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UNICA Festivals: 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 |


The jury sat at widely spaced tables in the middle of the audience - with hundreds of people trying to look over our shoulders as we scribbled notes during the brief breaks between films.  Rolf had an unusual technique: he used a simple drawing and a couple of keywords to identify each movie before adding his comments.

Movie makers do not enter the UNICA competition.  Programmes of films are presented by national federations. There is an amazing range of work.  Not all of it is superb by any means, but there is a very high standard throughout. My illustrations show a random selection of the movies.

Still from 'Kooma'.

Still from 'La Fune'.

Still from 'Omar e Sara'.

Coma - by film school student
Asko Kase from Estonia tells
a life story in 15 minutes.

La Fune - by Leo Alessandro
Leone (Italy) tells how two
kids and a washing line
cut through racial prejudice.

Omar & Sara - by Claudio &
Armando Alberti (Italy) is a
touching animation
with a message of peace.

Most days the movies started at 9 a.m. On Sunday we saw for the first time the festival's standard introduction movie: a simple animation featuring the cherubic boy from the Mannikin Pis statue. On a holiday break in Blankenberge he notes a sign forbidding peeing on the beach. His face breaks into a wicked grin. Then we see drops of 'water' writing "UNICA 2005" in the sand. A policeman appears with the face of UNICA's president, Max Hänsli. More writing in the sand - the name of the country whose programme is about to start - then the policeman chases the boy off along the beach to high-pitched giggles. It was startling the first time and amusing the next few times but after a couple of days ...

Photo of the UNICA banner hanging in the cinema.

Film still of the animated version of the Mannikin Pis statue.

Dave Watterson on stage for a jury discussion.

The UNICA banner is unfurled at the opening and hangs at the side of the stage throughout the festival.

The Mannikin Pis visits Blankberge to introduce national film programmes!

Here I am on stage talking about an Austrian dance film.

The Belgian programme was first off. For me its highlights were Louageur - a documentary about a family firm which makes exotic carnival costumes - and Who Is Vincent - a beautifully produced drama which starts in Belgium during World War Two and ends in Britain some years later. Think of a Circle-8 costume drama and you have the right feel. Then with only a brief  break the Mannikin Pis introduced the programme from Bosnia-Herzegovina. One of their entries was Enter - whose central notion is that you can talk to God on the internet!

Still from 'Anne and Celeste'.

Still from '18'.

Still from 'Beside Maria'.

Ann & Celeste - a study of the
friendship between a disturbed,
anorexic woman and a caring
friend. Made by USA's
Joyce Axelrod.

18 - a mother and daughter
drama from a young Slovakian
film-maker, Jana Nemceková.
Both women want to give
the other freedom.

About Maria by Argentine's Ariel
Nahon is a drama about a once
great film star and three men
who still adore her.

Then it was time for the first jury comments. Three of us had to discuss each film in the preceding block/s. This first time Rolf, Diana and Georg went on stage. They were asked to talk about each film as briefly as they could. Rolf and Georg use their natural German. For Diana the problem was formulating thoughts which she could express in her second language, English. The audience listened politely. French speakers had headsets and got a simultaneous translation - usually from Anne Laure Tixier. Those who need German or English had to wait for a translation after the speaker had finished. Translation into German was mainly by Dominique Moris and into English was by Jean-Claude Lejosne. The system worked but felt ponderous. After a while only the most dedicated of the audience stayed to listen to these sessions plus, of course, the film makers and delegates from the countries concerned.

That meant that by the time the discussion had ended, the jury members often arrived late for meals. In fact there seemed to be very few chances for the jury to rest, talk about the movies and clear our heads all week. Luckily for them the other delegates were able to relax, chat over a drink, eat the excellent food and stroll around Blankenberge's shops and attractions. If you are not on the judging panel UNICA is a relaxing festival.

Still from 'Waterside School'.

Still from 'Flash-back'.

Still from 'Noise'.

Schools by the Waterside from
France's Michel Pouillot was
a fascinating look at floating
schools in Cambodia.

There were two films entitled

- this was the Iranian one by Behzad
Rasoulzadeh -  tale of old men
remembering childhood.

The hall's great sound system did justice to
The Noise
a bitter comedy by
Javier Prieto.

There were only a couple of days when screenings were the only treat offered, though those were long days starting at 9am and with discussion ending after 11pm. On other days there were excursions, receptions, meetings and other distractions. What's more on most days one of the Belgian cine club regions provided all the delegates with a goodie ranging from delicious cakes, to luscious chocolate creams and even - appropriately in the casino - boxed packs of James Bond playing cards!

I will not go through each national programme ... some of the best movies may turn up at BIAFF.  All in all we watched 123 through the week. Some were poor, many pretty good and several absolutely outstanding.  Seven of us did not see the one-minute movie cup evening with 30 of the "sixty second wonders" on show - if you detect a little grumpiness it is because the jury missed that evening - we were  in a separate room preparing the short-list for awards. Belgium won the Minute Movie Cup which is run on audience votes as a play-off league. It was specially pleasing that Jef van Gompel's entry won that - he had done more than any other single person to make this such an amazing festival and a happy event.

Still from 'Wet Cigars'.

Still from 'Bicycle Thief'.

Think MTV's Jackass, add political satire
and subvertising plus a touch of adolescent
humour and you have Germany's

Wet Cigars for Berlin
by the young
film maker Stephan-Flint Müller.
Great fun!

Marco P. and the Bike Thieves
by Poland's Bodo Kox
generated laughter and shock.
A black comedy with a superb pace
and performance by its leading man
who looked uncannily like Matt Lucas.

What won the main competition? What outings and events were there? Keep reading ...

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Pictures in these pages mainly by Jan & Dave Watterson, but the good ones are by Bernhard Hausberger / Rolf Leuenberger / Jürgen Richarz / Reg Lancaster.

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Page updated on 16 January 2011
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