nations in the region, from Croatia to Turkey. The market leader in Bulgaria is Planeta Payner, a record and events company that runs a TV channel on the side, apparently one of the few extremely successful enterprises in the sphere of the so-called creative industries. I understand that I have only been exposed to the tip of the iceberg, as all I have seen is television images, far remote from the real live contact with the range of talented and superbly looking silicone beauties that reign the show circuit in various clubs and bars (see picture, featuring here chalga performers celebrities called Andrea and Galena). The interesting thing is that there are literally scores of these women, and I am made to wonder how can a small country like Bulgaria (about 7.5 million population) sustain such a vast cohort of busty celebrity. Most of the tabloids in the UK deal with the bosoms of author Katie Price a.k.a. Jordan, and, until recently, the US had its Anna-Nicole Smith; somehow these two women seemed to provide enough tabloid material and, even though there are a number of secondary stars and starlets of this type, there is usually one larger than life undisputed queen of the bombshells that reigns. Not like this in the Bulgarian case — it seems there are at least twenty of them that have regular presence in all sorts of media. It was difficult to learn my ‘who is who’ for the short duration of my stay in December, but it was enough to establish two things: first, these stars are, among other things, also leading role models for the young generation, and, second, some of them are using their influence to sell classical feminist ideas to their audiences (perhaps one of the most interesting interviews I witnessed broadcast on Planeta Payner TV early one morning and featured one of the silicone beauties who looked as if having just come out of a night club, wearing a strapless black leather body with matching leather gloves that reached far above her elbows to foreground her sculpted exposed shoulders; at 7 a.m. a few days before Christmas she was dispensing with Betty Friedan-type feminist advice to her young viewers).

The most recently broadcast chalga musical clip this season, I believe, was the one I feature below. It is fairly representative of the genre and is called ‘Lele pile‘ (again difficult to translate, perhaps something like ‘come on my birdie‘ would come close). The perhormer is Milko Kalaidjiev, previously unknown to me but, as I am told, a man of robust presence in the respective chalga circles and referred to as ‘the republic’s first moustache’. Indeed, I saw this song performed not only on the specialised television channels but also on some of the terrestrial channels that broadcast to the entire population. The singer is using some local rap talent as support, as well as the usual entourage of chalga groupies; the text of the song is structured as advice to the ‘birdie’ of the title, suggesting that she gets ‘out of these clothes sooner, it is so hot here’ and that he would be her real fan if she lost two pounds, and more along these lines. Ayde!

© Dina Iordanova
16 January 2010

Bulgarian Feminist Icons: Stoyanka Mutafova (87), Lili Ivanova (70)

January 7, 2010 at 7:04 am

There wasn’t much new for me to discover during the brief December 2009 visit to Bulgaria. Re-discoveries dominated the experience; two of the most important ones were linked with the manifestations of high professionalism displayed by women of advanced age who I cannot help admiring: comedian Stoyanka Mutafova (born2 February 1922, currently 87 years old) and pop-singer Lili Ivanova (born 24 April 1939, currently 70 years old). Perhaps there is already writing that has given called these remarkable women Bulgarian feminist icons (in the vein of Svetlana Slapsak’s book which did the same in regard to remarkable women from former Yugoslavia), even if I have not seen it. If I were to write on the subject matter, however, these two women probably would have come on the top of my list. Among many other things, the longevity of their creative careers is truly amazing and admirable.

I had the chance to see Stoyanka Mutafova in Ionescu’s The Chairs on 23 December 2009 (pictured); she played along Ilia Dobrev (who is also in his late 70s), was as funny as ever, and at one point nearly performed a strip-tease. Mutafova’s long-time stage partner, Georgi Kaloyanchev (b. 1925), has already retired from the stage, yet she continues appearing in several plays and on television. There is a clip on YouTube which features an event from earlier in 2009 where the two of them are celebrated as stars in an impromptu ceremony in front of the NDK (National Culture Palace) in Sofia.

Lili Ivanova (pictured in a recent photograph) featured extensively on various TV channels during my stay. In addition, an authorized biography (marketed as a biography) called Istinata/The Truth, has appeared in 2009 (published by Ciela and edited by controversial journalist Martin Karbovski) and I had the chance to browse through the book: A model motivational reading for someone who needs role models for focus and ambition! The only disappointing feature of this inspirational text is that in it the author frequently goes on the defensive and feels obliged to address a variety of idiotic allegations and comments that have been made about her in the context of Bulgaria’s media and profane public discourse; she could have done better to ignore them altogether. The book is also full of photographs, the most intriguing were the ones for which she has posed for Playboy around the year 2000, slightly above the age of 60. Unfortunately, I cannot locate them on-line to display here.

Listening to the singer on television was an amazing experience: Her voice seems to be as strong and amazing as ever, she does not hesitate to dance on stage and shows off her legs. She is still capable of sustaining a two-part concert of about 150 min. duration, and it is a show that is of higher quality and professionalism than anything else one can come across in Bulgaria these days. It is from the perspective of the decades mostly that Lili Ivanova’s remarkable achievement can be appreciated. I also understand she has held a concert at Olympia in Paris in January 2009 (there is a poor quality recording of the event on YouTube). I cannot find a good quality recent clip on-line that would show the phenomenon Lili Ivanova, so I am including here a clip dated from two years ago, in which she performs one of her enduring songs, U doma/At Home (music Toncho Rusev, text Damyan Damyanov), a song which must be from the late 1970s originally.

Apparently, there has been a special concert to mark the 50th anniversary of Stoyanka Mutafova’s stage career on 25 May 2009. Here is a clip featuring a moment of the concert, where Lili Ivanova appears to deliver a pop-version of a famous Bulgarian folk song that tells the story of a young Stoyana in love with a shepherd. It is a rare chance to see these two feminist icons next to each other.

© Dina Iordanova
7 January 2010

Berlin, December 2009: Highlights 2

December 15, 2009 at 1:39 am

The conference for which I had been invited was organized by the Institute for Cultural Studies and took place at Humbold University’s Graduate School at Luisenstrasse in Berlin (pictured), a building next door to the ugly massive of the Charite hospital.

Yet another event dedicated to ‘memory work’ and predominantly focused on the Third Reich period with little references to later developments or other strands of thinking, Whichever Stone You Lift offered quality scholarship of the ‘deja vu’ variety. The event concluded a month-long extremely interesting programme of screenings at the cinema of Hackesche Hofe which featured films that I would very much like to see in wider distribution, from the post-war last Polish Yiddish-language production, Unzere Kinder/Our Children (1948), to Katryn Seybold and Melanie Spitta’s seminal documentary on the persecution of Romanies, Das falsche Wort/The False Word (1987).

The film programme can be viewed here while the programme of the symposium is available at the site of RitesInstitute in Vienna, the owners of which were involved in moderating the panel I took part in. It was a conference like most other events I have attended in Germany, a European model to which I developed an allergy some time ago: speakers have about an hour at their disposal and present lengthy (and often monotonously delivered) papers that run for 40-50 at a time; there is little eye contact with the audience, and very few visual stimuli to keep the attention. This is then followed by a question period which normally runs over the time slot as the moderators believe it is impolite to pressure the speakers for shortness. Having grown used to the 20 min maximum paper format that is the norm in the Anglo-Saxon world (and with the ubiquitous paper note reminders ‘5 min’, ‘2 min’ or ‘stop now’ that the moderators show to the speakers as they go), I really could not help it but feel challenged by the length of presentations. A paper on black actors in the third Reich was presented by Viennese (and now London, Ontario) researcher Tobias Nagl. It was well illustrated and argued (even if it also run for unbearably long time in my view), and was thus the highlight of the event for me.

The discussion of our panel, dedicated to matters of representing Romani persecution in the context of popular culture, evolved around the need of a specific and more considerate history framework that should be applied to understanding Roma history, one that differs from the historical milestones linked to other groups. Once again, Roma issues resurfaced for consideration as related to other aspects of historical memory, the Jewish Holocaust in his case. Yet while the history of Roma and Jews overlap in the context of this particular historical experience, there are many aspects of memory and remembrance related to Romanies that cannot be exhausted only by such cross-referencing, which inevitably limits the multidimensionality of Romani memory. To me, this was one of the important messages that emerged from the debate.

It was great to be in the company of two extremely beautiful women for this panel. One was Katrin Seybold (pictured above), the veteran documentary filmmaker, who has worked with Sinteza Melanie Spitta over the years and has made a number of films that feature the plight of Roma and Sinti in Germany, was one of the guests.

The other one, Timea Junghaus (left), a Romni from Hungary, who works with the rich but still largely unknown material created by Romani artists across Europe. She spoke of her highly original curating work and of the various contexts that dominate curatorial practices and that, for a variety of reasons, routinely shut the work of Romani artists away from the public eye.

Timea is telling me that in her view the best film about the Romani experience is the puppet animation by Finnish director Katariina Lillqvist, a pupil of Jiri Trnka’s, which I am looking forward to seeing (here is a still from one of her animations).

The panel was moderated by Viennese filmmaker and curator Friedemann Derschmidt, who, alongside his partner, is involved mainly in curating film programmes linked to cultural exchanges with Israel and in maintaining an interesting web-site, in part entitled Israelstine.

© Dina Iordanova
15 December 2009