Impressions From Another World

Report on the Fribourg Film Festival 2015, by jury member Bo Torp Pedersen
Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere

© Ciné Sud Promotion

Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere

"I'm just so happy that I want to sing for you". Diep Hoang Nguyen stood up from the table, where the guests were enjoying a very Swiss lunch – either fondu or rösti – and began to sing. I was wondering: Did the Vietnamese film director know that she would later receive an award? It should not have been leaked before the evening closing ceremony at the film festival in Fribourg. Or was she simply happy being here? Here we were, jury members, filmmakers, and other festival guests, on excursion in the Swiss mountains. We had visited the old city of Gruyères, and right now we found ourselves on a snowy mountain peak with a restaurant, a ski resort – and a great view! Some of the guests became young boys again; they never before had snow in their hands. 
In the evening, everybody gathered in the cinema Rex for speeches and awards. Diep Hoang Nguyen had to go to the podium three times to receive an award, among others the prize from us in the Ecumenical jury. As the director was honoured by other juries too, we were confirmed in our conviction that we had got it right. Our chairwoman, Michèle Debidour, motivated and handed over our prize – a plaque and a cheque for 5,000 CHF – to Diep Hoang Nguyen for her debut feature film as a director: "Dap cánh giua không trung" (Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere).
We were four in the jury, two Catholics and two Protestants: in addition to Michèle Debidour from Dieulefit, France, Rosemarie Fähndrich, Lucerne, Switzerland, Peter Meier-Apollini, Twann, Switzerland, and yours truly from Copenhagen, Denmark. Our task was to see and evaluate all 12 films in the festival competition programme, and we discussed the films thoroughly during the festival. Many films originated in Latin America and Asia; they conveyed – in a more or less successful way – thought-provoking impressions of the human, political and social problems in the countries concerned. Fittingly, our cash prize was donated by two aid organizations in Switzerland.
Several films were directors’ first feature films – and looked just like that. Some of them were rather tiring exercises in style – a filmmaker searching for a project and a style and films marked by what may label 'aesthetism’. In this respect it is a great help to us in the ecumenical juries that our work is based on certain criteria that have been agreed to by SIGNIS and INTERFILM. For us, experiments and innovations in form are not enough in themselves. We are looking for good compassionate stories in a rich narrative language.
In addition, we have the rule that we cannot give the prize to a film that has already been awarded by an ecumenical jury. This meant that in Fribourg we had to ‘ignore’ the Georgian filmmaker George Ovashvili and his beautiful, moving film "Simindis kundzuli" (Corn Island) because the Ecumenical Jury 2014 in Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic) awarded this film. Deservedly, in Fribourg the film won the Prize of the Public.
Nevertheless, perhaps we still would have given our prize to Diep Hoang Nguyen’s "Dap cánh giua không trung". At the end of the day, it was clearly the film we wholeheartedly favoured most. It is a very strong story about young couple's struggle for existence – and a strong description of the slum, which is found in some Vietnamese cities. It is difficult to forget the images of trains suddenly running between the fragile houses or huts where people actually live. The film's narrative language also contains lyrical and almost unreal beauty. The richness of the visual expression conveys the yearnings and dreams of the female protagonist – and her will to live and survive.
The South Korean film "Dohee-ya" (A Girl at my Door; dir.: July Jung) was also very likeable. Its story concerns a young policewoman who arrives in a secluded village, which is dominated and corrupted by one violent man. She tries to take care of a girl who actually is this man's step-daughter. But the film's narrative language was somewhat flat, and the course of the action took some unlikely turns that cannot be 'excused' as 'poetic freedom'.
Of course, there was immediately great sympathy for the Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who can't have his films released in the normal way. His film "Taxi" is based on a good and quite funny idea, using the point of view of a taxi driver and his random passengers. The film won the Golden Bear in Berlin, and lately got the WACC-SIGNIS Human Rights Film Award.
"Dólares de arena" (Sand Dollars, dir.: Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas) lives almost entirely through the leading role. Geraldine Chaplin plays an elderly European woman in an erotic relationship with a very young native woman in the Dominican Republic. Chaplin’s acting style is very impressive and has reminiscences of her legendary father. In an unforgettable way, Geraldine Chaplin expresses the aging woman's pain in her hopeless relationship, but the film never really exposes the ethical dimension: the problematic 'colonial' dimension of the situation in the Dominican Republic.
It caused some surprise in the Rex Cinema that the festival's official international jury gave its main award to the Mexican film "González" (dir. Christian Díaz Pardo). It is a film which contains many interesting elements in the description of a modern religious sect that lives through television programmes and manipulative meetings. The film's main character is an unemployed man who contacts the sect simply in order to get a job. The film has an almost-brilliant scene that reveals the scam of the sect leader, as our man imitates the manipulative techniques of the preacher. Unfortunately, the film takes a bad turn – losing its credibility – into violent action, probably because of the director’s unrequited admiration for the films of Martin Scorsese.

Being at a film festival like Fribourg might cause a certain ‘tristesse’, because many of the good films we saw hardly have a chance to become available in movie theatres or TV in our home countries. I wonder what will happen to Naji Abu Nowar’s Jordanian film "Theeb". It has got a distributor in Switzerland (and will be released this April), but according to its qualities it ought to be seen worldwide. It is a straightforward suspense tale, and it has the genre film mood of a classic western, even though the framework of the action is an Ottoman province in 1916. We are following some dramatic events through the eyes of a bedouin boy called Theeb. If there is any justice left in this world, "Theeb" would be released in a cinema near you.

P.S.: Our jury president, Mrs. Michèle Debidour, has written an interesting book, "Le cinéma, invitation à la spiritualité", about the spiritual dimension of films. It is recommended to those of you reading French. - -