Through her lens: Awarded films by Romanian women directors
Many of the Romanian films that won recognition at festivals this year are the work of women filmmakers. We outline below some of this year's winners and productions that caught the critics' attention in previous years.
Crai Nou/ Blue Moon
The winner of this year's Golden Shell for Best Film, the top prize of the San Sebastian film festival, Crai Nou/ Blue Moon is the debut feature of Alina Grigore, who also wrote the screenplay. The film follows main character Irina as she struggles to achieve higher education and escape the violence of her dysfunctional family.
Grigore studied acting and directing at the UANTC in Bucharest and had roles in several TV series and in films such as Cristi Puiu's Aurora, Adrian Sitaru's Din dragoste cu cele mai bune intentii/ Best Intentions and Ilegitim/ Illegitimate. For the latter she also co-wrote the screenplay. She has directed the shorts Domino (2016), Triptic (2016) and River-bet (2017). She is currently working on her second feature, Some Irrelevant Stories about Moms, where pre-production is underway.
Focused on the story of a mother searching for her daughter, abducted by a criminal cartel in Northern Mexico, La Civil earned Romanian-born Teodora Ana Mihai the Prix de l'Audace in the Un Certain Regard section of this year's Cannes Film Festival. The film, with a story inspired by true events, was shot in Durango, Mexico in November – December 2020 during the pandemic, with all the challenges that ensured. Mihai co-wrote with Habacuc Antonio De Rosario, and the film was co-produced by One for the Road (Belgium), Les Films du Fleuve (Belgium) of the Dardenne brothers, Cristian Mungiu's Mobra Films (Romania), and Michel Franco's Teorema (Mexico)
Mihai was born in Bucharest, under Ceaușescu's regime, and moved to Belgium in 1989 to reunite with her parents, who had fled the year before. After studying film at Sarah Lawrence College in upstate New York, she returned to Belgium, where she started working in the industry as a script supervisor and assistant director, followed by a stint in the TV industry. She previously directed the award-winning documentary Waiting for August, about a Romanian teenage girl who is left to take care of her six siblings as their mother leaves for work outside of the country. The film was selected and presented at more than 40 festivals, and it received the Best Documentary award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
Otto Barbarul/ Otto the Barbarian
The winner of the Romanian Film Days award in the Feature category at this year's Transilvania International Film Festival (TIFF), Otto the Barbarian is the debut feature of Ruxandra Ghițescu, who also wrote the script. It follows a 17-year old boy who has to deal with his girlfriend's suicide, but also with a social services' investigation after the tragedy.
Ghițescu, who graduated from the Media Art School Karlsruhe, Germany, is also known for her work in the films Ana is Coming Back (2016), Probleme de familie (2013), Urban Groove (2011) and The Birthday Boy (2017).
The debut feature of Monica Stan and George Chiper-Lillemark received no less than three awards at this year's Venice Film Festival. It received the debut award Luigi De Laurentis Award Lion of the Future, it was named Best Film in the Giornate degli Autori section, and won the Autrici under 40 Best Script distinction. The latter two distinctions are among several independent awards given by associations of film critics, clubs and cultural associations, and cinema professionals. The drama tells the story of young Daria, who enters rehab to kick the drug habit her first love left her with.
With a background in psychology, Monica Stan has been working as a screenwriter for many years. "Imaculat is both a personal story and her debut as a director," a presentation of the film explains. George Chiper-Lillemark is a director of photography and director living in Copenhagen. He has handled the cinematography for numerous feature and short films, including Touch Me Not (2018) by Adina Pintilie, which won Golden Bear at the 2018 Berlinale. He also co-directed the short The Sandpit #186 (2009) with Adina Pintilie.
The first feature project as a writer/director of Ioana Uricaru, Luna de miere/ Lemonade follows single mother Mara, who, while on a temporary work visa in the U.S., marries an American man she met just a few months earlier. Things don't go as planned with her green card application, and she is faced with tough decisions about what she's willing to do to obtain legal status. The film was nominated for Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival, won the Heart of Sarajevo Prize for Best Director at the Sarajevo Film Festival and Best Film at International Women Film Festival of Sale, Morocco 2018. The film had its world premiere in the Panorama section of the Berlinale in 2018.
Born in Cluj, Uricaru earned her MSci in biochemistry from the University of Bucharest before deciding to become a filmmaker. In 2001, she relocated to Los Angeles to study at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, where she received her MFA in Film and Television Production and PhD in Critical Studies. Her films have been included in the official selections at, among others, Cannes (2009), Sundance (2011), and the American Film Institute (2007).
Marona's Fantastic Tale
The film tells the story of Marona, a small female dog, as she remembers the different masters she has loved unconditionally. Directed by Anca Damian, the film received the award for the Best European Children's Film of the Year at the 2021 European Children's Film Association (ECFA) gala. Under the guise of a "family-friendly story," the film explores a deeper meaning, the director explains. "The destiny of Marona is both simple and essential, individual and universal. Live in the present; enjoy the small things; deeply connect to others – these are dog's "lessons of happiness" for humans."
Damian made her first long feature film as a director, screenwriter and co-producer in 2008 - Crossing Dates. The film was selected in international film festivals such as Busan, Chicago, Goa, Cottbus, Gothenburg and Rome. In 2012, her second feature as director, screenwriter and producer, Crulic – The Path to Beyond, received international acclaim. The movie, which tells the story of Claudiu Crulic, a Romanian citizen who died in a Polish prison while on hunger strike, received a host of international prizes, among them the Cristal Award in Annecy. She followed in 2013 with the feature A Very Unsettled Summer, and in 2015 her second animated feature, The Magic Mountain. Her 2018 live action feature Moon Hotel Kabul premiered at the Warsaw International Film Festival, where she received the Best Director accolade.
Where to watch it: Marona's Fantastic Tale is available on Netflix Romania, which also streams Crulic – The Path to Beyond, Moon Hotel Kabul, and Magic Mountain.
Touch Me Not
Adina Pintilie's debut feature Touch Me Not won the Golden Bear at the 2018 Berlin Film Festival. It follows a set of characters in their search for intimacy. Pintilie made her film debut with the short documentary Don't get me wrong, picked by the festival circuit. It won The Golden Dove award in DoK Leipzig and several other distinctions at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam or Watch Docs Human Rights International Film Festival Warsaw.
Where to see it: The film streams on Netflix Romania.
Iulia Rugină's 2017 feature follows reporter Alex Mazilu as he has to make an in-memoriam reportage covering the life of his cameraman, who tragically passed away. The film received a Special Jury Mention for the Best Newcomer (Voica Oltean) at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, and was selected in the Romanian Days section of the Transilvania International Film Festival, 2017.
Rugină’s productions Bună, Cristina! Pa, Cristina! (2006), Vineri în jur de 11 (2006), and Captivi de Craciun (2010) collected awards at festivals in Oberhausen, Munich, Trieste, Brussels, and Poitiers. Despite its low budget of EUR 50,000, in the year of its production Love Building (2013) became the second most commercially successful movie in local theaters. A year later she shot the sequel Alt Love Building (2014). In addition to directing, she organizes cultural events and social projects.