If you're in Sibiu at the moment, you have no excuse for not checking out Astra. If you are not and have some time on your hands, you should drop everything and rush to Sibiu. The anthropologically focused fest started yesterday (ending on Sunday, 11 October) and screens some of the most striking international documentaries. If you've ever wondered how falcons are trained in the Middle East, what it's like to live as a small person, or how Japanese men date Moldavian women, then this is the right festival for you.
The selection features some of the most recent critical and audience darlings such as Joshua Oppenheimer devastating genocide-themed The Look of Silence or Crystal Moselle's fascinating The Wolfpack, a tale of six siblings in Manhattan who were exposed to the outside world solely through movies. Other highlights include Tiha Gudac's family memories of the Yugoslav gulag Goli/Naked Island or Jiří Stejskal's loving portrait of a family struggling to keep their home and way of life in an increasingly dehumanized Kiev (Jáma/My Home).
The Romanian entries are not just numerous but remarkable in their variety of approaches and themes, from the battered Romanian-Hungarian relations (Transylvanian (Love) Stories) or sustained isolation (Brudina/The Floating Bridge) to the traffic with cancer medication (Rețeaua/The Network) or the challenges one faces after being released from prison (Himmelverbot/Outside). The stand-out is clearly Alexander Nanau's multi-awarded Toto și surorile lui/Toto and His Sisters, a sublime portrait of three Roma siblings who are left to their own care while their mother is in prison. The special programme dedicated to Ioan Agapi, a photographer and filmmaker who chronicled everyday aspects of communist Romania is especially interesting from a historic point of view.
For me, the cherry on the cake is the section called “Neorealism and Newrealism”, a programme tracing the development of neorealist aesthetics and ideas. The Italian neorealism of the 1940s and 1950s is one of the most influential film movements, blending documentary elements and social themes to particularly moving and relevant stories. One of its most important directors, Vittorio De Sica, is paid homage in Sibiu with Umberto D. (1952), a heart-rending tale of old age. Luchino Visconti's La terra trema/The Earth Trembles (1948) is another landmark of cinema, an epic story of a Sicilian family of fishermen struggling for survival.
There is so much more on the programme that I wouldn't even know where to start. If you also count the relaxed, unfussy atmosphere (there is no easier festival to chat up other guests or directors) and the many joys of Sibiu, you know why this festival is such a miracle and a must-see.
by Ioana Moldovan, columnist, email@example.com