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Once upon a time hollywood press conf.

The Joker Coming October.

Phillip Bergson


Writing about Films and Festivals.

 

Film Critic, UK, member of Fipresci

 

Winner of the Student Journalist of the Year competition in the UK weekly New Statesman, as a Classics Scholar Phillip Bergson then founded the Oxford Film Festival and, on graduating, was selected by "The Sunday Times" as a 'New Critic' and in the same week began broadcasting on film for many BBC Radio programmes. A contributor to the "Times Literary Supplement", "TES", "Screen International", "Film Bulletin", "Film a Doba" inter alia, he also worked for the "European Script Fund", has scripted shorts and features (that have been produced and released) and, fluent in eight-and-a-half languages, currently programmes and advises several international film festivals. At the National Media Museum in his native Yorkshire, he created the "Eurovisions" project, to promote classic and contemporary European cinema.

As a Jury Member

 


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FEST begins at 40!

What makes a festival successful? Great films and great audiences, and Belgrade's 40th FEST had both in spades- indeed, the event was such a hit, it was extended by a day to accommodate a last-minute regional premiere for The Artist, fresh from its triumph at the Oscars in Hollywood(and in keeping with its immaculate organisation, there was even an advance press screening of the French 'surprise' gift to Belgrade's enormous audiences.

For the event is centred in what must be one of the most convenient of all Festival venues in the greater Europe. Although the event began as a non-competitive showcase, back in 1971, to bring the best of the fest circuit to what was then Yugoslavia, when the extraordinary Sava Centar opened (to designs by Stojan Maksimovic which at the time of its construction -1976-79-must have been relatively futuristic, but now have a retro charm, redolent of the decor of a Stanley Kubrick film), and bearing in mind President Tito's cinephilia, its main auditorium far out-Cannesd Cannes. For live concerts it held 4000 seats, and I believe for the screenings during FEST some 3400 were in use, and often full, even for matinees when the early Spring sun was shining.(The event ran from 22nd February to 4th March,this year).

Not only does the complex house boutiques ,shops ,sundry bars, cafes and modestly-priced and sustaining restaurants, smaller cinemas for press and industry screenings, well-fitted venues for press conferences, festival guest and organisation offices,press bureaux and a daily journal,but it is connected by a covered walk-way to the 5-star Continental Hotel,main home for most of the fest guests, and equipped  itself with a host of the usual facilities,On the night I arrived Peter Bogdanovich was holding court in one corner of the foyer, while Jiri Menzel was ensconced in another.One could follow the entire Festival,eat drink sleep and view ,without ever coming out into the fresh Serbian air.

In the capacious corridors en route to the screenings, a fascinating photography exhibition commemorated the hey-days of FEST, when- like the more summery Pula over in Croatia- it welcomed the greats of Hollywood and ,indeed, of international film-makers.The event was suspended,I think, in 1993 and 1994, understandably due to certain local difficulties,but now seems well on its way to regaining its previous prestige, having added a competive section in 2007.

But the heart of the festival is still the best of the fests, and Artistic Director Boris Andjelic and FEST Selector Ivan Karl can be congratulated for bringing an eclectic and stimulating mix of award-winners from Cannes and elsewhere,with a dozen rich and strong features in the Main Program,a varied half-dozen from Hollywood(from Drive and The Beaver to War Horse, perfect for the huge screen in the Sava Centar),a baker's dozen of 'Europe in Europe'(from Chantal Akerman to Vaclav Havel's film of his own play Leaving),then some further 17 variegated features constituted a World Panorama, with modest side-bars focussing on Britannica,Canada,documentaries,and hommages to attending legends,Peter Bogdanovich,Jiri Menzel, and Menahem Golan.

Although there was briefly snow one evening when a guest dinner was organised in the Zemun suburb, famed for its fish restaurants, the weather was unseasonally sunny and I was able to enjoy the reviving splendours of downtown Belgrade.(The Sava Centar, and a riotous closing party in a brand-new bar even the FEST Director could not find, occupied what is called Novi Beograd, but in the older city centre screenings were also held in a crowded European Youth Centre, where both circle and stalls were full even for the less mainstream European films,and in the charming art-deco home of the Serbian Cinematheque, where Menahem Golan received an Honorary Medal).Later in the festival I moderated a Master Class with that lively legend of Hollywood and Israeli cinema, in a crowded private arts university hall, aptly enough in the same street as the still-surviving Synagogue,and also in the spectacularly well -equipped State Film and Drama School, which looks as if it might have been designed by the architect of the Sava Centar,or one of his disciples. FEST was also screening in an historic cinema, now  apparently a multi-purpose arts centre, close to the fabled Moskva Hotel,which is emerging, like the city itself, from a fine restoration.

The only technical hitches were beyond the powers of the festival.External work on electricity cables caused a series of power cuts across New Belgrade-  most evident during the press viewing of Pawel Pawlikowski's The Woman in the Fifth, but in spite of some five coupures  hardly anyone left the screening, so engrossing is this strange tale of love and obsession in which Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas share a danse macabre in the seedier suburbs of Paris.I was trapped for the longest ten seconds of my life in the Continental lift one evening, but reached the lobby to find Israeli pioneer spirit had ensured Menahem Golan and his daughter had walked  down the entire eight floors for their dinner date.

And what of the festive fare? Daily lunches in the Fest restaurant were simple but tasty,and elegantly served, while nightly banquets beckoned in fine eateries far-flung about the metropolis.Memorable indeed was the Jury lunch high above the centre of the old city, chaired by distinguished director Darko Bajic, with Czech colleague Radovan Holub and myself far from coming to blows over exquisite rakijas as we discussed the merits of the seven features, selected on the basis,if I understood correctly, that they were not produced within the EU.Our eventual choice, and unanimous I think, went to Bedouin, which as its title might hint, ranges far and wide,strikingly well -handled by director Igor Voloshin, charting the tribulations of a Ukrainian train stewardess who ,to finance her young daughter's operation,travels to Sankt Petersburg to  become a surrogate mother for a gay couple, but finally finds a more homeopathic solution in Jordan(the film benefitted from co-production aid there).Both director and leading actress Olga Simonova will go even further in the future,we were confident,and the award seemed to be a popular one(and Menahem Golan immediately put in a bid for its distribution in Israel).

The closing ceremony was a spectacular affair, with the premiere of a most handsome new film that mixes Hollywood and Yugoslav film nostalgia- Doctor Ray and the Devils, directed with evident flair and authentic  period colourings by Dinko Tucakovic, charting the true but little-known adventures of Nicholas Ray's efforts to film Dylan Thomas's novel in the Avala Film Studios in Belgrade, to bring glory to the film commissars of the time.Although featuring cameos with actors amusingly impersonating D.W.Griffiths, Orson Welles, Charlton Hestonand Juliette Greco,long stretches of the dialogue are in Serbian and there had not been time to sub-title these in English, so I shall withhold a fuller review until later.But the huge cast and crew were presented to wild applause on the vast stage, and it seemed a fitting official close to an event that knows how to balance past and present, and mingle emerging talents with the established.FEST definitely deserves its place again "Among the Greats", as its well-produced catalogue and motto suggest.

Most press and public screenings either used prints already sub-titled in English, or benefitted from electronic sub-titling (into English,or Serbian as appropriate).

Phillip Bergson

Jury of the “Europe out of Europe” competition program, consisting of Darko Bajic (the President), Philip Bergson and Radovan Holub awarded the prize for best film, the statuette “Little Big Tree” by Nebojsa Djura Veselinovic, to Igor Volosin, for his film “Bedouin”.

About Phillip Bergson

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