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Dumitru Budrala • President, Astra Film Festival

“We don’t want to lose a certain atmosphere that encourages communication”


- The Astra Film Festival’s president, Dumitru Budrala, chatted to Cineuropa about the strengths of Romania's biggest documentary event

Dumitru Budrala  • President, Astra Film Festival

Dumitru Budrala is the founder and president of the Astra Film Festival, which brought its 24th edition to a close on 22 October with Italian director Federica Di Giacomo's documentary Deliver Us [+see also:
film review
film profile
 winning the top award (see the news). Director and photographer Budrala has directed documentaries that have garnered awards at several international film festivals. Perhaps the most famous of them is The Curse of the Hedgehog (2004), a title selected at more than 50 film gatherings all over the world. The director and festival organiser chatted to Cineuropa about the strengths and highlights of Astra's 24th edition.

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Cineuropa: Astra has evolved over its 24 editions. Which aspect of its evolution do you keep closest to your heart?
Dumitru Budrala:
Nowadays, the festival celebrates the strength of documentary cinema in the broadest and truest meaning of the term. It started as an innovative project in a Romania that had recently escaped communism, and at first, the selection favoured anthropological documentary, but over the 24 editions, our editorial line has opened up in several directions. Anyway, we have always been interested in showing films that explore the realities of the contemporary world, films with a specific documentary approach. This has always been a constant.

Nine years ago, we extended the festival’s selection by creating a festival for students, Astra Film Junior. It follows the same principles as Astra, but the selected films eye students of various ages, from primary-school to high-school age. The event’s popularity is amazing: this year, we reached 23,000 admissions for these screenings. It’s like the entire city loves these films: the students even come by bus from the villages around Sibiu. And now this has been the second year that we’ve programmed documentaries in new formats, like VR, 360 degrees and full dome.

What can you tell us about the criteria behind the festival’s selection?
We always try to select the most accomplished films from two points of view: one would be the topic and how it is covered, and the other the cinematic approach. It is also important for us to follow films that explore outstanding events or situations, films that can form the basis of debates on relevant topics, like those about post-truth, fake news and mockumentary. 

Do you have a favourite event from Astra 2017?
The screening of Iosif Demian’s feature Rainbow Bubbles. Not only was the film made with documentary elements, but its story is amazing. It was finished in 1982, but it was never screened in Romania because of the communist censorship. Its itinerary between that year and the Astra screening is truly extraordinary. It is a great joy for us that the film was received enthusiastically by both younger audiences and the foreign guests.

Documentary is considered the “ugly duckling” of Romanian cinema, at least from the point of view of the financial support from the Romanian National Film Center. What is Astra’s position in this respect?
We created DocumentaryTank@AFF, an industry platform intended to promote Romanian documentaries in development. It has proven to be a real success both for the directors and for the industry professionals in search of new projects. Last year, the Phoenixxx project was pitched in the Documentary Tank, and this year it was shown at Astra, winning a prize.

If you had a bigger budget, what would you change at Astra?
There is something we really don’t want for Astra: to turn the festival into an event dominated by a market approach, to make it into a supermarket for film screenings. Its size and format are perfect, and we don’t want to make it any bigger, because we don’t want to lose a certain atmosphere that encourages communication and intimacy.

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