Film O’Clock International Festival is meant to promote human understanding and connection

Interview with Mirona Radu, filmmaker, festival programmer, director of Film O'Clock International Festival.

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How did Film O’Clock International Festival come about, and why was it needed?

Film O’Clock emerged from a great love for peers, and the love for cinema came second. Even though it has very carefully curated content, which is difficult to find anywhere else, even though it has clear vectors in terms of films – with a powerful authorial vision concerning both contemporary creators and classical auteurs, Film O’Clock signifies harmony, universality and a desire to approach the other by eliminating geographical or cultural barriers. At the same hour, on the dot, regardless of the physical space we’re in, we watch the same film, and we then connect to our peers, online, to share our thoughts and our emotions. Thus, Film O’Clock International Festival was created to bring people together through the medium of cinematography and to promote human understanding and connection.

The festival has now reached its fourth edition. How is this one different from the other iterations?

This year, we focused on the partnerships with film and art universities, because we want to get as close as possible to youth, and to those interested both in heritage, and in the contemporary vectors of cinema. So, we go where this type of public already exists – UNATC – the I. L. Caragiale National University of Theatrical and Cinematographic Arts in Bucharest, the Vilnius Academy of Arts, NATFA Sofia, the Chișinău Academy of Music, Theatre and Visual Arts (AMTAP), Cinema Neelsen, part of the Stellenbosch University in South Africa. It is a different tactic of approaching audiences because, and we need to be realistic, the paradigm has shifted substantially since the pandemic. However, we’ve also preserved older partnerships, with Cinema Zhovten in Kiev, and Cinema Zawya in Cairo; these are cinemas with solid traditions, with audiences interested in our films.

What are these year’s screenings? What were your selection criteria for the films?

This year at Film O’Clock International Festival, audiences will have the chance to see 10 short films from 8 participating countries, which were produced recently, between 2022 and 2023, as part of the international competition; I’ve selected these films with my colleagues, Andrew Mohsen from Egypt, and Zhana Kalinova from Bulgaria. It was an extremely difficult process, because we had many good submissions, and their runtimes were longer than usual, I believe that the average length of a film was around 20 minutes, which drove us to be even more selective. The main criterion is artistic quality, but art is generally subjective, personal, and so we try to have some clear criteria by which we can evaluate, but we have to be honest – the selections are largely subjective. I really enjoyed the debates, although this year I had to deal with a post-selection migraine, the discussions were just that intense. As for the classical selection, even though I do consult with the partners from the participating countries, the final decision rests with me, nonetheless.

The 8 participating countries are very culturally different. Did you notice a predilection for certain themes which the filmmakers are preoccupied with, according to their countries of origin? Is there a common thread in a globalized world? Or do the problems, interests and styles differ from one country to the next?

Family relations, societal changes, and limitless imagination are among the many subjects approached this year by the filmmakers which registered to participate. Although one can intuit which country a film comes from, from the perspective of the stylistic choices made, I cannot help but rejoice in the ease with which we resonate with these stories, because they are universal. There is also a deeply emotional aspect – we are different, but at the same time we are so similar in our most profound experiences.

The festival will also host two conferences dedicated to professionals, which will approach themes such as heritage, artificial intelligence, and mental health within the film industry. How do you see AI integrating into cinema? How will the future of film look like, in your opinion, from this perspective?

It is a new paradigm; we will see how the future shapes up. I think that for the moment it is important to plug into these topical themes via these conferences, and to integrate the technological process. This is precisely why I think that such initiatives can help us better understand what is going on. For example, AI is already providing a lot of help in editing. As long as we use them with the mediation of our hearts and minds, we should see these instruments as resources, not enemies.

Also, mental health is a theme which filmmakers are tackling increasingly often. Is there, finally, a fertile ground for public discussion on a theme which can impact everyone, at a certain point in one’s life, but which continues to be taboo in so many cultures and social environs?

Within my bubble, mental health is a top issue of discussion. Personally, I am very interested in this. I am undergoing a PhD researching film as an art and as a therapeutic instrument. I myself have been working in cinema since the age of 19, and I can only speak now, 20 years later, on the great lengths the system still has to go in order to improve, and on how necessary talks and attempts to change many aspects are. One of the main ideas being discussed and misunderstood is that work is life itself. We cannot separate life from work, and I’ll say it again, only now, 20 years later, have I become aware of how deleterious this approach is. I believe it’s important that we talk about this, and find a balance, this coming from someone who would only sleep about 5 hours a night, in order to work more. Life is a gift which is worth treasuring and celebrating all at once, even if for the simple reason that we exist, and we need to recharge our batteries, especially so that we may create.

You’ve organized many festivals. What are the concerns of youth today? What do they look for in a film festival?

Credit photo: Claudia Ciocan

Youth today are interested in profound subjects, and encountering youth is a great source of joy for me, although I won’t deny that it is sometimes difficult. I believe it is difficult due to my mistrust in communicating with them. We’re working on it, and this is why we wanted to collaborate as much as we could with universities for this edition. I truly believe that youth are interested in significant experiences and profound debates, and that film festivals represent an ideal medium to satisfy these needs and to encourage interaction and dialogue between generations.

There are well defined bubbles when it comes to film buffs. From your point of view, what can be done to bring these bubbles together and to help attenuate social polarization?

I believe that risk is vital. Film O’Clock proposes a dialogue between the generations precisely though these two vectors we have taken to heart – heritage films in the non-competitive section, and contemporary short films in the competition. Also, I strongly believe that, once brought together, these film buffs have only to gain: enthusiasm and youthful curiosity blend very well with the self-assuredness and knowledge acquired by those past a certain age.

I know it is difficult to choose a favorite, but if you were to make three choices, which of the films in the current edition would you say we simply cannot miss? And why?

I wish people would come and see, or rewatch, Dziga Vertov’s 1929 film – The Man with a Movie Camera. Although almost a century has passed since the appearance of this film, it remains an essay-documentary, a poem dedicated to cinema, a lesson in direction which is still relevant today.

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