Joining the ranks of SBIFF’s established sidebars showcasing specific geographic regions, the new Eastern Bloc series offers festival-goers a chance to see the cinematic feats of Eastern European nations, many of which have only begun to flex their creative muscles in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. Among the 2007 winners of the Cannes Film Festival alone were a Romanian film and Konstantin Lavronenko, who accepted the Best Actor prize for his performance in the Russian gem The Banishment, which just happens be one of the movies soon to be screening here in Santa Barbara.
No stranger to this phenomenon, film fest Executive Director Roger Durling said he’d like the Eastern Bloc sidebar to become a festival mainstay. Noting that he’s long had an affinity for cultures that have struggled against oppression, Durling said many filmmakers from these nations have honed their craft by working with limited resources or fighting against cinematic censorship. “There’s an urgency in the voice [of these filmmakers],” he said. “They are dying to speak out.” Durling explained that they employ a mise en scne wholly different from those of many American movies: long takes, a restrained pace, and a realistic depiction of everyday events that manage to convey the nature of life in this part of the world.
Director SrdÂian GolubovicÂ”s The Trap, for example, depicts the difficulty of life in post-MiloÅ¡eviÄ Serbia by focusing on a man who endangers his life and associates with criminals so that he can pay for his son’s life-saving surgery. Whereas The Trap begins with its central family seeming so very normal-perhaps even American-seeming, to some viewers-the plot slowly reveals the differences between life here and life there. So too does The Banishment, an adaptation of William Saroyan’s The Laughing Matter. In it, a family’s stay in the country reveals an abyss of emotion as vast as the landscapes against which the film is set.
Other films in the sidebar include Russia’s Alexandra, in which a woman visits her grandson at a Chechnyan army camp; Poland’s Time to Die, about a woman’s relationship with her imperiled house; Mongol, which focuses on Genghis Khan’s life as a slave before he rose to power and fame; The Edge of Heaven, a German and Turkish production set in Istanbul; Macedonia’s Shadows, which centers on a man seemingly unable to shine as brightly as his doctor father; and the Slovenian Short Circuits, which melds multiple story threads together into a rumination on human relationships. Three shorts will screen as well, including Editing, In the Name of the Son, and Waves, the last of which will be making its American premiere.