Friday, November 21, 2008

Batumi International Art-House Film Festival 25.-29.10.2008

Batumi film festival’s website


The Ruhnama and Anti-Ruhnama at the Helsinki Book Fair

We received our Shadow of the Holy Book –book from the printing press, and a couple of days were spent marketing the book at the Helsinki Book Fair, as well as at the book’s own launch party. I crawl home from the party around 4 AM and my plane to Georgia (or to Riga, Istanbul and on to Batumi in Georgia) was due to leave just after 6 o’clock in the morning. Feeling slightly queasy I managed to pack the last few things, the Ruhnama book and a bunch of old unread Helsingin Sanomat newspapers. Then I’m on the road again.

Like Publishing Ltd’s Nora Varjama, Kevin and Arto at the book launch

The flights are tiring for someone with a hangover, but luckily I start to feel better “flight by flight”. The Poles and the Iranians seem to follow me to every festival. Like Tehran, the Batumi festival also features a wide Poland-retrospective, built around Kieslowski, and a smaller selection of Iranian films. There’s a big Polish group present, and a few people from Iran. Some of the Polish guests I already met in Tehran. Sometimes the filmmaker’s world is indeed a small one. The first evening continues through many turns with the Polish actives in the local disco, “Hollywood”. The atmosphere is comparable to a conquered war zone. The smoke machine puffs out smoke in the air momentarily, while the Poles bravely attempt to lift up the bland atmosphere.

Polish films were strongly represented at the festival

Batumi is Georgia’s largest harbour town on the shore of the Black Sea. There are hardly any signs of war. Around here the Russians bombed some military targets, but civilian victims were avoided. The war is of course talked about and it delayed the festival by over a month. It is great, though, that it was finally organised. Another one of Georgia’s film festivals in Tbilisi also hovers in the state of uncertainty. The festival was meant to take place in December, but a decision was made to move it to the beginning of next year, and could possibly get cancelled altogether.

Statue and city culture in Batumi

Alongside the retrospectives and special screenings the festival also has a competition series for both fiction and documentary films. The programme director of Chicago Film Festival, Christopher Kamyszev, is responsible for selecting the documentary programme. We are part of this quality series alongside 9 documentary films, such as the long-touring Up the Yangtse (Yung Chang, Canada), The Champagne Spy (Nadav Schirman, Israel), Revue (Sergei Loznitsa, Russia) and Echoes of Home (Stefan Schwietert, Germany-Switzerland). The Georgian but currently France-residing and successful Nino Kirtadze’s film Durakovo: Village of Fools is also featured in the series.

There are not many filmmaker guests present, in addition to the Polish and Iranian ones. Why did they want me here and pay for my travel expenses, I wonder… Of course I take it as a compliment and an honour. The organisers indeed take good care of the guests: the transport functions well and there’s plenty of food. However, every day the lunch and dinner is eaten according to the same menu pattern: cheese, bread, wheat bread, cheese bread, tomatoes, cucumber and saslik. Pretty good to begin with, but after a couple of days it starts to come out of my ears.

Dinner table

Despite the quality films and good spirits, the festival organisation sometimes appears home-spun. The screenings of the films are running late, and the projectionists have an old Soviet-style work moral and therefore aren’t exactly on top of things. We have managed to get a 35mm film copy of Shadow of the Holy Book to the festival. It’s great, but involves more of a risk for the screening to fail. Once again I run between the projection room and the cinema during the film and try to get the sound level up and the image format right. In addition, the film starts running from the first minute in, and is finished too soon. I wonder what the 35mm screenings of our film are like around the world when I’m not there. Although film is always film, DVD starts to show its benefits. At least its better suited for amateur use.

The festival’s main theatre in Batumi

On the last day of the festival, early in the morning, I head towards Lithuania through a weird route. As there are no flights to Istanbul on that day, I get a 3-hour taxi ride to Trabzon in Turkey. From there I get on a domestic flight to Istanbul and on to Helsinki, from where I continue immediately to Lithuania. When I step on the plane in Trabzon and walk through the aisle towards my seat with the Turkish passengers, I am filled with a peculiar feeling, a strange feeling of familiarity and comfort. Like I’m home again. On a plane. It sounds, and feels worrying. Have I been travelling too much?

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