Interview with the Preselection Jury
Talk with the jurors 2019
258 submitted short films from all over the world with a total playing time of more than 60 hours - the Filmschoolfest preselection jury had their hands full to create the programme for this year's festival. Filmmakers Neven Samardžić and Leonie Stade and programmer and project manager Egle Cepaite (Portrait) met in Munich in September to discuss the films they had seen. In an interview, Egle Cepaite (EC), Neven Samardžić (NS) and Leonie Stade (LS) tell us what the decision-making process was like.
You had to watch and evaluate 259 films. How did you work your way through the films and did you have any expectations?
EC: There were a lot of films to watch, and I wanted to find an objective and regardful way to do so. I sorted the list of films by their length and watched a couple of hours of films each day for a couple of weeks - without paying any attention to filmschool, country, director, synopsis or other available information about the film. I wanted to free myself from any programming strategies (for example the concern of country, gender, theme, genre diversity in the final program), and watch all the films with equal respect and openness. The only expectation I had was to be moved by something fresh, vital and true in the filmmaking, in the way of telling stories. What I saw exceeded my expectations by far.
LS: First I made a plan to figure out how many hours a day I would have to watch, to manage the 65 hours of film without having to "bingewatch" in the end. To really do justice to every film. For the selection I used classic criteria such as: cast, camera work, look, theme, type of implementation, cinematic means, etc. But two other criteria were almost more important to me personally. First: Does the film provoke emotions in me and if so - which? And second: Would I like to see more from this director? A movie can be made perfectly and still not make the viewer feel anything. At the same time, a movie with mistakesand rough edges can arouse feelings or can make you want more. Especially The latter was very important to me. Especially to encourage the filmmakers to keep going.
NS: It was, in a way, a huge task to see sixty hours of material and to have a fresh eye the entire time. But the overall quality of the submitted films got me through it, because at the beginning I expected fewer good films to be honest, and so the quality got me through the huge amount of films.
What are you personally most interested in a film?
LS: A film must either provoke a feeling in me or entertain me, or inform me, or make me think. If none of this is given, I find it hard to find a reason why I should watch this film.
NS: I try to look at everything and appreciate the overall intention, but I think I value the quality of the story above everything else. Characters and their relationships, plots and atmosphere - that is what gets me.
EC: It's the process of watching that really interests me: I like to enter the screening room or a VOD platform knowing the least possible about the film I am about to watch, to access it's universe as the film unfolds. I do not want to understand too much at the beginning. Then little by little I want to recognize a feeling, a form, a phrase, something that is painfully familiar or surprisingly new.
What kind of films do you usually enjoy watching? Do you have a favorite film?
EC: The most enjoyable moment in watching films is when a film takes you by surprise, when a film is so alive that you can't resist, it makes you feel, it makes you think. There is no kind, no genre, no theme or style that I have a preference for, I try to stay curious and watch as many different films as I can. Wonderfully surprising films, there are so many, but the one that stayed with me as the biggest recent revelation is KAILI BLUES (2015) by Bi Gan.
NS: I love to be open for everything – mainstream, arthouse, whatever… I just love movies!
LS: Almost all genres. Documentaries, mixed forms, dark comedies, comedies, horror, drama, thriller, sci-fi. I am just not really into action films in which the American presidents needs to be rescued. I don't have an absolute favourite, but one of my favourite films is BRAZIL by Terry Gilliam.
259 films are a broad scope: Have there, however, been overall tendencies that you noticed? Or have there been countries that stood out?
NS: The country that surprised me the most was Myanmar. It was the first time I saw movies from there and I really liked them all. They where all documentaries with clear, well told and socially relevant stories.
LS: I was surprised by the really high quality of the films. Watching them was mostly a great pleasure. There were many films about people on the run. Many dramas. Films about self-discovery, coming of age, sexuality. The documentaries often told personal stories of the filmmakers. I was pleased to see that there were also films about the attempt to break up totalitarian systems, about people with depression, about young people and social media and even sci-fi, which always requires good and new ideas, especially with a small budget.
There were outstanding films from almost every country. I was very happy about the films from Israel. I was enthusiastic about the cinematic realism of some Polish and Hungarian films. And I enjoyed watching the films from Scandinavia, which were really special and had a great weird humour.
EC: We realized quite late during our final discussions that Germans were the strongest animators this year, very interesting! Isreal stood out as the country that submitted an impressive number of great films. Myanmar, the cinema of which is so little known abroad, offered us a selection of powerful documentaries. I was impressed by the courage of so many young filmmakers to share very personal family stories, and to make those stories resonate universally. Gender, sexuality, femininity, body positivity, mental health, coming-of-age struggles were recurrent topics in many short films, and this is very promising for the future of cinema.
What was the biggest surprise?
EC: The biggest surprise for me was the overall quality of the submitted works: I was ready for a little bit of amateurism, technical mistakes, copycat stories, empty formalism and naive maximalisms. Instead, I watched the selection of more than 60 hours of professionally made, aesthetically challenging works that had different voices, interesting approaches, very mature treatment of various topics.
Did you miss any themes or genres in the submitted films?
NS: Comedies probably. But it’s probably the hardest thing to make a good comedy, so I understand it completely.
EC: I wouldn't say I missed any themes or genres, but there were very few experimental films. It would have been interesting to have more of the non-narrative filmmaking.
LS: Yes, of course. But if everything were already covered, that would also be boring.
How was the evaluation with the other two jury members: Did you mostly agree on the films you liked or did you have to fight for your favorite ones?
LS: We quickly agreed on most of the films that we found particularly good and I particularly bad (alternatively not good). But of course there were also some movies that only one of the three jury members liked. It depended very much on how the respective jury member fought for his or her "favourite" and argued in front of the other jury members with the strengths of the film. If I particularly like a film, I can get very annoying.
EC: There were no fights, but, of course, a few compromises were made. It was a very exciting moment to meet the jury members, to finally share opinions on the films that we watched independently. I think the chemistry between us was great, we respected each other and listened to each other even in those rare cases when we didn't agree. Some of my colleagues' arguments were so accurate and convincing, it made me rethink the first impressions I had on a couple of films, it's such an interesting process, the dialogue. There is a big part of the programme that we approved right away based on the independent ratings we submitted before the meeting. The other part, more challenging, was to add the most compelling variation of voices in the programme.
NS: We were in sync from the start and didn’t have to argue at all. We had the same vision, which is reflected in the final selection.
What is your recommendation for students and audience on how to get the most out of a Filmschoolfest visit?
EC: I haven't had the chance to visit the Filmschoolfest myself yet, I hope it will happen this year! Festivals are a great place to experiment with your personal taste: Try watching films you have never have thought you would like to watch, try participating in exchanges with other young filmmakers!
NS: Simple - watch movies and talk about them with the people who made them.
LS: I prefer to just let myself be drawn into a film without reading the summary beforehand. This way you can enter a film without expectations. And that's also how these special "festival moments" happen. When a film suddenly totally captivates you, you are surprised and totally there. That's always something special for me, something that can only be created in the cinema and mostly at festivals. The best idea is to do a bit of both: some planning (so that you can see as many movies and as much of the beautiful city as possible) but also leave room to drift. This is how beautiful moments and encounters often arise.