It was never about the stars, red carpets and fancy cars. It has always been about the beautiful films, projected onto the silver screen for the benefit of local audiences.
Slovenia is not a large country, and Ljubljana not a big city, with only one multiplex in a shopping centre and three small cinemas in the city centre; no wonder, then, that the number of films that normally reach us is not particularly large or varied. Enter the Ljubljana International Film Festival (LIFFe) with its choice selection of about a hundred films from around the globe. Independent and auteur films often attract only smaller audiences during regular cinema runs, yet nearly a quarter of LIFFe screenings were sold out this year. In fact, ticket sales were so good that the festival has been able to cover almost a half of its costs through ticket sales alone.
The objective of LIFFe is to present its audiences with a broad and varied selection of significant films that have been making the festival rounds over the past year. Although the films are divided into sections highlighting different types of films (for example 'Perspectives' is for first and second time filmmakers, 'Kings and Queens' for established directors, and 'Panorama' presents a general overview of what global cinema has to offer), a great number of films this year shared the same leitmotif: poverty. Even though it was not at the forefront of the story of many films, it is the milieu and a fact of life for many protagonists in films as different as the FIPRESCI-awarded Ursula Meier drama "Sister" ("L'enfant d'en haut"), Ulrich Siedl's portrait of lonely older Austrian women seeking love in Africa in "Paradise: Love" ("Paradies: Liebe"), and Gareth Huw Evans's spectacular martial arts thriller "The Raid: Redemption" ("Serbuan Maut").
Even films that did not directly reference poverty often raised questions related to wealth and the security it is supposed to bring. A good example is Johnnie To's "Life Without Principle" ("Dyut meng gam"), which focuses on greed and draws parallels between bankers and (typically for To) gangsters, Kleber Mendonça Filho's "Neighbouring Sounds" ("O Som ao Redor") that features a well-to-do upper middle class family whose relative wealth still does not keep them together, nor does it protect them from old sins, or Cate Shortland's "Lore", where the financial and moral standing of a German Nazi family is eliminated after the end of World War II, along with most of their core beliefs, and the children have to struggle throughout their deadly passage across a chaotic land.
The other notable fact regarding this year's festival was that its three main awards went to female directors. The main jury selected the film "Clip" ("Klip") by Serbian director Maja Milos, the audience award went to Australian director Cate Shortland for the German co-production "Lore", and the FIPRESCI jury selected the French-Swiss co-produced film "Sister" by Ursula Meier. Even though women have previously received awards at LIFFe, most notably Cate Shortland who took the festival's main Kingfisher award in 2004, this year's festival nearly doubled the total number of awards that women have received for their films during LIFFe's 23-year history. Let's hope that this is a sign of the times and not just a passing trend. (Igor Harb)
Ljubljana International Film Festival: www.liffe.si