Nation in festivals

When I came back from Timisoara, after a long separation from the Republic of Moldova, fresh out of the faculty, I was temporarily hired by a social and political research company. I had to make a survey among the foreigners in the waiting room of Chisinau International Airport, to find out what they know about the country they were leaving, what they knew about it before they arrived here, what they liked, if they tasted the wine, etc. Some of them came to visit the wives’ families, others for business and sex tourism, and few had heard of the Wine Day and regretted that they’d miss it. And no one, absolutely no one said that he/she came here to visit museums, attend a cultural festival or discover the historical and natural monuments of the Republic of Moldova. It was the beginning of October 2012. Six years away, after an amorphous summer end, October shook Chisinau, especially the movie lovers. It started with a great premiere – the first international film festival in the Republic of Moldova dedicated to science fiction films, went further with the fourth edition of the Romanian Film Days Festival and ended with the eighth edition of the Anim’est International Animation Festival in Chisinau. Three film festivals. During one month. In Chisinau. But if I had to count how many cultural events were born over these years, I’d run out of fingers. Only Nata Albot organised a lot of them.

‘Without culture, we’d decline to a flock level’

To put aside my still untiring enthusiasm, as one could say, I talked to those who are behind the events that change the dynamics in Chisinau and in the country. ‘It’s exciting, provocative, frustrating. Because it’s a ‘fresh ground’, because you have to invent solutions, because people have other priorities.’ This is how Dumitru Marian, president of the ALTFilm Association,

which organises TIFF and Anim’est in Chisinau, describes the work of a cultural event organiser. The greatest satisfaction is that, at the end of the day, edition and year, ‘trolleybus drivers, market vendors, people from Floresti know about us. This are people who normally have other concerns. A woman wrote to reproach us that this year we failed to organise a children’s workshop on Wednesday, that namely this day she had time to bring her children (the third year in a row). A child (at least so I know), who was drawing in the cinema hall during the first edition, today goes to an animation school. This is what we managed to do. I don’t know if it evolved.’

Dumitru, known not only for his role in Moldova’s cinematography but also for his revolutionary spirit, believes that if we exclude (hypothetically speaking) the cultural events from our lives, only the party congresses we’ll gather lots of people. ‘We’d decline to a flock level. Cultural events should keep us on top of them, they should generate thoughts, questions, answers, they should train our brain, e.g. in favor of a functioning society.’

Eight years ago, on the right bank of the Prut, two film festival organisers had the idea of crossing the border, bringing their festival to a town with an extremely small cinema offer. ‘We knew about the Chronograph Festival, we knew Virgil Margineanu, we knew it was the only true film festival in Chisinau. And we were guessing that there may be public demand for more’, remembers Laurentiu Bratan, former president of the Estenest Association in Romania.

Poor funding and quality events

In 2011, when the GDP of the Republic of Moldova barely reached MDL 83 million, the country was highly divided between the East and the West and led by a new team that was just about to show its teeth. Laurentiu was aware that, in a country with such a low level of living, the socio-economic issues go first, before the need for culture.

However, the festival was to take place in Chisinau, a city with many young people eager for cultural events, many students. This is how Anim’est International Animation Festival came to Chisinau, a team that I joined two years later. It’s festival that transformed the image of animation films in the perception of the public of Moldova – they are no longer regarded as productions exclusive for children. Now, people known that the animation films for all ages and tastes. ‘The editions that followed have tried to attract other audiences to the festival, e.g. grandparents with children at projections for children, or older people willing to watch movies from the archive, screened in cinemas after many decades since they were made. We also choose a very affordable ticket price and in this way, I think, we’ve managed to diversify our audience’, says Laurentiu Bratan, who has been working for a while on an animated feature-length film based on a classical love story in the pre-Islamic Arabia named ‘Layla and Majnun’.

In the beginning, the organisation of the Anim’est in Chisinau was a challenge for both the Bucharest and the local team, led by Dumitru Marian. However, it was accepted with great pleasure and curiosity. ‘Over time, the mechanisms organising the festival become unchangeable. I can’t say that it’s harder than in Romania or elsewhere. The issues are pretty the same – struggling to get funds, to keep up the audience’s interest’, says Laurentiu. The lack of a permanent and significant support from authorities and business entities remains, however, a part of the equation that dictated every time the size of the festival. ‘We can speak of strong support when the authority asks you what do you need, what it can do to help you to further do your job properly, including its job, by developing policies. This doesn’t happen very often’, highlights Dumitru Marian.

Although he doesn’t think money matters the most, Laurentiu Bratan, also a cultural manager and a very lucid one, recognizes that a properly funded festival means one can bring quality films, make good promotion, pay decent salaries to the organisation team, etc. ‘One can also rely on the team’s enthusiasm and volunteering (we did it at the beginning of Anim’est Bucharest), but let’s be serious – they erode after two or three years. Who would want to work to death for years without being paid?’, he concludes.

Festivals make Chisinau an European capital

Dumitru Grosei, who already organised Romanian Film Days (RFD) the fourth year in Chisinau, told me about the same challenges. The most frequent challenges in the preparation period are usually related to budget formation. ‘Until the homestretch, we have great emotions regarding some funding sources, especially from NFC Moldova. Here, we encounter artificial issues and endless discussions on invented subjects, to finally give us a symbolic funding, due to the personal attitude of the director of this institution towards the organisers’, tells Dumitru Grosei, who this autumn received just EUR 500 from the National Film Center, compared to similar institution in Romania, which provided funding of EUR 5500. The encountered challenges did not ever make Dumitru Grosei to give up organisation of the RFD in Chisinau. He is strongly convinced that cultural events have a major role. ‘They also have an educational nature, our population is undereducated, and hence all the social problems you are referring to. Because it is more difficult to manipulate an educated, informed person. Higher number of cultural and especially cinematographic events, confers Chisinau a status of capital of a European country. A series festivals where participate Romanian films that we made here’, Dumitru Grosei says proudly.

For example, this year, Radu Jude’s ‘I do not care if we go down in history as barbarians’ film was screened in Chisinau and simultaneously at the BFI London Film Festival.

Thirst for culture

Those who were behind grand premier of this autumn, and namely ‘Ravac’ International Film Festival knew about the Chisinau residents’ hunger for cultural events, especially for domestic film. The allegory between highest quality and superior and limpid, yeast-free wine is most appropriate to describe what happened at the first edition of the festival organised by the Youbesc Creative Institute and Art Consumers Association. For five days the audience could watch 50 films from the last Cannes, Berlinale, Venice collections, Oscar nominees, and 16 domestic productions. ‘We always wanted to host a fantastic film festival in our country and bring productions which are internationally rated and selected at the most famous film festivals. Besides, I think the audience expected to watch national content, because we have not so many chances to watch Moldovan films produced at home at one birth’, says Vasile Micleusanu, one of the ‘Ravac’ festival organisers. Although Cannes or Berlinale sound very good, dome stic films were the most popular. Cinema halls almost every time were full of spectators, demonstrating how much they appreciate the local cinematography and once again confirming that directors, screenwriters, producers, actors in the Republic of Moldova have something to say to the world. ‘Was such a festival needed? I will be proud to say yes, I am very glad that we could organise it here, at home. Our country waited for such festival and would be good to have courage and strength, and madness to continue next year, and many other editions in the future’, Vasile Micleusanu recognises emotionally. Note that ‘Ravac’ is not a festival aiming only to promote national and international cinematographic art. Alongside celebrating films, ‘Ravac’ develops a cinema industry platform through organising specialised workshops for filmmakers. At the same time, I found organiser of this festival more optimistic than those aforementioned. He prefers ‘challenges’ in exchange for ‘difficulties’ He is aware that when planning a first-ever festival, you must be ready for any unexpected moments that are still lurking around the corners. “If I looked back, a major challenge which could practically stop carrying out the festival, was related to international content, namely the method of transport. None of us knew that we would have to get customs clearance for the hard drives with films for the festival. It was something new and unforeseen by us, now we learned the lesson’, Vasile Micleusanu says.

Traditions forgotten during the Soviet times, revitalised on the bank of the Nistru River

Nata Albot also thinks about native things. Nata Albot tells me ‘When I saw how eager the world is to such events in the street, how willing the world is of such well arranged meetings, with various activities, and I being passionate about everything that means traditions, somehow inspired by Valentina Vidrascu, national costume, its promotion, the magic an idea came to mind - to organise IaMa- – 20 – nia festival and bring craftsmen, help them to sell their products, come closer to consumers, promote national costume and last but not least to build local identity which, I guess, once reached the deadlock. It is a deadlock which wore on since Soviet times and did not disappear after the Independence. Since 2013, when IaMania firstly took place in Chisinau, festival migrated from capital on the bank of the Nistru River, increasing from 30 craftsmen and 10 cooks to over 130 craftsmen from all corners of the country, over 60 participants with traditional food. Over the last two years, the festival creates an image of regional event focusing notably on Dubasari region and all resources that this region is proud of, especially the gastronomic ones, which are very rich and offering. ‘Now I can say with assurance that IaMania is a festival emerged from our traditions, but it still has a regional overtone dedicated to Dubasari district richness. So, who is interested to discover Nistru River area, what local people boast of, what they produce with their own hands, from gastronomy to crafts, artists, traditions - this can be found at IaMania Festival in Holercani’, Nata Albot, founder of ‘Ca Lumea’ Civil Association says. Besides IaMania, it organises other cultural events, such as ‘Balul Brazilor de Crăciun’ (‘Christmas trees party’) or ‘Lavender Fest’. Community, on the first place Experience taught Nata Albot that in social-political context of the country, she can mostly count on the support of the community that Klumea Organisation has built over time to ensure the continuity and sustainability of its events. ‘We have almost 30 thousand followers on Facebook and a Patreon page with about 200 people who are ready to support us monthly so we can continue our work. If you choose not to be a middle ground person, to have a civil voice, people participating in crowdfunding are the only ones you can rely on and call on, so that you remain independent and can do what you like. The Klumea Organization is supported neither by state institutions nor generous sponsorships. Instead, it relies on modest or generous support of the friends, who are Klumea patrons’, Nata Albot says. IaMania had the greatest success in 2017, when all authorities’ support they relied on lacked. Organisers then turned to the support of the festival’s main beneficiaries - its guests. ‘All what happened was astonishing. The number of people who bought tickets exceeded 11 thousand, thus helping us cover the costs. Because we did not have sponsors anymore – and they refused us on the homestretch. The community saved us. I think that it is the greatest success. When Ministry of Culture or that of Internal Affairs are not your supreme judge but audience for whom you create these events’, Nata Albot recognises. There are not only successes, but regrets too. For example, Nata hopes to raise the festival financially to bring a tangible change to Holercani. ‘I want the most to renovate the high school’ toilet in the village, to be a decent one which can be used by visitors of festival’, she adds. Talking with these beautiful people who make considerable efforts to help Republic of Moldova become more alive, to bring people spiritual repast through film and traditions, I understood one thing - the number of challenges and difficulties experienced by cultural event organiser is considerably lower than the number of people thirsty for culture and satisfaction you have at the end of project.

ARTICLE by Ana GHERCIU, journalist and editor-in-chief at portal. She studied Economics in Timisoara, but came back home and works as a journalist. During 2012- 2016, she worked as a journalist at the national newspaper ‘Timpul’. Her materials address the socio-political issues of the Republic of Moldova, as well as niche issues, such as gender equality. In parallel with her media work, she has been part of the ALTFilm team for five years already, a team which organises two Romanian festivals in Chisinau – TIFF and Anim’est.

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