Interview: Of movies, battles and the two different worlds of Romanian film, with director Tudor Giurgiu
Columnist Ioana Moldovan had a talk with Tudor Giurgiu about what it means to make films nowadays in Romania and, as it seems inseparable from it, to fight the windmills of the local film industry while doing so.
Romanian director Tudor Giurgiu has done it all: he has directed and produced short and long features, both his own and by others, be it renowned or emerging talents, he has been organizing Romania's biggest film festival to date - Transilvania International Film Festival , he founded a new one – Full Moon - last year, he worked in television, he is the head of the Romanian Film Promotion. His most recent picture, the comedy Of Snails and Men - reviewed here - has been a smash hit while his latest short, Superman, Spiderman or Batman, was named Best Short Film at the Awards of the European Film Academy in December 2012. A reliably no-nonsense discussion partner, Tudor Giurgiu has never shied away from severely criticizing the financing structure of Romanian cinema, especially as far as the work of the National Centre for Cinema (Centrul Naţional al Cinematografiei - CNC) goes.
Tudor, 2012 looked like a great year for you from where I stand, with the smash success of your film Of Snails of Men, the eleventh edition of TIFF, and with an impressive ending when your short film was awarded by the European Film Academy. What did it actually feel like for you?
It was an intense year, full of satisfactions and surprises but also filled with huge disappointment. The joy came, obviously, from Of Snails and Men: the film was excellently received in Romania and also internationally. Then came the short film, which snatched two awards at a big short film festival in Aspen, in the US, and was afterwards longlisted for the Academy Awards. And then there was obviously the award of the European Film Academy. The disappointment comes from the state of the institutions which should manage the Romanian film industry. There's a huge contradiction between the success of Romanian films abroad and the way the CNC is run. We are practically talking about two different worlds.
It was also in 2012 that you organized, together with your TIFF colleagues, the first Full Moon event, a fantasy and horror film festival. And I can't say often enough how good it is know that genre buffs can get together for a festival such as this. How did the first year go, especially measured to your hopes and fears? Did you also have visitors from abroad?
We had wanted to do a horror and fantasy festival for a long time. First we thought about doing it in Sighişoara, then in Bran, and then, finally, we got to Biertan. And it was a crazy venture; we put in all the money ourselves, with no funding at all from sponsors or public institutions. It made us really happy to see so many fans of the genre coming here for the festival. The camping site was perfectly organized and the evening screenings were sensational. The most important thing is that we managed to re-do the old local cinema and offer it back to the community. I think Full Moon will grow wonderfully and we'll get lots of horror enthusiasts to visit, even from other countries.
And how about TIFF? It has developed with great speed and intensity, how do you want to proceed? Are you planning a stronger market section? And since the management of the Romanian Cultural Institute, which has been supporting TIFF for years, changed last year, how do you think that will affect you?
I think TIFF has to grow harmoniously and naturally but while taking into account the increasingly impoverished film industry. Which means that our annual efforts to ensure a budget from different sources (private funding makes for about 55-60% of the total budget) has to keep in mind the young Romanian filmmakers who have difficulties in finding money for their projects. So we have been thinking about a TIFF fund to support such projects. I don't think it would be wise to organize a project market because there are already too many of those in Europe and we don't really have to invent in another one. There's the risk that the same material gets recycled when doing too many markets. We hope there won't be any financing problems and I am sure the ICR will continue to support us because we already have a solid reputation which shouldn't cause any problems.
In your acceptance speech at the European Film Academy Awards you spoke rather harshly about the state of the local film industry, you even said that Romanian cinema will disappear in two years unless something changes radically. It is a rather gloomy prospect, as there are plenty of festivals, Romanian films keep collecting awards. Does this basically mean that all good initiatives are privately organized? And what do you think it would take for something to finally change for those of you struggling to be able to keep up the good work?
I don't think the state should get too involved in producing films; that would actually be counter-indicated. In fact the Romanian cinema is currently funded with zero public money; the financing comes from contributions, taxes, etc. But it is imperative that we have a strong institution (that being the CNC) with a long-term plan and vision of how to develop the film industry, how to promote young talent, cinematic education, how to digitize the archives. Unfortunately nobody here cares about the great phenomenon of the Romanian film 'boom', neither the politicians nor the CNC management. It is very easy to decorate yourself with young directors' successes but much harder to actually put up a development strategy for the industry and for encouraging upcoming filmmakers. I am really pessimistic about the future and I think we are in a critical situation at the moment.
You recently wrote an open letter to the CNC director Eugen Şerbănescu, asking for his resignation in response to his reaction after your speech at the European Academy Awards. How did people actually react to your letter?
The reactions were actually as expected: I got so many supportive messages from colleagues of all ages and backgrounds, assuring me of their full support. Everyone is waiting for something though, we don't know what exactly... Maybe if we go there ourselves and take down the CNC, with a tank, that's when Eugen Şerbănescu might leave.
If it's all so difficult, what makes you, and not just you, want to carry on? What is it that keeps you going?
Well the thought that if I get jaded and just accept the current state I will only think 'Romanian', you know, don't put up a fight and just go with your 'destiny'. I think we filmmakers should be more united and fight for our rights and for a better developed industry. On the other hand I have many film ideas and hope to get them all done. I wouldn't know what else to do.
Interview by Ioana Moldovan, Columnist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Read Ioana's Romanian Film Review column here.