Noel Witts - Professor of Performing Arts

Cluj International Comedy Film Festival

November 10, 2011

The third edition of the Cluj International Film Festival ended recently.Cluj is a wonderful Austro-Hungarian city which is now a crossing point for Hungarian/Romanian culture in a particular contested corner of Europe, with vast palaces, clubs and bars, and also a vibrant student scene, which has promoted a lively film culture…… I was privileged to be a member of the festival jury, together with Dennis Dreith, the film composer from Los Angeles, Roger Grosvold from Norway ( The Norwegian International Film Festival), and Rolf-Rudiger Hamacher, the film critic from Cologne. Over a week we saw a variety of films, both professional and, maybe most importantly, student films from all over Europe. My memories are of  a festival run excellently by Sorin and Horatiu Dan, and  which acknowledges the breadth of what we think of  as ‘comedy’ in various guises. It was clear that films which advertised themselves as ‘comedic’, were in effect about the human condition, and the ways in which comedy can sometimes save ourselves from ourselves. We gave the major prize to  a film from Taiwan entitled “Pinoy Sunday” directed by Wi Dong Ho, which turned out to be a wonderful image of life for  Philipino workers in a Chinese community – two brilliant performances by the lead actors – but overall the film showed us a world of which we know little, but through the lens of comedy, which made it event more impressive. I hope it gets some international distribution. Then the audience prize went to “The Infidel” directed by the young UK director Josh Appignanesi, a story of a UK muslim who discovers that he is a Jew! It’s a really envigorating look at the tensions that sometime lie at the heart of UK life.Then there were the student films from various schools in Europe, one of which, ” Cut Damm” from Greece (director : Bill Kalamakis) showed us a wry glimpse of the viagra generation. Then there was a wonderfully realised short film from Munich, entitled “Daniel’s Ashes” ( Director : Boris Kunz) which took a prize for the confidence with which this sad story was told;  and  then  a great piece of observed comedy from Romanian Iulia Rugina, which places a group of people at a Romanian railway station at Xmas, the snow delaying the train from Bucharest. The only information is available from the woman at the ticket office, who will only announce the train’s increasing delay via the station megaphone: an image of post-communism Europe, which ends with the ‘indefinite delay” of the train, leaving the group in a ‘Huis Clos’ situation, where they can never leave!  But  my personal ‘best’, though was a Greek film – ” Four Suits” ( director : Renos Haralambidis)- about the increasingly bizzare adventures of a  group of four men in black, charged with the dying wish of an ex-pat Greek in Costa Rica, for his coffin to be taken to his home village from Athens on foot. Of course the event turns out to be  a scam, and the ‘treasure’ tatooed on the dead man’s arm turns out to be his first love, now in her 80s, who has promised that she will dance with him when he finally returns to his roots! All in all an inspiring week, with the great discovery of  the young German director Sebastian Stern, whose film ” The Bees” scooped many of the awards, for encapsulating the trials and tribulations  of late capitalist society and its blackly comic promises. This festival, by restricting its scope to ‘comedy’, in fact enlarges our vision of the world and how , in this late phase of capitalism, we have to laugh to avoid the alternative. Long may the Cluj Comedy Festival exist!

One Response to “Cluj International Comedy Film Festival”

  1. ddreith

    Noel – woderful post, and a wonderful film festival. I agree with all of your comments and observations. For me, in addition to a number of truly wonderful films was the joy in working with a really fine jury, and especially getting to know you. – Dennis



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