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Ania Trzebiatowska • Artistic director, International Festival of Independent Cinema Off Camera

“We want to show films you actually want to see”

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- Cineuropa talked to Off Camera’s artistic director, Ania Trzebiatowska, about what it really means to be independent

Ania Trzebiatowska  • Artistic director, International Festival of Independent Cinema Off Camera

The Polish International Festival of Independent Cinema Off Camera will see the likes of Queen of Hearts [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Gustav Lindh
interview: May el-Toukhy
film profile
]
, Sons of Denmark [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Elliott Crosset Hove
interview: Ulaa Salim
film profile
]
and Poland’s own Adrian Panek, presenting his sophomore feature, Werewolf [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Adrian Panek
film profile
]
, compete for the gathering’s main award of $100,000 – one of the biggest prizes in the world. The director of the winning film will also receive financing from the Polish Film Institute for his or her next movie, to be shot partly in Poland. We spoke to artistic director Ania Trzebiatowska about this year’s edition, which will end on 5 May.

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Cineuropa: Independent cinema seems to be changing all the time, especially considering what such a label meant in its heyday in the 1990s, as exemplified by your guest Marcia Gay Harden. What’s your take on it?
Ania Trzebiatowska: We are often asked how we define or understand this term. For me, these films develop their own style of handwriting – they are a form of personal expression. We are trying to show stories that just had to be told by their creators. People used to think that independent cinema was all about moving away from the studio system, but I feel it has less to do with budget constraints nowadays. It’s more about freedom of speech.

It’s much easier to make films now, and it can be overwhelming sometimes, but it also says a lot about the times we live in and the technology we use. It’s enough to mention Sean Baker: a smart filmmaker with something to say, whose stories didn’t suffer from limited means. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about: the ability to tell stories.

One of your sections, Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, is devoted to romantic comedies. Why? It’s a genre that seemingly became extinct because of its inability to evolve.
It’s not like we come up with a specific theme and then look for films that can fit into it. It’s actually the other way around – we notice some trends, and then realise that there is a common thread. Over the past few editions, we have been talking a lot about genre cinema. Romantic comedies are usually considered to be of a lesser artistic value and to not be intellectually stimulating. But in her playful documentary, also called Romantic Comedy, Elizabeth Sankey actually points out that they show how times change, and how we change along with them. A lot of films we have chosen have a fresh take on modern relationships and gender.

Another trend that you seem to be interested in is modern masculinity.
We were tempted to take a closer look at what is happening outside of the entertainment industry in the aftermath of #MeToo and #TimesUp. We are still at the very beginning, and just because we are talking about it, it doesn’t mean we will start implementing real change any time soon. It’s a process, but it’s interesting to see how filmmakers react to it. Because what does it really mean to be masculine? How do you even define it? Films from [the section] It’s Raining Men deal with this in a complex, non-obvious way, because it’s not a black-and-white subject.

It is often said that festivals are designed to support emerging filmmakers. But in your case, this statement goes beyond words, as they can win substantial awards. Was this always your goal?
That’s how it all began. We wanted to create a festival that we ourselves would want to go to and give people a chance to see films they wouldn’t be able to see otherwise: special, but at the same time accessible, movies. Titles that you would actually want to see and talk about later on. But it’s true – a lot is being said about the need to support young filmmakers, but not a whole lot is being done about it. It’s wonderful to shake someone’s hand and give them a shiny statuette, but it won’t pay their bills or give them a push to keep going. It’s a thankless job, directing. Especially when you are just starting out. People need concrete support, and thanks to our sponsors and festival director Szymon Miszczak’s insistence, we can make it happen.

With Kuba Czekaj’s new project Lipstick on the Glass being shown to the participants of Off Camera Pro Industry or Adrian Panek’s Werewolf screening in the main competition, is it a good time for Polish independent cinema?
It all comes down to what these filmmakers are trying to say, and Werewolf is a wonderful example of that. This period [the summer of 1945] is usually shown in a very specific way, but he uses the tropes of genre cinema instead, which is interesting, if also very risky. Or let’s take Jagoda Szelc, one of the most interesting directors in Poland right now, or maybe the whole of Europe. I talked to many people about Monument [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
[shown in the Polish Feature Film Competition], and the range of emotions it provokes is fascinating, plus its uniqueness is clearly appreciated. To be perfectly honest, we never wanted to show films that everyone would like; it would be rather boring. We want to provoke, to make people think and ask questions. Sometimes a film can touch us in a way that maybe we are not quite ready for.

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