At this year’s 15th edition of TIFF, one diva stole the show: Screen legend Sophia Loren was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the closing ceremony and charmed the audience in Cluj-Napoca with her charisma and wit. By choosing her as special guest, the festival emphasised its willingness to acknowledge cinema history as it had done in previous years.
Located in Transsilvania (the region of international “Dracula” fame, literally “the land beyond the forest”), Cluj is a beautiful city, noted for its late Medieval, Renaissance and baroque architecture. Home to about 500.000 permanent residents and students, the agglomeration of Cluj-Napoca is a place where the influence of the young is very palpable: the city bustles with fine cafés and restaurants and boasts a vigorous night life. It is also known for its rich cultural scene – with two theatres, two operas, a puppet theatre and various museums.
However, while many festivals take place in Cluj nowadays (among them two famous music festivals), TIFF is still the city’s largest cultural attraction. In this year’s edition, taking place from May 27th to June 5th, 248 films from 64 countries were shown and about 120, 000 participants attended the festival, among them 1,100 festival guests – directors, producers, actors, industry professionals, as well as Romanian and foreign journalists.
First and foremost, Romania’s biggest film festival celebrates contemporary cinema – be it foreign or domestic. This year, the Romanian Days section showed a selection of Romanian short films as well as 12 recent Romanian feature films, most of which after having already been presented at international film festivals, like Dogs (Caini) and Sieranevada, just fresh from their premiere at Cannes two weeks earlier. While Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada was enthusiastically received by the Romanian audience, the also warmly received Dogs by first time director Bogdan Mirica went on to become the festival’s big winner. Part of the international competition section (12 films), this mafia drama won the Main Prize, the Transilvania Trophy.
The competition jury also awarded Israeli director Avishai Sivan with the Best Director Award for his drama Tikkun, whereas the Special Jury Award went to Sparrows (Þrestir) directed by Rúnar Rúnarsson. The Best Performance Award was given to actor David D’Ingeo from Where there is Shade (De l'ombre il y a), while the Special Mention of the Jury was awarded to actors Monika Naydenova and Alexander Benev for their performance in Thirst. Neon Bull (Boi neon), directed by Gabriel Mascaro, won the FIPRESCI Prize for a film in the #Animal section, and the Audience Award went to The Open Door (La Puerta Abierta), directed by Marina Seresesky.
While the festival lived up to its reputation for hosting spectacular events, such as concerts by renowned bands and lively parties, it also made the most of its mostly favourable weather conditions. The city’s main square, the Piata Unirii, served as location not only for the opening ceremony but also for open air cinema screenings, among them films like Mad Max: Fury Road or Martin Scorsese’s classic Taxi Driver.
Other film sections featured the Supernova programme, showcasing international productions, winners at renowned international festivals; a focus on Croatia and Lithuania, The Berlin – Bucharest Express, as well as the original #Animal section, compiled by festival main programmer Mihai Chirilov, the film of which were eligible for the FIPRESCI jury prize. Industry events featured the Transilvania Pitch Stop and Transilvania Talent Lab, aimed at Romanian first and second time directors. Also, at a work shop entitled “Romanian film law and tax incentives,” consisting of representatives from the Romanian film fund (CNC) as well as representatives from other European cinema funds, festival director Tudor Giurgiu, among others, offered information on the draft proposals for amending the Romanian Cinema Law. (Kira Taszman, edited by Christina Stojanova)