Our first jury at the "Listapad International Film Festival" in the Belarusian capital Minsk, presented the "New Voices – The Minsk FIPRESCI Prize" to a debut shown in one of the official competitions.
It was for the first time this year that FIPRESCI had a jury at the Listapad Film Festival in Minsk, Belarus. The festival, already in its 24th edition, has grown steadily for the past two decades, from a small, mostly national film festival into something much bigger, incorporating a main competition; a section for first and second features; a documentary section; a children's film festival and the usual "best of the fest" section, under the appropriate title of "Lions, Bears and Palms".
Since film distribution is not as widely spread as in other countries, the festival is an excellent opportunity for Belarusians to see films which are otherwise left unseen.
And so they did. Most of the public screenings were sold out. Especially young people flocked into the cinemas to get a glimpse of a different world, and all of the screenings for both main competition and debut films – called somewhat in Soviet-retro style "Youth on the March" – were introduced by the enigmatic artistic director Igor Soukmanov. As he explains in an interview on the festival reports page, he regards the introductions as a means of communicating with the audience as well as explaining why he thinks this particular film is important. After the screenings there always were Q&As, usually with the film crew. And since the festival concentrates mostly on former socialist countries, including the Baltic republics and South and Eastern Europe, most directors were present as well. Often it happened that these film talks ended in widespread discussions about the (il)legimate choices that a director had made. One example was the screening of Yusup Razykov's "Sella Turcica" (Turetskoe sedlo) in the Main Competition. This is a film about a secret service agent who is now retired, but who cannot let go of his old profession of shadowing people. A large part of the audience was outraged by the sheer amoral behaviour of the main character, and the film crew and Soukmanov had to explain very cautiously that this was exactly the point. It is at times like these that the festival feels the most alive.
As is almost tradition with FIPRESCI, our jury concentrated on first and second features, which included almost all of the "Youth on the March" programme, with a few additional debuts from the children's and documentary sections. Our selection included a lot of powerful features, such as the already well-acclaimed Russian film "Closeness" (Tesnota); the striking Georgian debut "Scary Mother" by Ana Urushadze (remember her name!); the weird but wonderful "Winter Brothers" by Hlynur Palmason (Denmark/Iceland) and the first independent Belarusian movie ever to make it into a competition at the festival: Yulia Shatuns' "Next Day" (Zautra).
The FIPRESCI jury, however, ended up choosing a film from the documentary section. Having said that, it must be noted that one can argue about this categorisation, as the film, "City of the Sun" by Rati Oneli, is so much more than a mere registration of reality. Shot over the course of three years in a once very buzzing Georgian industrial mining town now going down the drains, with the director living and breathing with the people of the town, it is more of a research project about the uniqueness of lost souls than anything else. And with its startling scenes full of travelogues of industrial decline, miners sharing a lunch and perfectly sung karaoke versions of the Georgian evergreen "Magnolia", it perfectly resonates with this year's festival slogan: Truth, Love, Beauty. (Mike Naafs)
Edited by Birgit Beumers
© FIPRESCI 2017