Mihai Chirilov • Artistic director, Transilvania International Film Festival
“I hope film lovers will always prefer the experience of cinema-going”
by Stefan Dobroiu
- We chatted to Transilvania IFF artistic director Mihai Chirilov about this year’s rather nostalgic edition, the perils of political correctness and the ever-changing appeal of new technologies
We chatted to Mihai Chirilov, who for the 17th time was in charge of making the entire selection of films at the Transilvania International Film Festival (25 May-3 June, Cluj-Napoca), about this year’s fairly nostalgic edition, the perils of political correctness and the ever-changing appeal of new technologies.
Cineuropa: What was your biggest personal satisfaction at this edition of the Transilvania IFF?
Mihai Chirilov: The decision to open the festival with Samuel Maoz’s newest film, Foxtrot [+see also:
interview: Samuel Maoz
film profile], and the audience’s more than favourable reaction to it. Of course, Foxtrot is both lauded and controversial, which made it potentially popular from the very beginning. But it is also a return to those radical, dark, uncomfortable, pour les connaisseurs opening films that TIFF used to favour at its earlier editions, when it would open with disturbing titles such as Bowling for Columbine, Funny Games [+see also:
film profile], Old Boy and City of God – before the official openings took place in the open-air venue dead in the centre of Cluj-Napoca, the Unirii Square. By necessity, the change in location gave way to more audience-orientated films, supposed to attract a bigger crowd. After many years of the opening film usually being a catchy comedy (Soul Kitchen [+see also:
film profile], I'm So Excited [+see also:
film profile], Wild Tales [+see also:
film profile], Potiche [+see also:
film profile], Of Snails and Men [+see also:
interview: Tudor Giurgiu
film profile], 6.9 on the Richter Scale [+see also:
interview: Nae Caranfil
film profile]), it was high time for a return to our origins, when the TIFF opened with a punch in the stomach. The courage that Maoz shows in Foxtrot is similar to that of the TIFF, and the fact that an audience of 3,500 accepted the challenge and that all of the other screenings of Foxtrot were sold out was a source of joy for me.
The 17th edition impressed with a wide selection of classics. How important are these rediscoveries for you and the festival, and how important is it to introduce classics to a younger generation?
Where to screen archive films in optimal conditions, if not at a festival that is already popular among educated, curious film lovers? This edition was indeed the most nostalgic so far, rich in both classic films and rarities. For film lovers of all ages, we programmed an Ingmar Bergman retrospective, which was an occasion to watch and discover digitally restored copies of the peaks in the Swedish filmmaker's career. And Persona managed to fill the biggest cinema hall in Cluj-Napoca, with 800 seats.
The “Back in the USSR” sidebar, with six Soviet arthouse blockbusters from the 1980s in the selection, was not only a gift to my generation and that of my parents, who grew up with these cinematic hits during communism, but also an opportunity to test their transcendence and the curiosity of younger audiences to discover films from a certain era and a certain type of cinema, which was larger than life and is extinct today. The Assi Dayan retrospective was also an absolute first, dedicated to experienced cinemagoers who cannot say no to cinematic rarities. The cult films selected by the Prague-based Shockproof Film Festival can also be considered rarities, but they were targeted at a younger audience – the hipsters, let’s say – who enjoy unusual, novel offerings, and many of the screenings were accompanied by interactive performances. The screenings of silent films were also accompanied by live performances and were hosted by unconventional venues. Finally, I should mention the anniversary screening of The Big Blue, which this year turned 30, as the closing film. I found it to be a perfect metaphor for a festival in which you dive deeper and deeper for ten days, and from which you never want to resurface.
One of the main attractions at this edition was the “To Be or Not to Be Politically Correct?” sidebar. Do you think global cinema is suffering as a result of political correctness?
I think that many of the films that have made a dent in the history of cinema, be they arthouse or commercial, couldn’t be made today, as filmmaking has suddenly discovered that it must fit into the Procrustean bed of political correctness. It’s a reality that is food for thought and which is also the origin of this sidebar, which angered many people, although it was meant only as a warning sign and an invitation to debate. I don’t even want to imagine cinema without subversive films, where filmmakers are deprived of their creative freedom for fear of official standpoints, various ideologies, or public lynching on Facebook or Twitter.
For the second time, Transilvania offered its audience InfiniTIFF, a selection of VR films. Do you think the technology has a future in cinema?
The average cinemagoer is seduced only by what is new and innovative, and cinema has tried to keep pace by offering overdoses of special effects, 3D and, more recently, VR. The technology is evolving at a much faster pace than a festival is able to synchronise with. Young audiences, who are addicted to new technologies, are very difficult to attract to a theatre. You have to constantly reinvent the festival in order to accommodate all of these places that the new technologies are pushing them towards, and that was the starting point for the InfiniTIFF selection, a space dedicated to new cinematic approaches.
If you ask me, there is a huge risk that these technologies – ie, the form – will end up packaging a disappointing artistic core in a great look. I think the challenge for them is to find the perfect marriage between technical abilities and story. Maybe I am old-fashioned in this respect, but I prefer to hope that the magic of cinema-going won’t die. Of course, there are professions and institutions that may go extinct in the course of technical evolution, but on the other hand, all fads die – for example, Facebook is less popular nowadays, while music lovers have gone back to vinyl. That gives me hope that film lovers will always prefer the experience of cinema-going, which is now more than a century old.
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