Connecting Cottbus

Report on the Festival of East European Cinema 2017. By Joël Friso

To understand the importance of a film festival, you should have a look at its supporting programme. Therefore, I visited an event in the nice bar / gallery called Fango on the second evening of the Film Festival Cottbus (7 – 12 November 2017). A German student told to an audience of thirty young people about his wonderful journey by bicycle through the Caucasus – the south east border area of Europe. Who did he meet? What did he eat? What where those people like? As the leading festival for Eastern European Cinema, Film Festival Cottbus is aware of its role in connecting people from all these different regions, cultural backgrounds and religions.

I think this is the reason why the Ecumenical Jury felt very welcome at this festival in the historical Cottbus in Germany, near to the Polish border. We saw all twelve films of the Feature Film Competition. Amongst them Kibhula (George Ovashvili, Georgia, Germany, France 2017), a contemplative film about the journey of the first democratically elected president of Georgia. In the mountains of the Caucasus he meets his supporters and seeks redemption for his fate. Also we saw Nar Baği (Pomegranate Orchard, Ilgar Najaf, Azerbaijan 2017), a well told story about a family living in a beautiful orchard in a village in Azerbaijan, longing for the opportunity for a better future.

In the midst of the festival week our jury was invited to the Ecumenical Reception in the Oberkirche St. Nikolai. For this event two German short films were selected from the focus programme ‘Vietnam in Europe’: Obst & Gemüse (Apples & Oranges, Đức Ngô Ngọc, Germany, 2016) and Der Garten des Herrn Vong (The Garden of Mr. Vong, Dieu Hao Do, Germany 2017). It was a very strong choice of the festival to give special attention to the stories of the large Vietnamese community in Europe. The films add a surprising perspective to the actual debate about immigration and show us how important it is to explain the most basic things over and over again. I was very glad to see director Đức Ngô Ngọc winning the DIALOGUE Prize for Intercultural Communication for his documentary Farewell Halong (Germany 2017) at the closing night of the festival. Really a filmmaker to look out for.

Photo: Joël Friso

During our week in Cottbus we had a lot of interesting discussions. As an outcome of this, we had to choose one film from the competition which received the Ecumenical Award. We were lucky that Dzikie Róże (Wild Roses) by Anna Jadowska was selected for this festival. After finishing her film she had a lot of difficulties finding a festival to present her film, but in Cottbus all the juries were unanimously in their judgement. Besides the Ecumenical Award, the film was awarded for Best Film and for Best Actress by the International Festival Jury and got the Prize of the Fipresci Jury.

Our jury was impressed by the intense cinematography and the accomplished performances of the actors, including the child-actors. But most of all it was the story of the 27 years old Ewa. After a stay in a clinic she returns home to her two children. Her husband recently spent six months on a business assignment in Norway, now the two live almost separate lives. Ewa is the object of the passionate advances of a local minor. She struggles to keep a clear head amongst the emotional chaos. And then her two-years-old son disappears.

It’s a universal story of a young women fighting to overcome her fears of her surroundings. The film values Ewa’s individual choice to take responsibility for herself. And by doing this it stimulates to discuss the film from the moment the end credits start. Asking you: what if you were in her position?


Joël Friso is program manager at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He is a member of INTERFILM and was President of the Ecumenical Jury at Film Festival Cottbus.