DRVENGRAD - Serbia’s quirky Kuestendorf film festival is a long way from Cannes — instead of a red carpet, there is a carpet of snow, and boots and winter sweaters replace tuxedos. Yet the event, held in a rustic mountain village that was once a film set, has attracted a strong international following for its offbeat charm and its bold stance in defence of independent film-making. As the film and music festival’s founder, Serb director Emir Kusturica, puts it, the week-long event is dedicated to “defending the dignity of author films that are facing the terror of the market”.
“It is getting more and more difficult to have a project survives in this new world of the liberal market,” Kusturica’s daughter Dunja, in charge of film selection for the festival, told AFP.
This year, in its fifth edition, Kuestendorf drew French screen star Isabelle Huppert and US director Abel Ferrara among its guests. As they arrived by helicopter or by car at Drvengrad, the movie-set wooden village hidden in rough mountains in southwestern Serbia, there was no red carpet and no hailstorm of camera flashes.
At the heart of the festival is a wooden structure that houses a screening hall, restaurant and the cafe “Prokleta avlija” (The Cursed Yard), named after a book by Ivo Andric, the only former Yugoslav Nobel Prize winner.
It is a place with a relaxed air where big-name stars mingle with film students, journalists and other guests.
“I am delighted... to be able to mix with people whose works I admire,” says 22-year-old director Lee Filipovski from Canada. “Emir has set up something that allows the breaking of rather rigid rules.”
The festival’s creator, Sarajevo-born Kusturica — a two-time Golden Palm winner at the Cannes film festival — relishes mixing with the guests at Drvengrad, which has been his home since 2006.
With his famed unruly hair, he greets guests at mealtime, chats with movie-industry hopefuls and informs people of upcoming screenings and concerts.
He is also happy to accompany guests who want to try their skills on the nearby ski slopes.
For Huppert, a first-time guest at Kuestendorf, the “plethora of directors, great directors” is on par with the Cannes guestlist.
This year, Kuestendorf brought together winners from better-known festivals — four Golden Palms winners from Cannes, one Golden Bear from the Berlinale and one Golden Globe for the best foreign film.
Thierry Fremaux, the artistic director at Cannes, described Kuestendorf as a “unique festival in times when it is difficult to invent a new form”.
“I hope that young author-directors discovered by the Kuestendorf festival will one day appear in Cannes — first simply to come and see the films and eventually, one day, maybe, with a short or long film in competition,” Fremaux said.
Huppert, smiling and relaxed, talked to the press before joining a workshop with young authors to discuss at length with them her 1991 film “Madame Bovary”, directed by Claude Chabrol.
Kusturica also welcomed directors from South Korea and Turkey, Kim ki-Duk and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, together with French rising star Tahar Rahim.
Belgian’s directors-brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne were also there, along with Iranian director Marjane Satrapi and her compatriot, actress Leila Hatami, star of the 2011 film “A Separation”.
Hatami chaired this year’s Kuesterndorf jury, which also included French producer Pierre Edelman and Serbian actor-producer Zoran Cvijanovic.
It will award Kuestendorf’s Gold, Silver and Bronze Egg awards to the best among some 20 movies in competition from Belgium, Britain, Estonia, Italy, Canada, France and the United States.