Nowe Horyzonty Film Festival 2012 – part one


The T-Mobile Nowe Horyzonty (New Horizons) Film Festival, now in its 12th year, was held in Wroclaw, Poland, from the 19th to the 29th of July. As with previous years at the festival, the program was a mixture of big international festival films (some of which had premièred at Cannes and Sundance), smaller Polish and European films, Director retrospectives and a full programme of shorts and documentaries.

The festival itself is held mostly in the wonderful Helios Multiplex (which has now been bought by New Horizons to be used exclusively for festivals, film seasons, film education and the screening of art-house and artists films) in the heart of central Wroclaw, a 9 screen cinema spread over three floors with its own cafés and a film store. Aside from this, 2 screens were set aside at the Multikino cinema across town and every night there were outdoor screenings in the famous market square.

The highlights of this year’s festival, apart from the actual New Horizons International Competition, were retrospectives for the directors Carlos Reygadas from Mexico; Dusan Makavejev from Yugoslavia; Ulrich Seidl from Austria, the Polish animator Witold Giersz, and Peter Tscherkassky and Eve Heller, both short film makers.

Despite being relatively unknown on the big festival circuit, New Horizons is the biggest film festival in Poland (a country which amazed me with its love and support of film of all kinds) and one of the biggest in central Europe. This is backed up by the level of organisation and sheer quantity of films and events, and the fact that a large number of directors were there for the screenings and to take part in Q&As afterwards. The full programme is available to browse at the festival website.

Obviously, with so much to choose from, one either has to be very picky, or very lucky. I was a bit of both, and managed to see a mixture of old and new, although I wouldn’t have missed the Makavejevs for anything.

Day one

Dusan Makavejev Shorts:

The Seal (1955, 17min, b&w)
Anthony’s Broken Mirror (1957, 11min, b&w)
Beekeeper’s Scrapbook (1958, 9min, colour, Serbian)
Don’t Believe in Monuments (1958, 5min – pictured above)
Damned Holiday (1958, 9min, colour, Serbian)
Colours Are Dreaming (1958, 8min, colour, Serbian)
What is a Worker’s Council (1959, 11min, b&w, Serbian)
Educational Fairy Tale (1961, 11min, b&w, Serbian)

Despite their limitations (budget, equipment, time constraints etc) these films are satire and social history of the highest and widest order. Highlights are the eroticism of politicised statues in Monuments, the cheekiness of the twisted documentary form of Worker’s Council and the bitter political satire of Fairy Tale. Sadly, unavailable on dvd.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (dir. Benh Zeitlin, USA, 2012, 91min):

As good as everyone says it is; great performances, great soundtrack, heartbreaking, amazing pig-bulls, wonderful childlike fantasy-reality. It really does create a new mythology of the deep south, of people othered by situation and circumstance. Out of nowhere, from unknowns, a story that will take anybody by surprise and stick in the memory. One of the best of the year.

One Forty (1980, 16min, b&w, German – pictured below) and The Prom (1982, 50min, colour, German):

Ulrich Seidl’s early documemtaries fall somewhere strangely between Mike Leigh and Werner Herzog…The first, about a man who stopped growing at 1.4m, and the second about a small town dance, show signs already of Seidl’s signature style. Hilarious and worrying.

Marina Abramovic – The Artist is Present (dir. Matthew Akers, USA, 2012, 106min):

Documentary showing legendary performance artist Marina Abramovic’s preparations for her retrospective and show at MoMA in New York. Marina is the greatest Woman (with a capital W) in the history of the world; beautiful, mad, talented, caring, powerful, funny, intelligent, all at the same time. The film is just as good.

Day 2

Room 237 (dir. Rodney Ascher, USA, 2012, 102min, colour):

Very interesting and well made documentary about the numerous theories behind and within Kubrick’s The Shining. It also acts as a warning against apophenia, and proves there are some very odd people about. What I learnt: an in-tray can be a massive cock, minotaurs don’t really need to have horns and Kubrick may have been rather more careless than we first thought. So yes, Kubrick did most emphatically not shoot the moon landings.

Golem (dir. Piotr Szulkin, Poland, 1979, 88min, b&w/colour, Polish):

Science-fiction (of a sort) film about the dangers of [?] identity-loss, multiplicity, cloning, generally fiddling with nature/humanity whilst surrounded by paper, staircases, overcoats and music. Oh, and Krystyna Janda as a prostitute clutching an armload of dolls. Director Piotr Szulkin was in attendance for the screening and was the slowest talker in the entire world. It was a pity I couldn’t understand him, as the film was excellent (the use of sound was similar and fairly contemporary to Lynch’s Eraserhead; Marek Walczewski as the lost and confused Winston Smith-type character is fantastic) and I wanted to ask him why so many of the Polish films of the 70’s feature, prominently, so many steep, wooden or concrete staircases in abandoned buildings that all lead from tight, dusty corridors to dirty, abandoned rooms. This warrants further investigation.

Day 3

Four Suns (dir. Bohdan Slama, Czech Republic, 2012, 105min, colour, Czech):

Brilliant low-key Czech family drama, about troubled marriages and growing pains, superbly acted and shot, leading to some amazing close-ups and fantastically framed dramatic, silent, conversations. Very funny in parts, too, particularly Karel (played by fantastic Czech actor Karel Roden), the ageing, earth-obsessed druid/hippie, who turns out to be the fulcrum around whom the rest of the characters dance. Or so it seemed to me. Very realistic, and painfully universal, so much so that after a while it was only the subtitles that kept reminding me that this was a foreign film. Highly recommended. Not many dry eyes at the end.

Keyhole (dir. Guy Maddin, Canada, 2011, 94min, b&w):

Guy Maddin, what the hell? Seriously, what the hell…?! It looked okay, I suppose, in its stark black and white. Um…it was quite loud in places, too. Other than that…um…yeah. You tell me. A retelling of the myths of Ulysses, apparently, starring Jason Patric as a gangster who need to negotiate his way through a haunted (?) mansion, in order to reach Isabella Rosselini and naked fat guy at the top. Yeah.

Day 4

Shock Head Soul (dir. Simon Pummell, Netherlands/Uk, 2011, 86min, colour):

Simon Pummell’s last film, Bodysong, fell between documentary, visual essay and found footage, and landed on its face. It was pants. This one, however, is serious, cerebral, multi-form filmmaking of the highest water. A film about madness and religion, art and madness. Based on the life and work of Daniel Paul Schreber, a respected judicial figure in Germany who fell from grace and into mental illness and religious torpor. An astonishing performance by Hugo Kooschijn makes this a must. Spoke to Pummell briefly afterwards about William Blake and illumination/madness. Very nice, highly intelligent man.

Your Sister’s Sister (dir. Lynne Shelton, USA, 2011, 90min, colour):

I was ready to write something along the lines of “Lynne Shelton, you [email protected]&£, thy name be Miranda July” but the film was actually very funny and touching, in an indie, American, love-triangle kind of way. Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt are fantastic, but Mark Duplass, as the hapless male, grates a bit.

Bestiaire (dir. Denis Cote, Canada/France, 2012, 72min, colour, French):

72min of very long, very static shots behind the scenes in a zoo, of people drawing stuffed animals, and the taxidermist at work. Mesmerising if a little uneventful.

Man Is Not A Bird (dir. Dusan Makavejev, Yugoslavia, 1965, 80min, b&w, Serbian):

Makvejev’s first feature, though rough, has all the signs of his later multi-form masterpieces: documentary send-ups, love stories (which are which?), political gibberish and erotic stockings, all wrapped up in a story about an engineer who arrives to fit machinery and falls for a beautiful hairdresser. It’s easy to see why, less than a decade later, the Yugoslav government would cordially invite him to leave and not come back

Check out Nowe Horyzonty Film Festival 2012 – part two for coverage of the concluding days of the festival.

  1. Tue Sorensen says

    Interesting stuff! I would pay good money to see those Dusan Makavejev shorts and feature. I’ve also been keeping an eye on that DVD box of Szulkin’s “sci-fi”.

    With some of the movies you describe, I don’t really get a sense of whether you liked them or not, and how much. The reviews are very byte-sized and you don’t give your ratings. A few more comments on what you personally like and dislike about the movies you review in the future would be very welcome! Just a suggestion! 🙂

  2. Bruce Bailey says

    Cheers, for the suggestion! I had thought about that, but there were so many (part 2 is the same again and a bit more) that more indepth reviews would have made the article way too long. I just wanted to get all the details down. Some of the Szulkin films were not even available on dvd in Poland, unfortunately. Criterion have done some wonderful Makavejev discs, with a box-set of his first 3 films. Worth a look,

  3. Kevin Matthews says

    Some goodies there that I am interested in, including that Guy Maddin film (sorry but I can’t help it – it sounds like a winner to me, hahaha).

  4. Bruce Bailey says

    Keyhole was not bad, as much it just wasn’t anything really, although a lot of other reviewers really enjoyed it. And after My Winnipeg, which is fantastic, and even Dracula…I found it a bit disappointing.

  5. Kevin Matthews says

    I’ve only previously seen his short The Heart Of The World and loved it. I should really check out more of his work.

  6. Bruce Bailey says

    They’re worth a look. Dracula – Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, My Winnipeg and The Saddest Music in the World are all available on British dvd.

  7. Tue Sorensen says

    Hey Bruce – concerns about length are two-sided; articles can get too long, but they can also get too short! 😉 I think something like double what you have above would be a good and acceptable length – but, of course, it’s all up to you and Rob (Big Editor Kahuna)! In any case, I’m looking forward to the next installment.

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