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​Evgeny Gusyatinskiy is a busy individual. He travels Europe, one film festival at a time, curating a great selection of films to premiere at the esteemed International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), in the Netherlands. 

Gusyatinskiy spoke to MMJ. about his experience as a programmer and journalist with IFFR, the intricacies of programming in the festival circuit, and how he got his start in Russia.

By Roxana Vosough

​Can you speak a little about IFFR, what makes it different from other film festivals internationally?

IFFR is the pioneer in expanding the limits of film festivals and the vision of cinema in general.  It’s one of the first international film festivals that focuses precisely on experimental and radically artistic films, on innovative and "dangerous" cinema as well as on films from non-western countries and cultures. It expands cinema and our perception - our experience - of cinema in all possible ways.  It puts films into the context of media art and contemporary art.

What was a big trend in this year’s festival in terms of thematic ideas?

I'm not sure that thematics, or aesthetics, can still form a trend in any field. I think contemporary cinema, as anything else that tends to be contemporary, goes towards immense diversity and dissolves, in a good way, into singular voices and individual subjects of matter. If we still need to generalize it I'd say that the general trend is to avoid big trends and focus on small - i.e. private, extremely personal, intimate -  things as well as on distinctions between them that are no less important than traditional big trends.  Such as politics, for example.

​​​​​​​​​​​​Evgeny Gusyatinsky

​Which films where of particular interest to you and why?

Well, this year I fully experienced what programmers call "the programmer's curse". It's when you don't have time to watch films during the festival, literally to stay in the screening room, because of your hectic off-screen schedule. This year, besides programming films from Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, I was curating the retrospective of the great Russian-Ukrainian filmmaker Kira Muratova, one of the most off-beat film artists I know. She has twenty films and all of them were presented in Rotterdam. This was a really huge program that I was totally preoccupied with before and during the festival. It was quite an experience to bring all her films together on 35 mm but I did not have a chance to revisit them at the festival. No complaints though!

That's a normal situation for the programmer. Among other films, I can definitely recommend three Tiger winners: My Dog Killer by Mira Fornay, a subtle film that is made by the blurring boundary between fiction and non-fiction, Fat Shaker by Mohammad Shirvani, an Iranian film you could never have imagined before, and Soldate Jeannette by Daniel Hoesl, a moving and smartly composed portrait of the dead-ends of today's capitalism. These films have nothing in common but each of them represents what contemporary cinema is, and probably will be, about.        

What goes into the selection process?

Lots of things and lots of work!  First and foremost though, watching many films in different stages of their production, including very rough works-in-progress.  Also, meetings with other IFFR programmers, brainstorming, search for films, attending various film festivals and pitch meetings, communication with lots of people, being available almost all the time. This is what I can call the preproduction period. Then starts the actual production of the festival when you have to make and justify your choices and sometimes to fight for the certain titles.

What was the overall reception to this year’s festival?

It went very well. The selection was truly diverse and well balanced. The Muratova retrospective happened to be really successful. We received great feedback, both from the Rotterdam's audience who was very responsive, and from film professionals who supported the retrospective from the very first screening. Many thanks to all of them!

What do you admire about other film festivals  that you would like to see incorporated in IFFR?

Years before working at IFFR, when I attended it as film critic, I already thought that it was the best example of what a film festival should be. It has the audience for different films, including very specific and complicated ones, and room for those unconventional titles that are unable to find a place at other festivals, not to mention the distribution. This is really precious, especially now, when everything,  including film festival circuits, become very market-oriented.

Last year I discovered New Horizons Film Festival in Wroclaw and Curtas Vilo do Conde, a small festival of short and avant-garde films in Portugal. Both are completely devoted to non-mainstream films and filmmakers. Both have enthusiastic audiences as well as creative atmospheres. No business goes on there, just the pure glorification of the art of cinema. This is something very close to Rotterdam. However IFFR does hold two essential industry initiatives, The Hubert Bals Fund and CineMart, but they also focus on creativity and innovation.

​​​​​​​​​​​​Image Courtesy of IFFR

​​​​​​​​​​​​Image Courtesy of IFFR

How did you get involved with IFFR, and how does that follow in line with your current commitments in film such as the Kinotavr Film Festival and Film Art?

I attended IFFR for the first time in 2005, then I participated in the Trainee Project for Young Film Critics, a great platform that IFFR offers to young film critics all over the world.  Since then I have become a regular at IFFR and attended it as journalist. At the same time I have been programming The Sochi Film Festival Kinotavr (the biggest national film festival in Russia) and got to know Ludmila Cvikova, a former programmer of IFFR who covered many territories including Russia. We had been in touch regarding new Russian films. Then, in 2011, I helped to arrange IFFR days in Moscow and a few months later I was asked to work for IFFR as programmer. I took some responsibilities from Ludmila who is now working at the Doha Film Institute in Qatar. 

What inspired your interest in film and what do you aspire to achieve in the industry?

Cinema itself is my basic inspiration. I aspire to maintain the sensitivity towards films, a "programmer's intuition", that would correspond with current and upcoming film aesthetics. I guess one of the goals of a programmer is to foresee the changes in cinema we will experience tomorrow, apart from discovering new talents. So, I hope to stay tuned.

What advice do you have for those seeking to enter their films in festivals?

I don't know if it may be advice, but I just think that every film that is made without an exaggerated intention to be at the festivals but is made with honesty and devotion will be the first ones to find their place on the festival circuit.

​​​​​​​​​​​​Image Courtesy of IFFR

Roxana Vosough, is the Founder & Publisher of Mode-Moderne Journal

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