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Heleen Gerritsen • Director, goEast Film Festival

“These are troubled, but also interesting, times”

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- We chatted to the new festival and artistic director of goEast, Heleen Gerritsen, on the eve of the gathering’s 18th edition

Heleen Gerritsen  • Director, goEast Film Festival
(© Angelika Stehle)

One of the best-established festivals focused on Central and Eastern European (CEE) cinema, the goEast Film Festival, celebrates its 18th edition this year and starts tomorrow, 18 April, running until 24 April in Wiesbaden, Germany. We had a chance to talk to Heleen Gerritsen, the new festival and artistic director of goEast, about the challenges she has faced and this year’s selection, as well as the strengths and the future of CEE cinema.

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Cineuropa: The 18th edition of goEast will be your first as festival and artistic director; what are the goals that you have set for this year, and what might be the challenges?
Heleen Gerritsen:
 goEast’s main focus remains the same: we screen a wide range of Central and Eastern European cinema: fiction, documentaries, animation and hybrid forms. We’ve also included 360-degree and VR works this year.

As for the challenges, Eastern Europe doesn’t have a good reputation, politically, right now, and it’s tempting to mainly select films about controversial political topics because audiences will be familiar with them from the news media. However, I don’t expect individual filmmakers to exclusively make films that educate Western audiences about the politics or specific aspects of their home countries. If a director made a beautiful, poetic documentary about nature, I’d gladly show that film, but it’s harder to find audiences for movies with introverted narratives or abstract topics. In the end, it’s all about finding a balance.

What do you think are the main strengths of Central and Eastern European cinema? Are they evident in this year’s selection?
These are troubled, but also interesting, times. CEE’s combination of traditional film education, an emphasis on great camera skills and the strong motivation to tell stories resulted in a very rich selection this year. I was also surprised by the huge number of strong submissions by female filmmakers – for other German (and international) festivals, it’s a big issue, as they claim that not enough women submit their films. I’m happy to say we did not have this problem, and we selected a great and varied programme, with lots of different narratives and points of view.

What can you say about the future of CEE cinema?
Thanks to EU programmes like Eurimages and MEDIA, international co-productions are now common all over Central Europe. I also admire how a lot of film institutes in many Central European countries manage to continue offering their support to individual filmmakers and withstand all the political pressure. But we all know how easy it is to destroy structures that took years to build. So, truth be told, I am worried about the future of Central and Eastern European cinema, even though right now it’s doing really well on the festival circuit.

What are the main advantages for a young filmmaker of taking part in the East-West Talent Lab or OPPOSE OTHERING! programmes?
goEast’s East-West Talent Lab is a training and project development programme for up-and-coming filmmakers, but it also offers young professionals from other branches of the film industry, such as producers, distributors, festival organisers and educators, the opportunity to brainstorm about tomorrow’s film industry. OPPOSE OTHERING! deals with issues like the inclusion of minorities, equal opportunities and political pressure. I think it’s very important to also talk about ethics when it comes to audiovisual production.

You are also reinventing the Open Frame Award this year, with a focus on VR. Could you give us a better overview of this change?
Virtual reality as a medium has finally reached a technological level where it’s actually watchable and enjoyable, even for a person who wears glasses, like me. Exciting things are happening in Minsk, Moscow, Bucharest and plenty of other places. But if I look at the line-ups of the big festivals and VR events, there’s very little from Central and Eastern Europe. For goEast, it’s a great opportunity to fill that void, at least a little. We are showing eight works, in both Frankfurt and Wiesbaden.

Besides looking to the future, goEast has a well-curated programme on the history of cinema. What is this year’s focus?
2018 is a year brimming with historical events that we can’t ignore. First off: 50 years of the Prague Spring. Our Prague 1968 programme juxtaposes Jan Němec’s legendary Oratorio for Prague with Soviet propaganda and a small line-up of Czechoslovak New Wave fiction films from the years 1966-1968. This year’s symposium will be dedicated to Baltic cinema, on the occasion of 100 years of independence in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Under the title “Hybrid Identities – Baltic Cinema”, film academics, filmmakers and journalists will examine the gradual development of particular cinema languages that developed in the Baltic states, even during Soviet times. A film programme will accompany the symposium, featuring classics from the Riga poetic documentary school, like Uldis Brauns235.000.000 (1967), an animated movie retrospective with works by Priit Pärn and nukufilm directors Riho Unt and Mait Laas, and much more.

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