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Dunja Kusturica • Programmer, Küstendorf Film Festival

“We wanted to make something that could simulate a small film school”


- Cineuropa met up with Dunja Kusturica, the programmer of the Küstendorf Film & Music Festival, to learn more about the gathering, which held its ninth edition this week

Dunja Kusturica  • Programmer, Küstendorf Film Festival

A festival dedicated to creating bonds between emerging filmmakers and established directors? That'll be the Küstendorf Film & Music Festival, which two-time Palme d’Or winner Emir Kusturica created nine years ago in the small resort of Drvengrad/Küstendorf, now a tourist attraction in the mountains close to the Serbian-Bosnian border, which he himself built. It is in fact the very idea of borders that maintains the spirit of the festival: there, film students and film masters overcome the distances that separate them to create an atmosphere where learning is an easy and desired outcome. Dunja Kusturica, the programmer of the festival, is in charge of creating that ambiance alongside her father. The event boasts a small but well-curated selection of feature films, thematic sidebars and a competition for short student films, peppered with music concerts and enveloped in a snow-capped landscape.

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Cineuropa: What is the idea behind the festival?
Dunja Kusturica: The festival was held for the first time in 2008, starting from the idea of showing short films from film schools from all over the world while also bringing the filmmakers. That year, we had Nikita Mikhalkov, and then with Emir’s connections, we brought together students and directors. We wanted to make something that could simulate a small film school, where you could enable this encounter between young people who are still starting out and established directors who can teach them something.

Short student films are a very important part of the festival. Is it hard for film students to find festivals that support them as they begin their rise to fame?
At our gathering, that is easy because it is a small place, and the atmosphere is relaxed, so there is a bigger chance of eventually getting in touch with directors or producers who might help in a certain way. For example, this year, we are showing Blanka [+see also:
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, a movie from the Philippines made by Japanese director Kohki Hasei, who won a prize here years ago. Later on, thanks to the festival, he got in touch with producers who helped him to make the movie. In fact, more and more, it’s the filmmakers themselves who send us the short films, and not the film schools anymore, like they used to. I would say that nowadays, there is more initiative on the part of the filmmakers; you can feel that they have the urge to show their work already in their student phase. 

Have you also thought about selecting feature films by students?
Yes, we do usually show them, as in Kohki's case. In the past, we also organised a sidebar with feature films by people who had come with short films before. This year, it's only one of them we have got in touch with. I hope that we will have more people next year.

What guidelines do you follow when selecting the other feature films?
The main goal is to show movies that are still clinging to the roots of arthouse cinema, by auteurs who are accessible, who Emir can get in touch with and organise their trip over here and their stay. Of course, we want to have movies that are socially involved somehow, and so on. 

The festival screens mostly foreign (arthouse) films. Was this a deliberate decision?
It depends on the quality of the year’s films. Regarding Serbian cinema, this year we have had many good short films, but we didn’t get to have a feature film we loved. It’s not a rationally planned decision to do it that way. Regarding foreign arthouse films, in Serbia, there is definitely a problem with the distribution of movies. It is very rare to see any arthouse titles showing in the cinemas in Belgrade. It seldom happens, and if it does, it doesn’t last long – Hollywood movies are definitely dominating the place. For example, a highlight of this year’s edition is the Decolonizing Cinema section. What I found very touching in these selected arthouse movies is that they talk about characters or even a world that still shows some kind of ideology, some faith in the idea of freedom or changing the world to make it a better place. I think that is something that art is losing quite a lot.

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