Friday, August 26, 2011

Our School at EDIF Fest in Seoul

Shot of our title screen in Seoul. Photo credit: Mona Nicoara (c) Sat Mic Film, LLC

We spent a few days a the EBS International Documentary Festival in Seoul, South Korea. We went there unsure of what to expect and quite curious about how Korean audiences will react to a story for which they may not have any context. 

Well, they may not have any experience with Roma or segregation - but they sure had plenty of background information and interest in the issue. We had two screenings, followed by some of the longest and most complex Q&As we've ever had. Korean audiences surely know how to ask the most interesting, bluntest questions! It certainly helped turn the event into a genuine opportunity to explore the reasons and intricacies behind making a longitudinal project like Our School, and we are very grateful for that opportunity. The EIDF blog has a lovely-looking Korean-language summary of one of our Q&As here.

We're also extremely happy that so many teachers showed up for our screenings, and even wrote about the film on their blogs. This is a function of EBS adding a new section to the festival, dedicated exclusively to education. It is a brilliant idea, if we may say so ourselves - and it clearly feeds into both an existing audience and EBS's core mission as a public broadcaster.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Magic of FânFest in Roșia Montană

Our School's audience at FânFest Roșia Montană. Photo credit: Mona Nicoara (c) Sat Mic Film, LLC

We had an incredible screening last night at FânFest Roșia Montană. Full house, with folks standing along the walls and sitting on the floor, shaking the windows with their laughter. Wonderful Q&A. This is an audience interested in social change, in using Romania's human capital and national wealth responsibly, and in making the right choices for future generations.

FânFest Roșia Montană was set up to build public awareness against a surface mining project that would strip the mountains surrounding this valley with cyanide to extract gold and silver and would displace the entire community of Roșia Montană. The area has been mined for gold for millenia - long before the Romans came to make Transylvania part of their empire. There are now over 150 kilometers of Roman and pre-Roman mining galleries, which are slated to be listed in the UNESCO World Heritage. But the mining project proposed by the the Roșia Montană Gold Corporation would do away with the historic galleries and, indeed, with a few whole mountains around the small town of the Roșia Montană. Over the past 10 years, the Roșia Montană Gold Corporation bought land, houses, and even graves from the locals, relocating living families and human remains, and allowing old houses now in the property of the corporation to deteriorate - promising to renovate the historic monuments and build a tourist dystopia at the foot of the cyanide-stripped mountains only if the mining project goes ahead. While some locals have sold their properties to the Roșia Montană Gold Corporation, many oppose the mining project and refuse to sell - and they are supported by vibrant Romanian NGOs, opinion leaders and international groups like Greenpeace. 

Sign saying "This property is NOT for sale" in  Roșia Montană. Photo credit: Mona Nicoara (c) Sat Mic Film, LLC
Just being there was incredibly moving. It was partly personal: Most of Director-Producer Mona Nicoară's family comes different mining villages within 30 kilometers of Roșia. But it was also an extraordinary chance to connect with some of the most engaged young people in the country. We'll definitely be back: Mona Nicoară was made an offer she couldn't refuse - she was asked to program the film section of next year's FânFest.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Lovely DokuFest in Kosovo

The open-air cinema straddling the river in Prizren. Photo credit: Mona Nicoara (c) Sat Mic Film, LLC

We had a great time at the wonderfully programmed DokuFest in historical town of Prizren in Kosovo. We had the chance to screen in a whimsical open-air theater straddling the river, as well as in an old cinema whose preservation was the original impulse behind founding DokuFest. The festival lived up to its reputation: A warm community of documentary filmmakers led by programmer Veton Nurkollari, great movies and great music concerts, and all-night discussions fueled by macchiatos, kebabs and raki in the center of town. 
European youth platform Spartak caught one of our  DokuFest screenings and wrote the following about Our School:

"Stays very close to all people involved and shows the growing pains, adaptation troubles, discrimination and efforts in a beautiful way. The interviewed children keep that (often hilarious and/or touching) honesty about their hopes and dreams and the camera catches all. Sometimes it reminded me a bit of Être et avoir, the celebrated portrait of a French peripheral town school. Our School is a truly amazing and complete portrait of small-town, peripheral Romania, (Roma) children from puberty to adulthood and the efforts of parents and teachers to get education for the kids. Highly recommended."

In an overview of DokuFest on the Scottish Doc Institute's blog, Sonja Henrici noted that Our School is

"a subtle film [which] denies us the more common journey towards 'hope,' but shows the systemic inability in people’s hearts and minds to embrace difference, and the emotional and psychological effects it has on the Roma children who cannot even begin to consider to celebrate their 'diversity.'"
Thank you, DokuFest!