Every film festival is unique in some ways, each of them claiming to offer something special that no other festival has. Often the selection of films is stressed or the setting of the festival. Yet there is one festival that stands out in a very particular way. Now in its 58th year, the Pula Film Festival, held in July on the northern Croatian coast, shows films in the Roman Arena in front of an audience that often fills its 5000 seats every night. But that alone is not what makes this festival remarkable. It is the fact that such a huge audience packs the amphitheatre to see Croatian movies!!
In June 1954, Pula started a national film festival, which became one of the most celebrated cultural events in Yugoslavia under the patronage of Marshall Tito, who had a house on Briuni Islands nearf Pula. Until 2001, when the international competition was introduced, Pula only screened films made in Croatian. This tradition has continued, though it now focuses on the entire annual output of films produced or co-produced by Croatia.
This year, ten bona-fide Croatian films were shown in the Arena, some good, some bad, some so-so. However, the quality of the local films is not at issue. What is significant is that often more people will see them in one night than when they are released at cinemas throughout Croatia. If one of the functions of a film festival is to allow people to see films they would not normally see during the year, then Pula succeeds admirably.
One of the sad things about film culture is that most people in the world hardly ever see films made in their own country and in their own language, which reflect their own lives. Can you imagine Americans never having seen an American movie but only those from other countries? There is a belief that only Americans, the French and Indians like their own movies but, as Pula has proved, this needn’t be the case. I have scarcely been in a more vocally appreciative audience than in the Arena. Ironically, very few of these people would bother to go and see the same films when they are shown in Zagreb.
Why doesn’t the enthusiasm expressed by film festival audiences translate into art cinemas, many of which struggle to survive? Some of the most popular films shown in Thessaloniki, San Sebastian and Moscow are Greek, Spanish and Russian respectively. In Karlovy Vary, young people form queues overnight to see the latest Czech movie, which few of them would bother to go and see in Prague. Of course, a festival atmosphere has a great deal to do with it. Should not art cinemas try to recreate a festival atmosphere all year round?
What is needed, however, is some way of educating audiences to see more films from their own culture. Although the nationality of a film has little to do with its quality, people (and especially governments) should encourage and support local productions. Unfortunately, omnipresent Hollywood still has the means to dominate international cinema. This is comparable to people ignoring their own cuisine and living mainly on McDonald’s burgers. McDonald’s has its place, but so does the national food of a country, which is frequently more nutritious.
Ronald Bergan, FEDEORA.eu, 20 August 2011