Short Report. ŽubrOFFka 2016: Bisons, Grass(roots) & Films

The Polish film scene is thriving and we all kind of know it. When it comes to shorts, in the last few years, short films coming out of Poland have been shortlisted or nominated for an Oscar. For instance, this year, Klara Kochańska’s “Tenants” received the 43. Student Academy Award Bronze Medal which is a testament not only to the beating heart of Polish film but also to its success. Moreover, in 2015 over 300 Polish short titles were shown at over 1300 screenings and received almost 150 awards. So, the Polish short films are indeed noted all over the world. According to Kalina Cybulska from the Polish Film Institute that plays a major role in the promotion and funding of Polish short films along with Munk Studio, “foreign guests coming to Poland as part of a short competition jury at the Gdynia Film Festival, the Camerimage Film Festival,  the Warsaw Film Festival or others having an international character always emphasize the high quality of short films and express words of appreciation for Polish film schools – not only in Łódź, which has the greatest tradition, but also in Gdynia, Katowice and Warsaw.” But, obviously, there are downsides to this positive situation and that is the lack of opportunity to screen the high-quality short films coming from Poland.  There is a lack of festivals dedicated solely to the short form, only one Polish distributor that shows Polish short films before feature film screenings and very few shorts are shown on Polish television.

But, there is still hope thanks to festivals like ŽubrOFFka (this year supported by the Polish Film Institute). ŽubrOFFka is an open event, not restricted by anything or anyone, founded eleven years ago. It respects diversity and supports variety, and is run by some of the coolest, most open-minded and perhaps even maddest young people out there. They bring together artists from all four corners of the world and provide a platform for the exchange of ideas and thoughts leading to creative meetings and even friendships between artists hailing from Eastern and Western countries. That is why short film festivals are the best place for this; the vibe they provide is unparalleled and they make you feel at home. ŽubrOFFka, in that sense, does it absolutely right. No. It does it perfectly, I’d reckon. And, its vibe comes from

  1. Its eclectic program – there’s something for everyone from live action shorts to documentaries to experimental shorts, music videos, special programs, films for kids of various ages…
  2. Its opening program: this year, the festival kicked off (on 7 December 2016) with a mix of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent classic “Blackmail” with a live score by English dubstep legend Kode9.
  3. Its screening venues ranging from regular cinemas to palaces, clubs, art galleries, schools, stadiums and universities…
  4. Its location: the festival takes place in a part of Poland called Podlasie (or Polish Siberia) also known for its Žubrowka – bison grass – vodka.
  5. Its extremely friendly and energetic young staff that make you feel welcome and included every step of the way, all the time.

So, let’s dig a bit into this year’s program. It was composed of 121 films divided into 8 categories and several special programs. The audience had the opportunity to see special programs of shorts from around the world including a focus on Iran, Armenia, Canada and India. During the festival’s run (7-11 December 2016), more than 250 short films were screened. The festival prides itself on keeping a special focus on the building a cultural bridge between Eastern European cinema and the rest of the world, which is why the two main international competition programs were geographically split – but both, nonetheless, eligible for the Grand Prix.

The Eastward Window Competition program consisted of three sets. The selection was the following:

Eastward Window Competition set 1: “Back” by Gabriele Urbonaite; “Red Light” by Toma Waszarow; “A Night in Tokoriki” by Roxana Stroe; Nariman Aliev’s “Without You”; Ádám Freund’s “The Bloom of Youth” and Sasha Svirsky’s “Tanzonk”.

Eastward Window Competition set 2: “4:15 p.m. The End of the World” by Gabi Virginia Sarga and Catalin Rotaru; Dávid Dell’Edra’s “Balcony”; “Before Love” by Igor Kovalyov; Nadine Boller’s “Der Block”; Jan Saska’s “Happy End”; “Didn’t See, Didn’t So” by Rostislav Smirnyagin and Alexandru Badea’s “All Rivers Run to the Sea”.

Eastward Window Competition set 3: Ruslan Bekshenov’s “Geevarghese Fall in Love”; “Velodrol” by Sander Joon; “Raisa” by Pavel Cuzuioc; “Wartburg” by David Borbás; Réka Bucsi’s “Love”; Iryna Tsilyk’s “Home” and Sofia Safonova’s “Tamara”.

The Whole Wide World Competition program also consisted of three sets that were as follows:

Whole Wide World Competition set 1: Andrés Ramírez Pulido’s “Eden”; Isabella by “Duncan Cowles and Ross Hogg”; “The Black Bear” by Méryl Fortunat-Rossi and Xavier Saron; Álvaro Anguita’s “The Simple Things”; Ines Christine Geiber’s “Lucky”; “The Disappearance of Willie Bingham” by Matthew Richards and Antje Heyn’s “Trial & Terror”.

Whole Wide World Competition set 2: “9 Days – From My Window in Aleppo” by Issa Touma, Thomas Vroege and Floor van der Meulen; “Balcony” by Toby Fell Holden; “Edmond” by Nina Gantz; Sandra Fassio’s “Kanun”; Nur Casadevall’s “Lina” and “Timecode” by Juanjo Giménez.

Whole Wide World Competition set 3: Omar Tobi’s “Hounds”; Konstanina Kotzamani’s “Limbo”; Simon Cartwright’s “Manoman”; “Red Fat Cat” by Klaus Hoefs; Noël Loozen’s “Spoetnik” and “It Wasn’t Me” by Ángel Ripalda.

The Independent Competition was made up of two sets with the following selection:

Independent Competition set 1: Szymon Jan Sinoff’s “Brothers”; “Impossible Figures and Other Stories II” by Marta Pajek; Slawomir Witek’s “Last Season”; “The Opening” by Piotr Adamski; Izabela Plucinska’s “Sexy Laundry” and “The Conversations on Life” by Julia Staniszewska.

Independent Competition set 2: Natalia Siwicka’s “16.03”; “Black” by Tomasz Popakul; Katarzyna Kijek’s “Debut”; Olga Kalagate’s “Not About J.”; “Urban Cowboys” by Pawel Ziemilski and Zofia Kowalewska’s “Close Ties”.

This year’s program also included four Children’s Competition programs (Kids 5+, Kids 7+, Kids 9+ and Kids 12+), a Student Competition program, an Amateur Competition program, “On the Edge” Experimental and Video-Art Competitions as well as a Music Video Competition program.

The international jury was made up of the Iranian director Ali Asgari, the director of programming at the Transatlantic Festival Joanna Lapinska, the Berlin-based film journalist and film critic Carmen Gray, the Lithuanian director Andrius Blazevicius and the Hungarian director Luca Tóth while the director of the Galeria Artesanal in Bialystok Monika Szewczyk, the Polish film critic Jakub Socha and the artistic director of the Vienna Independent Shorts Daniel Ebner represented the “On the Edge” jury.

One of the festival’s programmers, Marcin Luczaj, shared the selection committee’s criteria: “it has to be a short film (up to 30 mins) and it needs to be a good film, which can challenge our audience and touch them.” According to him, this year’s selection was driven by contemporary issues and “we feel it had a fresh point of view, as the films come from young filmmakers who are not limited by budgets, funding bodies, or the industry and they can express their statements in any way they want.”

In the “ŽubrOFFka Special” part of the 2016 edition, we could see the following sets and programs:

  • The Best of Animocje Festiwal 2016 curated by Weronika Placzek presented a set of six best films from the sixth edition of the Festival of Animated Film Animocje in Bydgoszcz.
  • A selection of ten of the best international animated documentaries in a program curated by Maciej Rant.
  • Eva Pavlovicova and Sasa Gabrizova presented a selection of “so-called” documentaries by young directors from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, experimenting with reality and focus on a film as a moving image in the doc.CZ program.
  • Midnight Shorts vol. V presented the juiciest collection of cult cinema and one of ŽubrOFFka’s audience favorite sets with 10 shorts dripping with blood, sex and physicality and infested with humor, powerful energy and pure madness.
  • The Short message from Armenia program presented four shorts in a program curated by Vahram Mkhitaryan and Diana Kardumyan meant to bridge the gap of ignorance about Armenian cinema today.
  • 2016 was the year the world lost the great Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, the man who dedicated his life to spreading the language of cinema and mixing it with the spirit of life. In that sense, the curator of this program, Ali Asgari, with the support of the Short Film Agency FIDAN, took the opportunity to show seven works that reflect the heritage Kiarostami has left for us, calling this selection “Iranian New Voices” because in these short films, we can see elements of Iranian cinema but also different styles and forms of narration.
  • Belarusan Fresh was a program prepared by the Cinema Perpetuum Mobile ISFF featuring the latest five juicy works by the young generation of documentary filmmakers from Belarus.
  • The “In Short: Indian Subcontinent” program curated by Rita Datta and Premendra Mazumder presented six shorts that question and challenge the system in India. They are closer to everyday reality, more authentic and therefore let us better comprehend the diversities than Indian feature films.
  • “5 years of Polish Animated Music Video”, prepared by the O!PLA Festival is a subjective selection of the most interesting artists and music videos recently produced in Poland.
  • “Regard Canada”, presented by Regard, the first festival in Quebec specializing in short films. Through this selection, its curators Melissa Bouchard and Julie Bernier have invited us to discover the breadth of talent that has been part of the festival and marked the Canadian scene in recent years with seven short films.
  • “Here in Lisbon – Episodes of the City”, curated by Carlos Ramos presented shorts by Denis Coté, Gabriel Abrantes, Marie Losier and Dominga Sotomayor, celebrating IndieLisboa’s 10th All these four shorts were selected and awarded in previous editions of the Portuguese film festival and these four directors were chosen to celebrate the richness and values of independent filmmaking.
  • “It Happened in Moscow”, curated by Victor J. Prokofyev presented a selection of six short films about stories that could only happen in the capital of Russia – typical or regular Moscow stories that might seem weird or ridiculous in another smaller Russian city or even another country; they are Soviet nostalgia, absurd, heavy-drunk luxury, tragic and lyric stories. These stories tell why people live there, why they have come there and what they shall never forget about Moscow.
  • “Dances With Camera” is a selection of eleven international shorts prepared by the Ad Arte Foundation and the Short Waves Festival, whose common language is dance, movement and widely understood physical expression. It is also the name of a prestigious competition taking place during the Short Waves Festival, presenting selected dance films from around the world. The set included productions mentioned and awarded at international film festivals.
  • Eastern Women vol. II, curated by Ela Wtulich presented five shorts made by women hailing from Eastern and Central Europe: Fanni Szilágyi, Klara Kochańska, Masha Kondakova, Noemi Valentiny and Milica Tomović. This set of five shorts was followed by a panel discussion called “Eastern Women – Women in Shorts” about the presence of women in cinema and the realities of working in this male dominated environment during which they shared their experiences and insights. The participants were Klara Kochańska (via video), Masha Kondakova, Milica Tomović, Marta Lewandowska and Diana Kardumyan.

ŽubrOFFka also organized another panel called “Spotlight on Shorts: Promoting Short Films in new Media”. How can your film hit the headlines? How to create buzz and hype around it, and will it pay off? Who writes about short films and why? How do they promote the shorts? Is it a lucrative business or hard grassroots work? Can publicity affect the success of the film? What is the future of media promoting short films? These topics were discussed by Thomas Humphrey (Cineuropa Shorts), Mathieu Lericq (Format Court), Eva Pavlovicova (Kinečko) and our founder, Tara Karajica who had the opportunity to present trends and best practices related to the promotion of short films in the (new) media.

Apart from these panels, the festivals also organized filmmaking workshops for children and senior citizens.

The 11th edition of the ŽubrOFFka Short Film Festival closed on 11 December 2016 with an Awards Ceremony bathing in green lights, bisons circulating from one hand to another, endless positive energy and award-winning films. Click here to see the full list of winners.

ŽubrOFFka may be the last stop on the short film festival circuit but it most certainly is not the “least” important of them all. With an extremely strong selection and a remarkable vibe, it has succeeded in becoming an absolutely unmissable cinematic rendezvous on the festival calendar. Once you taste the uniqueness of ŽubrOFFka, you’ll be as addicted to it as we are.

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