For the 23rd year in a row, the sleepy Eastern burg of Cottbus transforms into an unlikely film hub, buzzing with directors, producers and talent from all over the former Soviet bloc. Just 120km southeast of Berlin, the 2013 Cottbus Film Festival is a unique opportunity to catch little-known gems from Germany to Vladivostok – a grand total of 150 films from 38 countries, with 11 competing for €20,000 and the coveted Lubina award.
Five films in competition hail from former Yugoslavia – of these, don’t miss Slovenian writer/director Goran Vojnović’s Chefurs Raus, which transcends coming-of-age clichés (young Marko faces pressure from disapproving father, troublemaking friends and anti-immigrant stigma) with kinetic doc-style direction and a soulful performance from up-and-coming actor Benjamin Krnetić. For some real teen angst there’s Ela, the troubled, pregnant protagonist of Miracle, a rather bleak first feature by Slovakian documentarist Juraj Lehotský. Vinko Brešan’s crowd favourite The Priest’s Children, a zippy, pitch-black Catholicism satire that will leave you wary about ever buying condoms in Croatia, provides comic relief.
Russian competition entries dwell on the country’s many woes. Alexander Veledinsky’s tragicomedy The Geographer Drank His Globe Away is filled with great popular actors and a very Russian brand of fatalistic and chaotic humour. In Yuri Bykov’s harrowing The Major, corrupt cops try to cover up a hit-and-run by one of their own – an unoriginal yet apt metaphor for the corruption and violence in today’s Russia. If you’ve been following the plight of Roma and Sinti, check out this year’s Fokus section and Judit Ordodi’s touching documentary Lashi Vita (Beautiful Life), about the Roma community in Italy.
Meanwhile, the GlobalEast section spotlights the connection between eastern Europe and Australia/New Zealand with a selection of six shorts; we recommend two by Leo Woodhead (Cargo and Zero). Re-iterating this connection (and slyly debunking Sokurov’s Russian Ark), the feature Russian Snark (Stephen Sinclair) follows a Russian director and his muse to New Zealand, where both the locals and the expat Russian community are nonplussed by his artistically self-destructive pastiche of The Piano and long mournful shots of man in nature.
If there’s a lull, just hop the nearby border and buy some cheap Polish cigarettes. All films with English subtitles.
COTTBUS FILM FESTIVAL, Nov 5-10 | full programme at www.filmfestivalcottbus.de
Originally published in issue #121, 2013.