11 July, 2008
by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
What most American do not know about the country of Slovenia could easily fill the mileage that separates the two countries. Well, with the idea that film can be an informative and illuminating guide to other cultures, New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Slovenian Film Fund will be presenting a program of classic and contemporary Slovenian films from July 16 to 22. So ladies and gents, it’s time to brush up on your Slovene savvy.
Let’s start with some basics: Slovenia, officially the Republic of Slovenia is a country in southern Central Europe bordering Italy to the west, the Adriatic Sea to the southwest, Croatia to the south and east, Hungary to the northeast, and Austria to the north. The capital of Slovenia is Ljubljana. At various points in Slovenia's history, the country has been part of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Republic of Venice, the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia following World War I and the Socialist Republic of Slovenia after 1945, before gaining full independence in 1991. Slovenia is the only former communist state to be at the same time a member of the European Union, the Eurozone, the Council of Europe and NATO. Through its long and often troubled history, the Slovene people have retained their own distinct cultural identity.
In terms of film, Slovene cinema has a more than century-long tradition with such notable historical film auteurs as Karol Grossmann, Janko Ravnik, Ferdo Delak, France Štiglic, Mirko Grobler, Igor Pretnar, France Kosmač, Jože Pogačnik, Matjaž Klopčič, Jane Kavčič, Jože Gale, Boštjan Hladnik and Karpo Godina. In the past decade and a half, since becoming its one sovereign nation, there has been a generation of film artists who have been referred to as the “renaissance of Slovenian cinema”, including such contemporary film directors Janez Burger, Jan Cvitkovič, Damjan Kozole, Janez Lapajne and Maja Weiss. In all, there have been over 150 Slovene feature films, plus a few hundred documentaries and short films, currently producing between four and six feature films each year.
Film genres have been a mix of domestic comedies, social realist dramas and poetic meditations. As with many films produced in the post World War II era, Slovenian films were often more warmly embraced outside the country than inside it. A case in point is the 1957 film Valley of Peace, for which African-American John Kitzmiller received the Best Actor prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival. The same new openness that characterized films from Czechoslovakia and Hungary in the 1960s were evidenced in Slovenia as well, with such international hits as Dance in the Rain and Paper Planes. The post-Communist period was rocky, but the creation of the Slovenian Film Fund in 1994 has been essential in fostering new talents and promoting Slovenian cinema internationally at film festivals, film markets and other events.
Bringing the Slovene sensibility to New York film audiences, At the Crossroads: Slovenian Cinema will showcase more than a dozen classic and contemporary films that chart Slovenian cinema’s continued evolution as a distinct member of the world cinema club. Screenings will be held at the Walter Reade Theater, the flagship for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, with director Marko Nabersnik and author/film scholar Joseph Valencic on hand to introduce screenings throughout the series.
Classic films to savor in the series include: Dance In The Rain (1961, Bostjan Hladnik), a modernist classic about a painter who looks back at his thwarted personal and artistic choices; Paper Planes (1967, Matjaz Klopcic), one of the films that defined the 1960s aesthetic of quietly observed characters and modern sexual relationships between a photographer and a ballet dancer; Raft of the Medusa (1980, Karpo Godina), a surrealistic-tinged debut by cinematographer Godina about two young school teachers who encounter an avant-garde troupe of artists; Valley of Peace (1956, France Stiglic), a World War II-set film about a downed American flyer who is rescued by a group of Slovenian children, which won African-American actor John Kitzmiller a Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival; and Vesna (1953, Frantisek Cap), a gentle college comedy that remains one of the best loved of all Slovenian film.
More contemporary Slovenian cinema ripe for discovery include: Beneath Her Window (2003, Metod Pevec), an offbeat romantic comedy about a dance instructor who becomes involved with a married man; Guardian of the Frontier (2002, Maja Weiss), a feminist tale about a trio of student on summer break that screened at the 2003 New Directors/New Films series; Idle Running (1999, Janez Burger), a quirky low-budget tale of a slacker student and his friends and romances, which screened at New Directors/New Films in 2000; Outsider (1996, Andrej Kosak), the local box office hit about a young man’s growing involvement with a local contingent of punk rockers; Rooster’s Breakfast (2007, Marko Nabersnik), a contemporary box office hit that skillfully mixes coming-of-age, thriller and musical genres; Spare Parts (2003, Damjan Kozole), a searing look at the human trafficking between the new and old Europe; Sweet Dreams (2001, Saso Podgorsek), an adaptation of a popular local bestseller about a young boy’s cultural clash with modernity in 1970s Yugoslavia; and When I Close My Eyes (1993, Franci Slak), a unsettling psychological thriller of family secrets and betrayal that develops into a devastating portrait of a society ruled by suspicion and power games.
For more information on the films in the series, log on to the Film Society’s website: www.filmlinc.com. Once you have experienced the rare screenings of these films from a culture so far and yet so close, you will be able to find Slovenia on the international film map……