European Union Film Festival hits the road

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      Cinematheque executive and artistic director Jim Sinclair told the Georgia Straight by phone that the 16th annual European Union Film Festival, which runs from Friday (November 22) to December 5, is unusual for them. Why? Because they don’t program it themselves, he explained: each of the embassies in Ottawa chooses a film. He said some use populist criteria, while others select films according to their predilections.

      “Every year is kind of full of surprises and full of a real mix of things,” he said. “So I think it’s this giant Euro-piñata that we smash and all these different things come out of it.”

      Within that torrent of treats, different themes develop. One in particular that appears each year, Sinclair offered, is cross-cultural encounters.

      “There are always films about migration and about the relationship between immigrant populations in Europe, and in the movement of peoples and the opening up of Eastern Europe, and the opening up of borders in the European Union,” he said.

      In Austria’s Kuma, a rural Turkish woman moves to Vienna to become a second wife to a man whose first wife is dying of cancer. Meanwhile, in Sweden’s Eat Sleep Die, a Montenegrin immigrant struggles to find employment in a Swedish town.

      Road trips form another unplanned theme in this year’s selection. In Slovenia’s A Trip, a soldier embarking upon a war mission is joined by a female student and their gay friend on a beachbound jaunt. Another seaside journey can be found in the festival’s first offering from Croatia, which joined the EU in July. Night Boats is a gently paced adventure about two seniors who fall in love and escape the confines of a care home. In Holland’s Jackie, twin sisters, raised by a Dutch gay male couple, travel from Amsterdam to New Mexico to meet their biological mother (played by Hollywood’s Holly Hunter). Poland's My Father's Bike (Mój rower) also takes to the road, as three generations of men reunite to search for their family's matriarch who has left her longtime husband.

      And there are local connections. The mechanic-minded Finnish documentary Alaska Highway follows a Finn trying to drive an old truck (which hasn’t run in 40 years) from Alaska to Vancouver Island, where he hopes to convert it into his dream home. Another Canadian link can be found in Romania’s I Am an Old Communist Hag, in which a 60-year-old woman in a Romanian town anticipates a visit from her daughter in Canada with her American fiancé.

      By coincidence, two films about basketball are screening. Lithuania tips off the festival with The Other Dream Team, a documentary about the country’s hoop dreams of beating Russia in the 1992 Olympics, which became a symbol for its liberation from the Iron Curtain. Meanwhile, Latvia’s Dream Team 1935 is a historical drama about the nation winning the inaugural European Basketball Championship. “They’re both about basketball, but…they both are about those countries, which are small countries relative to some of their neighbours who have dominated them over the years, asserting themselves,” Sinclair said.

      Giving screen time to smaller countries is also something that Sinclair values about the EUFF. “There are certain national cinemas that we kind of play a lot because they have great filmmakers and a great history, but some of the smaller countries do get overlooked, and this festival is great that way because it puts all 27 or 28 European states on an equal footing,” he said. “There is the opportunity to discover these talents and these subject matters that we don’t know about.”

      More information on the festival is available at

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