“Curious and open to see new things”: A report from the 39th Göteborg International Film Festival
For three years in a row I have followed the International Film Festival of the city of Gothenburg and each year I am impressed by the warmness in which residents and visitors of the city embrace the largest film festival of the Nordic region. GIFF maintains its recognition as a “winter classic”; an event which rejuvenates the city in the midst of a freezing and dark period and infuses the gloominess of the West coast of Sweden with luminous images from all over the world. This year’s festival welcomed 450 films from 84 countries which were shown at 1031 screenings in 30 theatres around the city; this brief reports aims at covering the event’s main highlights with a particular interest in the festival’s focus, award winners, and honorary guests.
The 39th Göteborg International Film Festival featured a dual focus on countries with different, yet significant contributiong to the global film industry. On the one hand, Italy was honored as a film country with an established contribution to global cinema. On the other hand, the festival turned the spotlight on Nigeria, as the second-largest film industry in the world (following India), with a yet undiscovered value of cinematic stories in direct correspondence with societal developments. Both Italian and Nigerian films enjoyed a number of sold-out screenings, as well as parallel events and activities which enriched visitors’ knowledge about the context of filmmaking in each country, as well as the sources of inspiration for the production of cinematic stories.
As for Italy and Italian films, the festival’s focus featured a visit from Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), who premiered his new film A Bigger Splash in Go in Göteborg, as well as a retrospective in which the festival’s honorary chairman, Roy Andersson, presented a selection of his Italian favorites. “Italy is a wonderful film country, and it feels incredibly fun to be able to show off the full richness of Italian film. Contemporary Italian films take many forms, but often combine poetic sensuality and classic beauty with a critical view of society and history,” stated the festival’s artistic director Jonas Holmberg, in concert with GIFF’s description of the focus on Italy as an opportunity for international audiences to peek into “insights into Italian society’s most alluring and filthiest sides.” Visitors of the festival had the opportunity to see, among other films, Wondrous Boccaccio (Maraviglioso Boccaccio) by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Lost And Beautiful ( Bella e perduta) by Pietro Marcello, Somewhere Amazing (In un posto bellissimo) by Giorgia Cecere, and N-Capace by Eleonora Danco.
The focus on Nollywood, Nigerian’s film industry, showcased a unique cinematic perspective, distinctly different than those found in Western film industries; as cultural anthropologist Jenny Ekström argues, Nollywood “has become an important mirror image for the Nigerian population, but also for the Nigerian diaspora across the world.” As a distinguishable cinematic movement, Nollywood was born in 1992 with Chris Obi Rapus’s Living in Bondage being considered the film that kicked off the country’s modern film production. Since then, Nigeria’s film industry has displayed a number of noteworthy productions, including Half of a Yellow Sun, which with a record budget of nine million dollars became the biggest product in Nigeria’s film history and was screened at the 2014 GIFF. Some of this year’s sold-out events included screenings of Fifty, as well as Michelle Bello’s Flower Girl.
As per usual, the 39th GIFF handed out a number of major and smaller awards. Land of Mine, directed by the Danish director Martin Zandvliet, won the Dragon Award Best Nordic Film, the festival’s biggest award which is accompanied by a prize sum of one million SEK. The Dragon Award for best documentary was awarded to Jerzy Sladkowski for his film Don Juan, which the jury described as a “captivating story with an unforgettable main character […] a sensitive person’s struggle in a dysfunctional and conservative Russia. In a film that makes us ask the question: What is normal?”. This year’s Ingmar Bergman award for best debut went to Lost and Beautiful by Pietro Marcello, an environment-sensitive poetic delivery of the story of the bull calf Sarchiapone, which struggles for survival in a world dominated by selfish human activities. Last but not least, the audience awards for best feature film and best Nordic film went to Second Mother by Anna Muylaert and Welcome to Norway! by Rune Denstad Langlo respectively.
Apart from its numerous screenings and related talks and concerts, every year GIFF features a number of master classes which give the opportunity to filmmakers and audiences to communicate in a quite informal context. This year’s distinguished guests included Nordic Honorary Dragon Award recipient Susanne Bier, whose films In a Better World and Freud Leaving Home were shown and celebrated as exemplifications of Bier’s talent to create “a magnificent fresco of the human ability to act, love and forgive.”
This year’s festival also welcomed Athina Rachel Tsangari as the leading member of the TIBIDA jury (which hands out the Ingmar Bergman International Debut Award), who brought along her new film Chevalier to the festival. Chevalier was promoted as “a powerful study and satire about patriarchy and the upper class brimming with priceless exchanges and a wonderful form of humor” and was screened on three different occasions. On February 4 Tsangari gave a Masterclass, where she talked to Jonas Holmberg about the conditions which shaped her artistic vision since her thesis film The Slow Business of Going until Chevalier.
The festival had the opportunity to host Laurie Anderson, who gave a master class and served as the jury chairperson for the Dragon Award Best Nordic Film. Her new film Heart of a Dog was the first festival dog screening with 30 dogs attending art-house cinema Capitol.
Apart from Tsangari’s master class and screenings of Chevalier, the Greek presence in the 39th GIFF included the Swedish/Greek-speaking 1972 film Foreigners (Jag heter Stelios), an adaptation of Theodor Kallifatides’ book of the same title by Swedish director Johan Bergenstråhle, which tells the story of post-war immigration to Sweden. What is more, Elissavet Chronopoulou’s Ursa Minor (Μικρή Άρκτος) participated in the festival’s “New Voices” section.
Attentive to its role as the leading film festival of the Nordic region and with a wink to the recent international acclaim of Nordic TV fiction, this year’s GIFF dedicated a whole section to regional television programmes, including TV series from neighboring Nordic countries along with a world premiere of three Swedish series. More specifically, audiences warmly welcomed screenings of Tova Magnusson’s The Most Forbidden (Det mest förbjudna), the Danish drama Follow the Money (Bedrag), the Finnish love story with political dimensions The Red Couple, and the Norwegian Occupied (Okkupert), based on an idea from the widely popular crime fiction author Jo Nesbø. The logic behind TV drama getting its own section at a film festival was explained by Holmberg, who sees in Nordic television productions a means of communicating to international audiences “a lot about the Nordic countries today, about our history and our economic and ecological challenges.”
All in all, the 39th Göteborg International Film Festival, which ran for eleven days between January 29 and February 8, confirmed its role as well-structured and significant event which retains its regional bonds, yet comfortably combines an international orientation, without turning a blind eye to topical social, economic, political and ecological concerns. Directed to audiences which are always curious and open to see new things and enter new cinematic worlds, as artistic director Jonas Holmberg put it, GIFF is already planning next year’s events which will mark the festival’s 400th anniversary.
Note: The 39th GIFF poster was made by artist Karin Broos and was inspired by Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film The Merchant of Four Seasons, starring actress Irm Hermann.