International festival of Eastern European Cinema The FilmFestival Cottbus in the German city of Cottbus, showed a special programme of Belarusian cinema "Special: Belarus" for the first time this year. Marcel Maiga performed as the curator of a large collection of works by Belarusian Directors. The purpose of the weekly out-of-competition screenings was not only to present modern Belarusian cinema to European audience, but also to make another step towards cooperation with foreign colleagues. We met up with Marcel at the time of his arrival in Minsk and talked about the difference between Belarusian author's cinema and any other.

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— Marcel, whose idea was to make a special program of Belarusian films at your festival?

— It was a joint idea of mine and the program Director of the festival Bernd Buder. We wanted to make this program to show how Belarusian cinematography had changed in recent years. We had some films for youth and some short films, but such a wide selection was shown for the first time. At the end, for "Special: Belarus" I selected 26 films. A huge variety of topics was presented: domestic violence against women, World War I, the environment, love and many others. It is not only feature films, but also documentaries.

— How did the audience meet the Belarusian films?

— I think that the screenings went very well. The audience was interested to learn some facts about Belarus and to see which movies are released today. I think the majority of people knew nothing about the country your film industry. I mean not only ordinary viewers, but also our guests, professionals, whom we annually invite to the festival (about 600 accredited guests attended the festival Korbonski in 2017. – ed.). They don't travel around Belarus and don't know about your movies. And even if they are traveling, as is often happens, local movies are shown without translation and subtitles. As for big festivals and film market, then, unfortunately, the Belarusian films are not represented there, and therefore they are virtually unknown in Western Europe.

 I know you invited Belarusian filmmakers to Cottbus. Were many of them able to come to present their films and meet the audience? What excited the audience?

— We really like to arrange meetings in the format of Q&As. This allows us to discuss not only the film itself, but details of the shooting process directly with the authors. Actually, I think it's a special moment for the audience and for the festival ― because you can now watch films anywhere (in a regular cinema, at home or even on the road), but then some may ask: "How do you make films in Belarus?", and you will receive answer.

It turned out that Belarus is not so "strange distant country"! We actually have a lot in common. People are concerned about the same issues: how to find love how to build a life, get a job. We relate because we all want to eat healthy food, to be surrounded by pure nature, to drink good water. Such problems can occur both in Spain and in Belarus. For example, after the screening of the film "Breath of Swamps" by Ihar Chyshchenia the audience was interested, what measures are being taken to save wetlands. They heard about the Chernobyl disaster, how it affected the ecological situation in Belarus, but they knew few about what’s happening in Belarus now, which problems exists. The main thing that the audience saw different films. It may be the most important step if one wants to go beyond the films, to get rid of stereotypes and discover a new country.

— Are there any features of the Belarusian cinema? Can we talk about the original film language in Belarus?

— There is always the local flavor in every movie. For example, in the film "Test-730" by Daria Korol characters, young University graduates who were trained at the state's expense, distribute to work for 2 years in small towns of Belarus. It was an interesting discussion with the audience. It's something local, we know nothing about it. Because Germany and other Western countries we usually do only what we want. If we start something and we don't like, we simply switch to another. We almost never appear in situations when we forced to work where we don't like for a long time. The characters of the film come face to face with the problems "field-based", survive during this period of their lives and learn things that they never would have learned, if they are right there where they wanted. I think they will be prepared to solve problems in the future. It is a positive experience and something what people in other countries can learn: don't give up if you can't change the situation, and try to find the strength to cope with difficulties. This is the specificity to which the audience in Germany, for example, can connect and start a dialogue.

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In artistic terms the way you tell a story, the way you build a tableau, differ from the way of French or German authors. It emerges from the cultural differences, the difference of mentalities. The same object can be viewed from different angles in a million different ways. Noone will say he saw film about love, so that there’s no need to see the other. No, it's not about love, it’s about how the Director sees it. Therefore, people will always go to the cinema.

You put the questions: "Who are Belarusians?", "What is Belarus?". It is clear that such questions are often asked in relation to any nation, but from the outside. It is interesting that you ask such questions to yourselves. In Germany, people do not ask this question, they just do not come to mind. This is the feature of your historical and cultural journey.

— What, in Your opinion, can be made for Belarusian films to be presented at major international festivals?

— First and foremost, you need to make films. (Laughs.) As much as possible. That’s the most important thing. And, of course, quality is important too. Because here in Cottbus, we have a special program for Belarusian films, but in the competition program of the same requirements are equal for everyone. When applying for a competitive program, you must understand that you are competing with films from all around the world: American, Chinese, French... the Important artistic value of the film, themes, technical specifications, camera work. For the competitive selection of the festival you need competitive films. We are talking about high-quality vocational education for all people involved in the process of making the film: directors, cameramen, sound engineers, writers, necessary modern technical equipment and so on.

And, of course, you need to attend all sorts of festivals. There is nothing better than to travel and to watch. You will definitely see how, for example, the problem with the light will be solved in different film in a similar situation, that haven't given you peace of mind. You can see the experimental works, art-house. You can establish contacts with those involved in the production and distribution of films. You can always grow and become better.

— We are glad that The FilmFestival Cottbus collaborates with "Listapad". So, I think you know both festivals are organized. In Belarus many people do not like the fact that the national competition is a separate program. Does it matter in Germany?

— Is a universal question, in Germany at a big festivals it is also a hot topic. In Cottbus, for example, German movies do not always get into the main competition, it happens. But it is absolutely normal to want (if the country hosts the international film festival), to be submitted to the national cinema. I think foreign guests interested in local films that they can't see anywhere else. It is also a question of promoting the national film school.

— You are waiting for the new Belarusian films in Cottbus in the future?

— Yes, of course. Every year we get more applications, including Belarusian applications. So I wish you good luck in the coming year. We are waiting for you in the competition program!

— Thanks, Marcelle!

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The Directorate of Minsk IFF "Listapad" supported The FilmFestival Cottbus during the work on the program. In total, there were 26 movies:

CHRONOTOPE – Belarus, 2015, 40 min dir. ART COLLECTIVE “CHRONOTOPE” (The project is created under guidance of Andrei Kudinenko.)

AUTUMN'S KISS – Belarus, 2016, 66 min, dir. Andrey Golubev

BREATH OF SWAMPS – Belarus, 2014, 24 min, dir. Ihar Chyshchenia

CONCIERGE – Belarus, 2015, 9 min, dir. Robert Seneko

KRI_ON_OFF – Belarus, 2016, 7 min, dir. Valery Novichkov

DENOMINATION – Belarus, 2016, 3 min, dir. Emil Zienko

DRUYA – Belarus, Poland, 2016, 13 min, dir. Ilja Bazhko

EASTER – Belarus, 2015, 13 min, dir. Daria Yurkevich

EXTRAS. CLOSE-UP – Russia, 2016, 20 min, dir. Alexander Zubovlenko

FORGOTTEN – Belarus, 2014, 79 min, dir. Dmitri Makhomet

GRANNY, VANYA AND THE GOAT – France, 2014, 15 min, dir. Daria Yurkevich

HORIZON SKY – Belarus, 2012, 134 min, dir. Andrei Kureichik, Dmitry Marinin

IMITATION – Czech Republic, 2016, 17 min, dir. Sasha Stelchenko

ISLAND OF MILK – Belarus, 2016, 5 min, dir. Siarhei Hudzilin

LOVE & PARTNERSHIP – Belarus, 2016, 67 min, dir. Nikita Lavretski

MASHA: LOVE STORY OF A GIRL ILL WITH CANCER – Belarus, 2016, 6 min, dir. Iryna Arakhouskaya, Arciom Harbacevich

ONE OUT OF EVERY THREE WOMEN. BEHIND CLOSED DOORS – Belarus, 2016, 12 min, dir. Alexander Vasukovich

PENPALS – Belarus, 2017, 23 min, dir. Nella Vasilevskaya

RELAY RACE – Belarus, 2016, 13 min, dir. Mikhail Parkhomenka

RUSSIAN – Belarus, 2014, 22 min, dir. Victor Asliuk

TEST-730 – Belarus, 2016, 61 min, dir. Daria Korol 

THE REAL AMERICAN – Belarus, 2015, 23 min, dir. Darya Zhuk

THE SAME BLOOD – Belarus, 2015, 15 min, dir. Mitry Semenov-Aleinikov

THERE WAS SASHA – Belarus, 2016, 6 min, dir. Andrey Kashpersky

UNDER THE CANOPY OF TREES – Belarus, 2016, 15 min, dir. Ignat Kachan

Text by Tatiana Zaydal, Nikolai Lavreniuk
Photo by Marcel Maiga