Civil society dialogue at Odessa

Civil society dialogue at Odessa

Network meeting between the Odessa International Film Festival and the FilmFestival Cottbus in Ukraine

At the 7th Odessa International Film Festival, a panel discussed how film festivals can invigorate civil society dialogue in Eastern Europe. The discussion was part of a network meeting that has been jointly organised with the FilmFestival Cottbus. The event is supported by the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany.

In Eastern Europe, also, the medium of film reflects on social and historical taboo issues, thereby promoting civil society dialogue. However, this can on occasion lead to political pressure being inflicted on film makers, but also on film festivals, which perceive themselves as forums for social dialogue. Representatives of renowned Eastern European film festivals now meet to evaluate the situation: what can film festivals contribute to civil society dialogue? What are the problems arising from this? To what extent do economic and political framework conditions impact on festival programme planning?

Participants of the panel discussion at the 19th July were Virgiliu Margineau, director of OWH Studios, which organises the "Cronograf" documentary film festival in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, Anna Chkonia, programme coordinator of the Tbilisi International Film Festival, Igor Soukmanov, programme director of the Listopad film festival in Minsk, Samaya Asgarova, head of the department of international relations at Azerbaijan Film, Julia Sinkyevich, director of the Odessa International Film Festival, and Bernd Buder, programme director of FilmFestival Cottbus.

Chkonia and Sinkyevich were able to report that the number of films produced in Georgia and Ukraine will increase as a result of targeted film funding next year. New funding mechanisms are aimed primarily at new talents, which should also provide for an extension of the content by which filmmakers reflect society, history and politics in their countries. Soukmanov reported on the strengthening of the independent film scene in Belarus. Beyond the production of state films, independent films bring a variety of artistic approaches and content to the screen, with which the national identity is reflected in a poignant, critical and diverse way. Thus, Buder summed up, national identity in both countries will be defined as a samle of dicerse approaches. The FilmFestival Cottbus will devote a special to the Belarussian cinema in its next edition.

In Azerbaijan, only a few feature films have emerged in the previous years which, however, managed to foster civic discourse. The feature film INNER CITY (2015) discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the rapid urbanization of the capital city of Baku, and POMEGRANATE GARDEN, which recently had its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, throws a reflective light on the patriarchal structure pf the society. Asgarova reported an 80% reduction in the film budget, but was confident that it would be able to implement plans for an international film festival in Baku in 2018. In the small film industry in the Republic of Moldova, only a few films are produced, added Margineau. With the programme of his documentary film festival, he tries not only to raise the most diverse themes, but also to bring the medium film closer to children and young people.

In spite of the overall positive development, especially in the context of populist tendencies and warlike conflicts, there are also reports of several obstacles for film and film festivals. Measures such as the prohibition of distribution and broadcasting of Russian films in Ukraine, censorship attempts in several countries and the intended increase of the fee for the rental permit for foreign films in Russia are to restrict the intendend dialogue between people and cultures and thus the civil society discourse between different standpoints. In this context, the Odessa Film Festival once again appealed for the release of the Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov, who was sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment by a Russian court a few years ago for spurious reasons.

The network meeting of festival partners from the countries of the Eastern Partnership will be continued at the 27th  FilmFestival Cottbus. The event will also include films from the countries concerned that show how film discusses relevant social issues.