Forget all about classy, glamorous film festivals, red carpets, and fancy awards. A film festival can certainly be amazing without any of those standard festival elements, especially if the films are combined with other enjoyable activities.
It is difficult to describe Divan Film Festival to someone who has never been to Cetate, an ex port in Romania, near the Bulgarian border. Try imagining a place with no shops, traffic, ATM-s, with restricted Wi-fi; a place which is very convenient for tourists, but doesn’t have the regular touristic spirit; a place that is all about the arts and nature. Complicated transportation options to Cetate were all forgotten as soon as we arrived. The very first moments spent at the festival gave me the feeling I was in some kind of oasis isolated from the rest of the world. The level of freedom and easy-going communication among the festival guests, mostly young people, gave me the feeling I was in a hippy commune. It was clear from the beginning those three days spent in Cetate will be a unique holiday.
It is also difficult to talk about the “festival program”, as our time spent at the festival didn’t feel burdened with any schedule. Being the Balkan film and food festival at the same time, Divan makes its daily activities seem pretty spontaneous. We did what we would usually do, only in a more festive way. Traditional meals, served outside, were beyond amazing. The biggest surprise was Vietnamese food prepared by a special guest chef from Vietnam, residing in Romania.
We have seen some nice films – some older ones and some new ones, including Danis Tanovic’s latest film Death in Sarajevo. Seeing the film in the open air, as the weather finally allowed it, turned this screening into a special event for us. My everlasting curiosity for discovering films less known to me was satisfied when I saw Marilena de la P7 by Cristian Nemescu. However, the most intensive positive impression I got regarding the film program was inspired by the short films screened at the festival. All of the short films screened were made by the young authors from the Balkans and most of them attended the festival, giving us the opportunity to discuss them.
The presence of the young filmmakers, as well as acclaimed theoreticians, inspired me to think about the role of small festivals such as Divan in creating cinematography. In my opinion, a festival like this is a perfect chance to make an industry event that won’t have the tenseness of an industry event imposed by the formality and seriousness. The comfortable and hospitable atmosphere of Divan was a great setting for us to connect and even discuss potential collaborations with other guests. And why should we wait? Some of the young directors who have attended the festival have made no-budget shorts during their stay, giving the rest of us a nice permanent video material to remind us of our days in Cetate.
The festival also included a symposium and educational activities for The 5C Project. For some of us, presentation of the papers at the symposium was the first experience of that kind. The overall relaxed atmosphere helped us ignore the nervousness, but didn’t eliminate the seriousness of our tasks. The workshops we had were certainly a valuable complementation to the film literacy knowledge obtained through the previous The 5C Project activities.
Finally, I’m still not sure I’ve managed to describe the feeling of this festival’s spirit faithfully. There is so much more about Divan than film and food art. It is also a festival of traditional Balkan music. It is a festival of great wines and Balkan drinks. It is a festival for making friends. It is a festival where cats and dogs are invited. And it is definitely a festival I would visit again. If your film curiosity, appetite, or love for the Balkan cultures ever bring you to Cetate, I hope you will have at least half of the fun I had.