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NEW HORIZONS 2018

Marcin Pieńkowski • Artistic director, New Horizons Film Festival

“I want to keep surprising our audience”

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- We met up with Marcin Pieńkowski to talk about his second edition as artistic director of the New Horizons Film Festival

Marcin Pieńkowski  • Artistic director, New Horizons Film Festival
(© Łukasz Gawroński)

Now in its 18th edition, the New Horizons International Film Festival opened on 26 July with a screening of Nadine Labaki’s Capharnaüm [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
. Held in Wrocław for the 13th year in a row, this year it included 250 titles, 147 of which were shown in the country for the very first time. “I really hate this expression, but everyone can find something here,” says artistic director Marcin Pieńkowski, who also served as New Horizons’ spokesman and director of PR and marketing from 2011 to 2015. “But the smallest films are the real heart of our festival.” We chatted to him to find out more about the gathering.

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Cineuropa: It seems to me that festivals are really trying to react to all of the political whirlwinds nowadays. Is that something you want to do as well?
Marcin Pieńkowski: Last year, we had a section called Cinema of Protest. We noticed that filmmakers were reacting to what was going on around them, from the migrant crisis to terrorist attacks. But we don’t want to dabble in politics. We don’t want to pick sides or loudly express our views – our films do that for us. It’s mostly a feature-film festival, and it’s documentaries that usually dig deeper politically. What we do try to do, however, is to reflect our reality. Let’s take Ali Abbasi’s Border [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ali Abbasi
film profile
]
 – it may have trolls in it, but for me it’s an apt metaphor for a modern Europe that tends to exclude certain people just because they don’t quite fit in.

The message in Border isn’t exactly spelled out. Do you prefer it when filmmakers keep certain things a little less obvious? 
Sometimes you need someone like Nadine Labaki, who hits you right in the face with what she is trying to say. But personally, I appreciate films that deliver their message in a less explicit way, like Kirill Serebrennikov’s Summer [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ilya Stewart
film profile
]
 – every time I see it, I just want to go to the beach and drink a cold beer. Given what’s happening to him [Serebrennikov has been placed under house arrest], you would expect him to bring you down, but he does the exact opposite. Not every single film needs to mirror our world and all the ugliness in it. 

Before the festival, many referred to it as “little Cannes”. But it’s not the major titles from the biggest festivals that long-time fans come here to see.
We have always had some big names, and it’s true that this year we managed to secure almost all of the titles from Cannes that we wanted to show. Films like that allow us to organise rare retrospectives, like that of João César Monteiro, unknown even to film scholars, or Nicolas Roeg, playing to sold-out screenings. There is a place for those viewers looking for hits and for those who want something less obvious, which is unlikely to get a theatrical release. I was certainly trying to strike that balance. Also, because this festival is all about diversity, none of these paths would work just on its own. 

Before you became artistic director in 2017, you had been an integral part of the festival for many years. From your perspective, how is it evolving?
We have noticed that more and more young people are coming, which is why we have changed the way we communicate, because what we used to do in 2012 no longer applies. We use social media and the internet more, trying to reach them in a different way. What’s interesting is that it seems that people really need social interaction. They want to be together and to experience something with others. I think that film as a social experience, and not just as something consumed on Netflix, is coming back with a vengeance. And that’s precisely what film festivals are all about.

This is the only festival in Poland that has developed its very own adjective: people actually talk about “New Horizons-like films”.
If you look at our programme from ten years ago, those were the golden years of slow cinema. But how many have you seen this year? Cinema is constantly changing, and you have to react to it, instead of forcing something that used to work in the past. I would rather take a risk, even if I don’t always make the right decision. I just want to keep surprising our audience, who are very demanding, and add some genre cinema because I am not afraid of pop culture. Nobody should appropriate the term “New Horizons” and claim that it only includes contemplative films. I don’t want this festival to become predictable and boring. Slow cinema was, is and will be here, always – but so will other things. 

This year, you lost your titular sponsor T-Mobile. How did that affect this edition?
It didn’t come as a complete shock – those things are bound to come to an end sooner or later, and we were lucky enough to have their support for 15 years. There is nothing left to do but say, “Thank you.” Which doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard, because when you have a popular event, sometimes it becomes associated with its long-time partner. I remember many foreign guests being surprised by our name – they thought T-Mobile was actually organising the whole thing. Many companies were afraid of it. In the end, we managed to gather 70% of the budget. We have a few sponsors now; it’s a different model, and it may be hard to get back to how it was before.

It was a big change to have to face, especially in your second edition.
I have never felt so tired in my life – and I have two kids [laughs]. It was a difficult year because of that change and because of the World Cup, which most people chose to support instead. I always say that the better Polish sport is doing, the worse it is for culture. This time the players underperformed, so maybe it’s our time to shine.

Of course I would like a bigger budget to be able to publish more books about cinema, organise exhibitions and do other things, but we have always been able to count on the Polish Film Institute, the Ministry of Culture and Creative Europe MEDIA. It’s still too early to say where we will go from here, but my hope is that people will see what we can do and notice that attendance levels have been even higher than last year. And then we will bring the T-shirts back.

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