email print share on Facebook share on Twitter share on reddit pin on Pinterest

TRANSILVANIA 2022

Mihai Chirilov • Artistic director, Transilvania International Film Festival

“It’s inappropriate to apply political correctness to art”

by 

- Are boycotts the right path for film festivals to go down? It’s hard to find a more unambiguous answer than the one given by the artistic director, in his post ever since its first edition

Mihai Chirilov • Artistic director, Transilvania International Film Festival
(© TIFF/Nicu Cherciu)

After two pandemic-stricken, more audience-friendly editions, the Transilvania International Film Festival (17-26 June, Cluj-Napoca) gets back to its usual format, and continues to be Romania’s biggest film event showcasing both popular and edgy, uncomfortable, and even shocking cinema. Here is what the festival’s artistic director, Mihai Chirilov, has to say about boycotts, political correctness and his pet project, the new documentary competition.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: With approximately 190 films in the selection, TIFF is going back to its original template from before the pandemic. Was your approach regarding the selection of the films different this year?
Mihai Chirilov:
Our goal is to showcase good-quality cinema, innovation and freedom of expression – that’s our basic approach, as always. There’s fine-tuning now and then, depending on certain contexts, but artistic criteria are what matter the most. Both pandemic-stricken editions, which TIFF was gracefully able to pull off, slightly favoured feel-good movies – precisely because we didn’t want to alienate our audience more than the repressive measures and some of the absurd restrictions already had. Besides, we extended our support to local productions that were stuck on the shelves for too long by increasing the dedicated number of slots within the Romanian Days section. That was the least we could do for the industry. Now that the restrictions are hopefully dead and buried for good, we have brought back the provocation, the challenging and edgy films. One should never get too relaxed, or comfortably numb. We need to stay alert and constantly question everything – and intriguing films are the best tools to keep critical thinking alive, especially in dubious and conflicting times that tend to suppress dialogue, nuances and logical arguments.

What can you tell us about this new documentary competition that everyone is talking about? It seems there’s a twist…
The idea has been floating around for some time now, but we avoided the traditional path when establishing this new What’s Up, Doc? competition. In the selection process, we discovered lots of documentaries and hybrid works that boldly depart from the conventions of the genre, exploring its limits but also its transgressions. This new breed of mutated documentary flirts more and more with fiction, knowingly breaks the rules, and even indulges in the luxury of blasphemy and conspiracy. At the risk of upsetting purists, almost anything goes in What's Up, Doc?, including those films that blur the line between fiction and documentary to the point where the labels become inoperable and you no longer know exactly what you're looking at, what's real and what's not, and why. It pretty much fits the world we live in today, since yesterday's conspiracy theories turn out to be tomorrow's reality, and truths titled in block letters are almost immediately debunked as fake news.

Romania shares a border with Ukraine, and the Russian invasion there is still the most talked-about topic in the country. What do you think about the ban on Russian films at international film festivals?
We have three Russian films in the programme (Lado Kvataniya’s The Execution, Natahsha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov’s Captain Volkonogov Escaped [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, and Kirill Serebrennikov's Petrov's Flu [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
) and one Swiss production (Ostrov - Lost Island [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
), depicting life in a small Russian community. There are also three Ukrainian films at TIFF: Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk’s Pamfir [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk
film profile
]
, Oleh Sentsov’s Rhino [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
and Valentyn Vasyanovych’s Reflection [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Valentyn Vasyanovych
film profile
]
. All of these are great pictures that matched our artistic approach when making the selection. I don’t think that festivals should equally turn into war zones, with certain films automatically becoming casualties or collateral damage. It’s important that these two voices co-exist in a cultural landscape; just because political dialogue is impossible, it doesn’t mean that intellectual dialogue should be dismissed. It’s regrettable when a cultural institution starts to behave like an extremist or an executioner. We do believe in freedom of expression; it’s imperative not to reject artists based solely on their nationality, and this is the message behind our visual campaign this year, under the “Make Films, Not War” slogan. But just because we are clearly anti-war doesn’t mean that we are against war films. Last but not least, I’ve seen where this so-called boycott solution can lead when I’ve heard individuals (intellectuals, not politicians!) claiming that Chekhov or Tarkovsky should be cancelled. They should be ashamed of themselves. I find this not only unacceptable, plain absurd and ridiculous, but also dangerous because it sets a precedent.

You have a particular stance regarding political correctness in cinema. Can you comment on it? Is cinema tamer in 2022 than it was in 2002?
There’s nothing particular about it, as far as I’m concerned. It’s common sense, and it goes hand in hand with our mission as a film festival to promote and encourage freedom of expression and to generate debates, not to dictate conclusions. It’s inappropriate to apply political correctness to art. Art is not propaganda; it stimulates critical thinking. It confronts you with uncomfortable truths that clash with your own moral compass in order to enable you to find personal answers. Cinema is indeed tamer now than it was in 2002, up to the point where even Éric Rohmer would have had a hard time making his films nowadays. What we are facing today is an entirely new architecture of the industry where everything (from storytelling and film funding to festivals and even film criticism) has to be ideologically aligned. I find this “logic” to be totally at odds with what art should stand for.

Which new and innovative voices are you showcasing in Romanian Days this year?
All in all, we are showcasing 13 titles in this sidebar, with no fewer than eight debut features, including Alexandru Belc’s Cannes-awarded Metronom [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alexandru Belc
film profile
]
. Apart from the eye-catching platoon of new female voices (Alina Grigore’s Blue Moon [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alina Grigore
film profile
]
, Monica Stan’s Immaculate [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Monica Stan, George Chiper-…
film profile
]
and Ligia Ciornei’s Clouds of Chernobyl), Octav Chelaru’s A Higher Law and Sebastian Mihăilescu’s You Are Ceausescu to Me [+see also:
film review
film profile
]
are clear standouts.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.

Privacy Policy