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FIFF2023 – Enthralling encounter at Fribourg International Film Festival with the director of the Moldovan National Film Center, Valentina Iusuphodjaev

The 37th Fribourg International Film Festival (FIFF), which took place from March 17 to 26, 2023, honored this year a little-known film region, Moldova. The lack of knowledge of this small country of 2.615 million inhabitants, landlocked between Romania and Ukraine, does not stop at its film industry. Few media are interested in the part of the country that has been in a state of separatism since the disappearance of the USSR, Transnistria. Now at least, interest has awakened a little, because, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the situation of Moldova and its separatist region has become like a mirror effect of what is happening in Ukraine since 2014.

Carbon by Ion Borș
Photo Courtesy of FIFF

Festival-goers were able to familiarize themselves with this very interesting and yet poorly distributed production in our countries, with a program of short films and the screening of documentaries and fiction films – with the very rapturous Carbon by Ion Borș, Moldovan candidate for the Oscars, which precisely, deals with the armed conflict of Transnistria through the absurd. This panorama piqued the curiosity of a large audience around these films as well as the round table, delighted to meet Moldovan filmmakers, as well as the director of the Moldovan National Film Center, Valentina Iusuphodjaev.

Discussion with Valentina Iusuphodjaev

Moldova is at the crossroads of several political and cinematographic influences, with countries that have a long tradition in this industry. What influences run through Moldovan cinema?

Moldovan cinema started as a part of the Soviet cinema, which was under the law, philosophy, and censorship of that political regime. Of course, the Russian film school had a huge influence on Soviet cinema. Still, besides Russian films, other nations came with specific voices and brought their stories, sensibility, and the way of perceiving this world in their own palette of colors. Moldovan filmmakers built a poetic cinematic language that made a distinction, especially for documentary films. Films come from life and cultural experiences, and the metaphorical approach to reality was always a way of dealing with it for us.
30 years of independence and reconnecting with our roots, coincided with the success of the New Wave of Romanian cinema. A new life reality and a new powerful and close to us Romanian cinema became a part of our culture. And as a result, it seems our filmmakers embraced a kind of poetic irony in their films, sometimes a sad irony, sometimes sarcasm, but always with a local humor. I think Thierry Jobin (artistic director of the FIFF; editor’s note) felt very well this vibe when describing our films as a mixture of poetry and irony.  But our cinema is still like a teenager, still looking for its identity.

Is there a film school or do filmmakers have to go abroad; if so, is there a preferred destination?

Yes, there is a school in Chisinau (the capital of Moldova; editor’s note), there are still some good teachers, but it needs to be modernized and adapted to the present-time film industry landscape. Unfortunately, there is a massive exodus of young people from Moldova, and filmmakers are not an exception. Our talents go to Germany, Italy, the US, etc., but the first destination is Romania – same language, same traditions, and same culture.

How many Moldovan films are produced per year?

Last year CNC Moldova supported one feature film, three documentaries, four shorts, and six co-productions. In the same year, only two fiction films were released, including Carbon. Because of a very small state budget fund, producing films is a very challenging process in Moldova. Our filmmakers work mainly based on enthusiasm.

During the presentation of the film Carbon – the movie theater was full, congratulations!, it was indicated that the Moldovan films made, since the independence, a total of 5000 entries in Switzerland. Is there a policy to promote Moldovan cinema internationally?

I would say there is a strong intention from the CNC side. Policies have to be supported by money. With a total budget of 500 000 EUR for the whole sector, it is hard to cover all the needs of the national cinema. But, we are trying to build more connections, more partnerships, to cooperate with our embassies, and use every opportunity to increase our presence on the international market. At the same time, CNC is working on promoting a new law frame that can facilitate our international cooperation. We managed to ratify the new version of The Convention on European Coproductions, Cash Rebate Law, and new rules for the national film competition, that provide us the right to invite foreign experts. Also, a special focus on co-production is one of the most important parts of our strategy.

In this regard, how significant is this panorama on Moldova for you in a festival like the FIFF?  

Very important! For different reasons: For the need of validation and appreciation that nourishes and motivates our filmmakers, for the opportunity to make Moldovan cinema more visible, for reconnecting Moldovan diaspora with their culture, for the dialogue that the film initiates and the possibility to be heard, discovered, better understood. And… I have to add, it’s important for convincing our politicians how much value the national cinema can bring to our country. Thank you, FIFF!

— Valentina Iusuphodjaev
Photo Courtesy of the Moldovan National Film Center

Apart from the public visibility, does it also allow you to establish contacts for future partnerships?

Definitely. Such festivals as FIFF make it possible for a deeper communication in a friendly atmosphere. FIFF, for example, can be a very good model for building a festival in Moldova. I would say, for example, why not invite Thierry to share with us his experience? Or to be part of our pitch jury.

The film Carbon is the result of a large production: is it for you the key to allowing Moldovan productions to be made?

Carbon is a result of a large production, but it was made with a very small budget, compared even with European low-budget films… That is an advantage of Moldova. The costs are still much lower than in other countries. At the same time, I think we can’t restrict creativity because of a lack of money. The key is to increase the budget for films, so we can support 2–3 projects like Carbon per year. A Film Fund based on levies and taxes is a solution that can guarantee the development of the film sector, including film production.

How is international cinema received in Moldova?

As everywhere! American blockbusters and Netflix productions are at the top of the list. Unfortunately, the pandemic stopped the process of building an audience for art-house films, European films. You know, the audience is a matter of years, of good events, festivals, and educational programs. We need a Cinematheque, or a film library, an art house cinema theater, so we can keep cinema lovers and bring new ones. We have a few festivals and events, Chronograph, Moldox – documentary film festivals —, The Days of Romanian Films, Queer Film Festival. However, we still need more diversity and more events to offer to the local public.

Is the Moldovan public also interested in national productions?

Yes, it is. People here are eager to watch good quality local films. Carbon got 16% of the market; people want to see their stories, familiar faces, and places on the screen.

Many countries are losing their cinemas around the world. I spoke with Cristian Mungiu who said that it was almost impossible to show R.M.N. in Romania because there are almost no cinemas left; he has to organize tours with his film to show it with his own material: are there still cinemas in Moldova?

Unfortunately, in Moldova, the situation is even worse. Except for Chisinau, there are no functional cinemas in the country. From my perspective, access to the cinema is a cultural right of every child, young person, or adult. Moldovan territory is fully covered with internet service, but the experience of the big screen is something different. Speaking of Cristian Mungiu, he will be an honor guest this autumn at the Days of Romanian Films in Chisinau, where we will enjoy the experience of the big screen together with film fans.

Malik Berkati

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Malik Berkati

Journaliste / Journalist - Rédacteur en chef j:mag / Editor-in-Chief j:mag

Malik Berkati has 860 posts and counting. See all posts by Malik Berkati

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