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The logo for UNICA 2012.

Festival Report by Jill Lampert

The 2012 festival in Ruse in Bulgaria was my first experience of UNICA. Anyone can go to UNICA, and they do so for all sorts of reasons. Why did I go? Well I love watching amateur films, and I'm keen to see as wide a range as possible. I'm hoping that seeing a variety of approaches to film making will help me to inject some fresh thinking into my own work. Also I feel starved of discussion about the merits of particular films, and I was particularly interested to hear what the judges said about the films.

Ruse main square.
Ruse main square
Of course there are other attractions to UNICA: the opportunity to see new places, to meet up with friends and to meet new friends from all the different countries who are represented at UNICA. Ruse is on the Danube. It has many fine buildings and a very attractive central square.

So did it meet my expectations? Yes! There were something like 160 films from 21 countries. They were all screened in a large air-conditioned theatre. No problems with aspect ratios. The sound was monitored by an engineer and was pretty good.

Theatre in Ruse.
Theatre for screenings
The actual films were a feast. I was delighted with them. Many were made to an extraordinarily high technical standard. Some used techniques that I'd never seen before. For example there was one Luminaris which uses pixilation with human beings. Very striking. The Oars was another wonderful film. In fact it was the one which probably produced the most enthusiastic audience reaction. We were dazzled by the mixture of computer animation and live action in this beautiful, imaginative film with haunting music. The Oars can be viewed here but really it needs to be seen on a big screen for full impact.

Still from Luminaris.
Still from Luminaris
Still from Luminaris.
Still from The Oars
Still from This Obscure Temptation.
Still from
This Obscure Temptation
Still from Lunch.
Still from Lunch
Still from Splash.
Still from Splash
At UNICA I saw many more films on serious subjects such as social or political issues than I would expect to see at clubs in Britain. The film which won the UNESCO prize was a French film called This Obscure Temptation which dealt with racism. It was a bold and striking film. The film which won the Best Film, Lunch was made by a Croatian, and dealt with a young man and his wife putting pressure on his poor father to make over his home to them. The old man acted brilliantly, and the whole audience was mentally begging him not to sign. Being treated to such a huge variety of films was definitely a broadening experience. Some were quirky and funny. Some were beautiful. Some were obscure but riveting. An example of one which I found obscure, but which I greatly admired was a Hungarian film called Splash. I must confess that after viewing it, I had many questions about it. And that brings me onto the joys of the judges' comments.

Alan Atkinson.
Alan Atkinson
After we'd watched programmes of films from three different countries, the judges (they were called the 'Jury') would discuss the films. There were seven judges, each from a different country, led by Kees Tervoort from the Netherlands. He was always ready with a comment when other judges were struggling, and he always had relevant points to make. Our own Alan Atkinson was one of the judges, and he also stood out as one who made pertinent comments.

For each film, one judge had been assigned the job of making some remarks about the film. These were their immediate impressions, and it was accepted that the judges would have plenty of time to think about what award they would give to the film, and to discuss it with the other judges in the jury room. All the jury spoke in English, except the Macedonian whose son translated into English for him. This meant six were trying to explain their ideas in a foreign language.

The name of the film under discussion would be announced and then the assigned judge would usually remind us briefly of the story and make some remarks. I found their comments very interesting. It was fascinating to hear their reactions to each film. Some judges couldn't get much beyond saying that they did or didn't like the film or the subject of the film, but several of the judges were very good at picking out both the merits and the shortcomings of each film. Once one judge had spoken about a film, it was open to others to make comments if they wished. Sometimes they enthused about the films. Sometimes they were quite blunt. More than once I heard a judge describe a film as 'boring'.

The comments on the film Splash were rather a good example of how illuminating it can be to hear different people's views. Splash can be seen here. Why not watch it yourself, and see what you think of it?
I have notes of what four of the jury members said. The first was impressed by how well-made the film was, with the slow dolly shot and pan. He liked the lighting and felt that there were no mistakes in the film. But he asked about the character in the film: Was he jumping into water? Or was he crazy? Suicide? The second judge said "We like answers to who, what, where, when, why. A lot were not answered." The third judge said that he understood it was a psychological drama of this character. Before the man filled the pool with water he gave a hedgehog life by pulling it out of the pool. We heard a splash though we didn't see him fall into the pool.
The last to speak was Daniel Cartier from Switzerland. He said that he thought it worked in symbols. He thought it was about suicide. The swimming pool was being made into a tomb - the man was shovelling out dirt. When he saved the animal it showed that he was still really alive. He lets water in. But there is no water. Water is life. He takes a shower - respecting his own body. He jumps. Jump is death. In the end that film was awarded a Silver Medal.

The final awards were made with a public vote after all the films had been screened. The judges had buttons to press for 'yes' or 'no'. A vote was won if at least 5 of the 7 judges clicked "yes". Each film could pass through several stages:
vote 1: should it have a Certificate of Honour? If yes, then it went to …
vote 2: a Bronze Medal? If yes, then …
vote 3: a Silver Medal? If yes then it was up for discussion.
Those that had silver medals were considered for possible gold medals. At this stage any judge could speak either in favour of the film being awarded a gold medal, or against. And once all those judges who wished to speak had spoken, they voted for gold.

Jury voting
The feeling amongst the audience was that the jury was harsh. There were a lot of films which didn't get anything other than a certificate of participation. Many very good films did not get a bronze medal. But, as Kees pointed out - UNICA is the top. You can't go higher than this. So a Gold, Silver or Bronze Medal or a Certificate of Honour from UNICA is something to be very proud of.

The British Films achieved one Silver Medal with Pigeon Post, a Bronze Medal for Sparks become Flames and Certificates of Honour for Trapped and Jump.

Still from Pigeon Post.
Still from Pigeon Post
Still from Sparks become Flames.
Still from Sparks become Flames
Still from Trapped.
Still from Trapped
Still from Jump.
Still from Jump
What else? Well, we didn't watch films every hour of the day! We were treated to lots of entertainment and sightseeing, including an opening banquet with huge amounts of food and drink; a visit to a local church where the Bishop spoke to us and he and another priest sang for us; a guided tour of some of the sights in Ruse; a dinner in a traditional restaurant; a whole day excursion to see such things as the ancient site at Nicopolis ad Istrum where the Gothic alphabet was created, the former capital city Velico Tarnovo , where in the evening there was a Light and Sound show (we'd call it Son et Lumière); and on the final evening, a Gala Banquet with traditional Bulgarian dancers to entertain us.

Bishop and clerics.
Bishop and clerics
Relaxing after lunch.
Alice Dunkley, Annabelle and Reg Lancaster relaxing
Sound and Light.
Sound and Light
Closing banquet.
Closing banquet
We were very warmly treated by our Bulgarian hosts, and I was very pleased that I had the opportunity to meet many people from different countries. There was one wonderful meal where I sat at a table seating twelve people from six different countries all keen to communicate with each other in English.

Altogether it was a very enjoyable event, and I will definitely go again.

Jill Lampert 2012

Previous UNICAs
 UNICA 2012: Results ||   British Programme ||   Photographs ||   Movies |