Short Report. Sarajevo Film Festival 2022: Shorts Are Important

In the twenty-eight years that the Sarajevo Film Festival has been existing, short films have always occupied a prominent place. Indeed, for Elma Tataragić, the programmer of the Competition Program – Short Film, this has been a relevant section of the festival, revealing, year after year, glimpses of talent that would later blossom in future feature films, be it a singular style, aesthetic, worldview or auteur. She firmly believes that the short form is – and has always been – an important space for experimentation for young auteurs and for the discovery of new voices. A testament to the festival’s elevated respect for the short form is the introduction of the Competition Program – Student Film and the House of Shorts in 2017. For three editions, the House of Shorts has been the place to be for any short form lover for the entire duration of the festival. Shorts were shown, conversations and parties were had, a short film industry program with the crème de la crème of short film programmers was organized.

Now, the Covid-19 pandemic may have altered the festival’s relationship with shorts in the physical form, but its unwavering support and respect lives on. In that sense, there may not have been a House of Shorts in its physical form, but the concept has been very present indeed. As a matter of fact, a panel moderated by UK-based Producer and Screenwriter, Paula Vaccaro of Pinball London Ltd, titled “Short Films: How Can We Keep Making Them?” took place as part of Cinelink Talks, the conference part of the Cinelink Industry Days.  We all know that, more than a filmmaker’s calling card, short films are a format of choice for many audiences online. For the filmmakers, they are a way to show artistic choices and skills. For the audience and industry, they are discovery portals into an artists’ vision while offering the makers a way to network and approach the entertainment business with a less risky option in terms of budget. But they are not getting any easier to finance, and the distribution of shorts seems overflooded. So, panelists Holly Fraser, Editor-in-chief and Senior Director of Content at WeTransfer; Neils Putman, Chief Editor and Co-Founder of Talking Shorts, and Meghan Oretsky, Senior Curator at Vimeo, discussed this particularly thorny aspect of the short form, sharing their insight into making shorts that stand out, financing, crafting and showcasing them, but also what the advantages of making shorts in the current cinema landscape are.

Moreover, the Sarajevo Film Festival has always nurtured the numerous and talented filmmakers whose films have vied for the Heart of Sarajevo for Best Short Film over the years. One such example is Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović whose short film Into the Blue won the Heart of Sarajevo for Best Short Film in 2017. In 2018, she was invited to be part of the Short Film Jury. In 2021, her award-winning Martin Scorsese-produced debut feature Murina screened in Competition and, this year, she sat on the Competition Program Jury. Another example is Serbian director Milica Tomović whose short film Transition won the Heart of Sarajevo for Best Short Film in 2016. In 2017, she was invited to be part of the Short Film Jury and in 2021, her award-winning film Celts had its regional premiere in the Competition Program where it won the Heart of Sarajevo for Best Director.

Per the program description, the selection of the Competition Program – Short Films presented “films by young and courageous authors who examine the borders film language and create powerful interpretations of the world around us.” And, this year is no exception. According to Tataragić, the ten films vying for the Heart of Sarajevo for Best Short Film are all inventive and free and, as such, important for the cinema of the region. They all deal with the present moment and invite us to embark on exciting journeys where our present takes different forms. Their messages are honest, but they are also liberated when it comes to their form and approach to storytelling, exploring critical issues and posing important questions. She has no doubt that the short film line-up of the 2022 Sarajevo Film Festival is preparing us for the future. The films are varied in their themes and their approach to story-telling and style as well as their aesthetic and the ways they deal with the burning issues of our time such as identity, culture, belonging, transience, loss and injustice. This year’s edition of the Competition Program – Short Film was made up of five regional, one international and four world premieres: Affricate by Anna Gyimesi, My Neighbour Wolf by Nebojša Slijepčević, It is Quiet Here by Novruz Hikmet and Olena Podolianko, Together Alone by Kasim Ördek, Alba Vulva by Dorka Vermes, That’s How the Summer Ended by Matjaz Ivanisin, On Xerxes’ Throne by Evi Kalogiropoulou, Amok by Baláza Turai, Money and Happiness by Ana Nedeljković and Nikola Majdak Jr and 5pm Seaside by Valentin Stejskal.

The jury was made up of Ido Abram, the Deputy Director of the EYE Film Filmmuseum, French Director Morgane Dziurla-Petit and Greek Filmmaker Christos Massalas. Amok by Baláza Turai won the Heart of Sarajevo for Best Short Film while Valentin Stejskal’s 5pm Seaside received the Special Mention.

According to the programmer of the Competition Program – Student Film, Asja Krsmanović, this section is always one of the most exciting ones at the Sarajevo Film Festival. In fact, students are free to experiment and make mistakes as well as to take risks that, when they result in success, help their work stand out in a crowd of stylistically or thematically similar films. In her opinion, mistakes and loose ends in student films often make for original and creative ideas, unpolished and left to the audience to recognize their full potential. Judging by the new crop of auteurs whose films were presented in this year’s edition of the program, there was no shortage of creative potential and risk-taking that tend to lead to success. The selection could be broadly divided into two dominant thematic sections. The first includes films that deal with different forms of violence: violence by partners, peer violence, and violence in the world of films and video games that implies real-life violence. The second section embraces a group of films of a more contemplative nature that focus on the interior universes of their protagonists, permeated by humor, occasional anxiety and a touch of melancholy. Indeed, these films reflect the world we live in, that in turn shapes and directs these young filmmakers. Their refusal to conform to the rules of such a world is clearly articulated in their films. The line-up of this year’s Competition Program — Student Film was made up of eleven titles, including two animated, one experimental and eight short films. Three of the films had their regional premieres, four their international premieres, and another four their world premiere at Sarajevo: Water Balloons by Aleksa Borković, Kálmán Nagy’s The Other End of the Street, Rainboy by Sandra Marić, My Nikola by Martina Marasović, It’s Not Cold for Mosquitos by Josip Lukić and Klara Šovagović, Leni Gruber and Alex Reinberg’s Hollywood, Theodor Ionita’s My Sister and I, Mon Ami by Carina Dasoveanu, The Analogy of Space by Oleksandr Hoisan, Bianka Szelestey’s Craze and Nikolett Fábián’s Resting Fog.

The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television also celebrated its seventieth anniversary at the Sarajevo Film Festival by presenting six films by its former students. This was a unique opportunity to observe the historic trajectory of its productions which birthed some of the world’s greatest film directors, among which Ari Folman, the guest of this year’s Dealing with the Past program. After a two-year hiatus, this program included once again a sidebar section in which films produced by students at guest film schools are presented in order to allow film students from the region to acquaint themselves with student productions from further afield. These films were: Audition by Eti Tsicko, Vax Hurts by Maya Dreifuss, Bait by Michal Vinik, Ma’ayan Rypp’s Martha Must Fly, I Think This is the Closest to How the Footage Looked by Yuval Hameiri and Yona Rozenkier’s Raz and Radja.

The jury was made up of Creative Consultant, Curator and Advisor Ludmila Cvikova, Israeli Director Maya Dreifuss and the Head of the MA of Film at the Netherlands Film Academy Nduka Mntambo. It’s Not Cold for Mosquitos by Josip Lukić and Klara Šovagović won the Heart of Sarajevo for Best Student Film.

The programmer of the European Shorts program, Bianca Lucas, muses that “environmental change, glaring fissures in our shared social fabric, and war mire our twenty-first century experience. And the consequences are, and may well continue to be, tragic. The threat to our existence is as real as the collective anxiety we feel.” In that sense, this year’s European Shorts selection does not shy away from these anxieties. Whether tenderly, amusingly, brutally, or conceptually, these thirteen films from ten European countries remind us about life, about the times we live in, about the world at large. They keep an eye on the future and ask: Where are we going? And, do we really want to go there? This year’s European Shorts program was divided into three sections. The first one was called “Civilization and its discontents” and included the following short films: Manta Ray by Anton Bialas, Maria Schneider, 1983 by Elizabeth Subrin, Tomasz Wolski’s The Fence and backflip by Nikita Diakur. The second section was called “The Pains of Being Pure at Heart” and offered the audience Bachelorette Party by Lola Cambourieu and Yann Berlier, Anna Fernandez De Paco’s I Didn’t Make it to Love Her, Leopolis Night by Nikon Romanchenko and Vytautas Katkus’ Cherries. The last section titled “New Normnal” showed the following films: Agrilogistics by Gerard Ortín Castellví, Chords by Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren, Thanasis Trouboukis’ Under the Lake, Haulout by Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev and Happy New Year, Jim by Andrea Gatopoulos.

The jury was made up of Hungarian Director, Writer and Art Director Réka Busci, Costa-Rican Director Valentina Maurel and Bosnian Actor Alban Ukaj who awarded Lola Combourieu and Yann Berlier’s Bachelorette Party, thus providing the winners a candidature for the European Film Academy Best Short Film Award.

This year’s European Shorts program also included the winders of the 2022 La Cinef Cannes:

Humans are Dumber When Crammed Up Together by Laurène Fernandez, Somewhere by Jiahe Li, Masha Novikova’s Glorious Revolution and Valerio Ferrara’s A Conspiracy Man.

as well as other subsections:

  • The European Academy’s Short Film Tour with the following films:Beyond is the Day by Damian Kocur, Gabriel Böhmer’s Push the Button if You Begin to Panic, Dustin by Naïla Guiguet, Olga Lucovnicova’s My Uncle Tudor, Blue Fear by Marie Jacotey and Lola Halifa-Legrand, Katharina Huber’s The Natural Death of a Mouse, Displaced by Samir Karahoda, Daniel Gray’s Hide, Eliane Esther Bots’ In Flow of Words and Easter Eggs by Nicolas Keppens.
  • Passaggi d’autore with shorts by Stefano Malchiodi and Domenico Croce (Anne), Antonia Truppo and Lello Arena (Destinata Coniugi Io Giglio), Fulvio Risuleo (The Bad Tale – Mirkoeilcane’s Trilogy), Marta Massa (What Remains), Carlo Licheri (The Last Habanera) and Federico Russotto (The Opponent).
  • Zagreb Film Festival – Best of Checkers with the following shorts: Karlo Vorih’s Fall of Our Summer, The Rockets by Pavle Kocanjer and Saša Poštić, Alone by Borna Zidarić and Bulky Waste by Andrija Tomić.

In other sidebar programs such as TeenArena, four shorts were shown under the TeenArena Shorts banner: Black Slide by Uri Lotan, Abinash Bikram Shah’s Melancholy of My Mother’s Lullabies, Spaceboy by Veerle De Wilde and Sandra Coppola’s Trophy.

In the Shortcuts to Qatar program, a subsection of the Sarajevo Film Festival Partner Presents – Doha Film Institute program, seven shorts were shown: And Then They Burn the Sea by Majid Al Remaihi, Khalifa Al-Thani’s Border, Fever Dream by Ania Hendryx Wótowicz, Alessandra El Chanti’s When Beirut Was Beirut, Shaima Al-Tamimi’s Don’t Get Too Comfortable, Olayan by Khalifa Al-Marri and Suzannah Mirghani’s Virtual Voice.

All in all, the Covid-19 pandemic may have altered the way the short form is celebrated at the Sarajevo Film Festival, but the love for shorts was very much there this year. And, we most certainly hope the House of Shorts is back for the 2023 edition!

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