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A journey (or a 62nd Pula Film Festival Retrospective)

Each movie is a journey: good – two-way, bad – in a dead end with a lot of transfers, and the best – one-way, because after that you move from a new spot.

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As an actor, I am aware of how much power words can have, what images evoke emotions and inspire. That’s why I’m a little nervous, writing these lines, ‘couse summarizing eight days and a handful of film awards at the 62nd Pula Film Festival in a blog, is not an easy task. I don’t want to turn this blog into enumeration of awards so I’ll mention only the ones in the Croatian programme, with the exception of only one film in the program of Minority co-productions.

The most beautiful theater in the world
It would suffice to just sit in the Pula Arena and watch the blue ink soaks last edges daylight sky, covering the rapidly fading copper as its location gives the evening, breathe air filled with salt atoms, resin and stones past centuries. And there are the movies. Being a spectator at one of the most beautiful theaters in the world under the open sky illuminated by the stars thousands of light-years distant, whose light travels to us to shine on an eight days festival truly dedicated to film, it is an experience difficult to describe. And movies shown at the Arena are just a part of the rich program that includes 128 films in 12 different film programs, of which five are contestants (Croatian Programme, International Programme, Neighbors and Friends programme, Short Pula and Student Programme). There are also panel discussions, workshops, retrospectives… and indispensable after parties that are very often an opportunity to meet with colleagues who I haven’t seen for a long time.

Fruitful year
This year was exceptionally good for the Croatian film, which is evident not only by the amount of awards won at international festivals (Venice, Cannes, Stockholm, etc.), but also by the Arena’s full house and the enthusiastic audience reaction. This is also the first time in seven years that all movies rated by the audience received a rating higher than 4.0.
My colleagues and I certainly feel any budget cuts to culture, and to the average citizen, burdened with its own problems, it probably goes unnoticed. But I believe that this year the general public might perceive somewhat more modest opening of the festival, which was, in some way underlined, with the showing of the documentary film from 1955 that celebrated the glamour of Pula festival. The festival was, is in the name of the president of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, opened by one of the most successful Croatian producer Branko Lustig (Schindler’s List, Gladiator), which was followed by, what the audience at the Arena and beyond always leaves breathless – fireworks!38
After the last sumptuous sparkle in the sky went silent, a film by Branko Schmidt Ungiven, intimate story of an elderly couple who returned to the war-ravaged house. Through four seasons, the movie follows their lives, as well as his wife’s struggle with dementia by hiding from her seemingly cold husband. It seems to me that the trend of the opening night features has always been comedies or little lighter films, so that could be the reason why the audience, unprepared for a serious drama, awarded the movie with the lowest score (still high) 4.05. The jury, however, rewarded the movie with a Golden Arena for best screenplay (Josip Mlakić) and editing (Vesna Lažeti and Hrvoje Mršić).
The reception for the opening night was held in a beautifully landscaped garden of the House of Croatian Defenders, across the Istrian National Theatre.

A big thank you to the organizers
This year the organizers have given me even four different accreditation, not knowing in which category to put me in (actor, press etc.). This probably happens when an actor goes to the festival in the role of a journalist. I apologize to them if my role gave them a headache, and I thank them for the kindness and the great efforts they have invested in every aspect of the festival. While the organizers biggest challenge was to ensure that everything goes smoothly and that the guests are happy, my biggest was to survive the unbearable heat. Although daytime temperatures ranged about (only) 34°C, the feeling of the temperature due to the humidity was 40°C. It was difficult to sleep at night, so I picked the only logical option – I didn’t sleep! I was hanging out with colleagues at many after parties until the early morning hours, and after that I was, almost, exhausted enough not to notice how wet sheets are sticking to every inch of my sweat drizzled skin. I did not have air conditioning, but the cinema Valli in which the part of the projections was held, did. Temperature shock was thus greater when I, after the screenings at 7 p.m. from a pleasantly chilled theater, came out again on the windless hot air, to head down to the Arena.22

Movies every day
In the coming days, I looked at feature films in the Valli Cinema like The Enchanting Porkers by Ivan Livaković, apparently inspired by John Waters and Almodovar’s use of red color, which won the Golden Arena for special effects (Branko Repalust), then The Girls – Life of Another by Andrea Štaka, documentary Naked Island, about the island Goli Otok (Naked Island), by Tiha K. Gudac and the movie The Spirits Diary by Damir Čučić, who won the Golden Arena for the sound (Martin Semenčić) and a handful of short films.
One Golden Arena (mask – Mojca Gorogranc Petrushevska) got the only children’s movie, screened at the Arena in the competition this year, Love or Death by Daniel Kušan, the third sequel of the adventures of Koko and his friends.
In the Arena, through the third sequel were also presented Zagreb Stories Vol. 3, omnibus of six short films with the theme of holidays, producer Boris T. Matić. In a brief conversation with a high spirited Boris, we both agreed that this sequel was so far the best and the most complete one, then we went to the after party which was, as Matanić’s two days later, held on Bunarina, on the terrace by the sea, surrounded by boats. From this party I have the most anecdotes, but some of them, because of my colleagues, I can not share with you. Energetic Nina Šerbeđija (whose brother Danilo directed one of the story) and her American friend of Greek origin Audrey Valli, they really wanted to end up in this blog, and Nina, as a joke, even tried to develop a theory that the descendants of her friend were the founders of cinema Valli. Nina is currently, on Brijuni, assisting her mother, the famous director Lenka Udovički, who is directing a play by Sophocles: Antigona- 2 000 years later which premiere is scheduled for 15th of August.

Fun, fun – awards, awards
Part of the evening I spent in pleasant conversation with a dear colleague of mine Judita Franković, an actress in one of the stories, whose business obligations allowed her to arrive that day, and the next day she returned to Dubrovnik, where she’s preparing the play Dubrovnik trilogy, which will premiere on August 9th, on the 66th Dubrovnik Summer Festival.
A nice anecdote was the one when a girl waited for over 20 minutes for the waiter to bring her a drink and every time he walked past her, she called to him, but he ignored her. Finally, she got so mad that she went up to him and asked him why is he ignoring her and didn’t bring her a drink. The man didn’t respond to her call because the waiter he was – not. He was a guest as well as others.
One of the best after party has prepared a director Ivona Juka in the famous club Pietas Julia, located just a hundred meters from the Arena. In the attractive glass interior, except the DJ, the brass band entertained us. Ivona was presenting her first feature film You carry me. The movie interweaves three stories of daughters and their fathers. A touching film is full of strong acting performances, I should point out a great Nataša Dorčić, excellent Lana Barić, and the surprise of the festival, the young Helen Beljan which was awarded for the best newcomer award Breza. The film won the Golden Arena for great music (Teho Teard), a great camera (Mario Oljača), and impressive visual effects (Zoran Čulić and Nebojša Rogić). With four awards this is the second most awarded film of the festival.
The absolute winner of the festival with seven awards was the movie The High Sun by Dalibor Matanić, who, after the awards at Cannes, won the awards for the best director, the best leading actress (Tihana Lazović), the best suporting actress (Nives Ivanković) and best supporting actor (Dado Čosić), best costume design (Ana Savić-Gecan) and the best picture (producer Ankica Jurić Tilić, Kinorama), and also a reward of the Croatian Society of Film Critics, Octavian. That the audience and the critics rarely agree, was proved this time, and The High Sun according to the audience with a score of 4.12 finished in ninth place (out of ten), while in the first place, crowned with the Audience Award Golden Gate, was the movie by Darko Bajić We will Be the World Champions with 4.85 points. Matanić film story followed through three decades speaks about the love-ridden history of conflict between Serbs and Croats in two neighboring villages. The film is rich with strong acting performances which, because of the demands of materials, certainly was not easy to play. That Matanić throws excellent parties it was proved again this time, and the many visitors were entertained until the early morning hours, including his wife, actress Helena Minić, who, despite the high pregnancy, looked great in an attractive open-back dress.

Among the great movies should be pointed out the movie These are the rules by Ognjen Sviličić, who was inspired by the tragic fate of Luka Ritz. Starring brilliantly was Jasna Žalica and Emir Hadžihafizbegović who won the Golden Arena for best male leading actor. The movie also won the Golden Arena for scenography (Ivan Veljača).
Also featured in the Arena were the documentaries Children of Transition by Matija Vukšić and Consumed by Borut Šeparović, who the audience put in high third place (4.65), and the feature film No One’s Child which received three Golden Arenas – for best director, best film and acting performance in the programme of Minority Croatian co-production.
It was also easier to breathe after the awards due to the fact that it was the first night when the temperature dropped below 25°C. Closing reception was held at Circolo (Italian community) with DJ Mario Kovač. Although I, like every night, was in good company, I admit that I was slowly starting to feel the consequences of the past eight days. If we take the premise that the movie is a journey – it suffered from a jet lag. Having traveled so many worlds and changed so many time zones, I wanted to isolate myself so I can sort all seen and experienced. Twenty-four hours later – the process is not yet complete.

One thing is certain, with such talented filmmakers it’s easy to dare to – travel.

Damjan Simić

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