One World Romania

Apr 3, 2012 in Inspiration

Somebody was writing a few years ago that Michael Moore’s Capitalism lacked the punch of his previous films because the crime scene had become so much vaster lately. That is exactly the feeling that one gets at Human Rights festivals these days: just too many urgent issues begging for attention. One such festival that DocWest attended recently was One World Romania – the domestic branch of an event initiated in Prague by none other than Václav Havel. Run by a small team headed by a documentary film-maker (Alexandru Solomon), One World has a double mandate: to generate attention to human rights issues, and to introduce its audiences to fresh forms of urgent documentary film-making. It was as part of that mandate that this year the OW team had planned to ‘occupy’ a passage in central Bucharest’s University Square with photos and posters of ‘occupy’ movements worldwide. Having approved the event, the authorities started having second thoughts on the day and subsequently showed up and put a halt on everything. Yes, Romania needs a human rights festival.

This year, OW screened some fifty films, among which were  This is Not a Film, A Small Act, The Real Social Network, and the recent, Sundance-backed, My School by Romania born, NY-based Mona Nicoara, who takes on one of the most critical issues in the CEE region – the integration of the Roma children in non-segregated schools.

Jennifer Fox presented a Masterclass on ‘presence on camera’, which added to a retrospective of her films. For some, that was an opportunity to discover her first film, Beirut – the Last Home Movie, a winner of Sundance and Cinema du Reel  in the mid-1980s. An intimate portrait, with time-capsule quality, of an aristocratic Lebanese family living in a mansion in the middle of Beirut during the Civil War, Beirut is a film not often seen in retrospective programmes and somehow missed by the documentary canon. The ‘seduction of destruction’ was the theme identified by Fox at the heart of this contemplative, beautifully choreographed piece of film-making with a Chekhovian feel and a Viscontian touch (see the role of the objects in the opening scene), in which Fox captured the dailyness of a family struggling to preserve an odd sense of near-normality while everything was collapsing around them.

One World also looked closer to Romania by inviting Voina (Russian for ‘War’), a group of Russian artists engaged in radical street protest actions and with a dozen of criminal cases brought against them by the Russian state (apparently, one time when they were detained, two members of the group were bailed out by Banksy).  Two members of Voina, Natalia Sokol  and Alex Plutser-Sarno, led a packed session on their protest actions at Romania’s National Museum of Contemporary Art  – an institution incidentally located in the Palace of the Parliament, formerly known as ‘The House of the People’(the megalomaniac structure designed as the seat of political power during the Ceausescu regime).

In a country with one of the highest rates of work migration in Europe, issues of displacement and family separation were woven swiftly into OW’s closing event: a test screening of in-progress doc Here… I mean there… (Laura Capatina–Juler), which follows over several years the lives of two teenage girls being raised by their grandparents in a Romanian village while their parents are away in Spain. Academia has produced a rich terminology to account for the experiences of the so-called ‘transnational’ or ‘multi-local’ families: we talk about ‘intensive parenting’, ‘distant care-givers’, of children blocked in an ‘economical equation’, unable to see a solution for their lonely lives, where ‘with food/money’ equals ‘without parents’. Specialists working on the dynamics of the families split between multiple locations write about a certain naturalisation of the transnational model among Romanian families who seem to have ‘settled in mobility’, and, even more worrying, mention copycat suicides among children left alone in rural Romania, due to the sensationalisation of a number of suicide cases by domestic media, doubled by an insufficient work being done on a social policy level.

Here… discusses none of the above explicitly but makes one think of each of them, and more. It is a beautifully understated film which reminds one that migratory circuits involve not only economic or communication strategies (see the ‘virtual intimacy’ allowed by new technologies), but also a circuit of emotions and states of mind that get neglected too often – affection, grief, longing, waiting, missing the absent ones. I left the cinema accompanied by the image of the two girls dressed in matching outfits and waiting, by the main road, the arrival of the coach from Spain while smiling nervously at the camera.

Maybe here lays one of the strengths of One World Romania – a small festival which refuses to program exclusively activist or argumentative documentaries, in order to allow room for less explicitly issue-driven work able to catalyse long-term reflection. The aesthetics of cinema has always been political. It is always useful to remember this in a post-communist country with a yet unsettled documentary tradition, where the factual had been controlled by the state and party for decades, and where the current  globalization of documentary under the spell of international commissioning increasingly encourages certain documentary approaches to the detriment of others. (A.B.)