Polish short film expert Marcin Luczaj who is still in his early twenties, is the programmer of the Zubroffka International Short Film Festival in Bialstok, which takes place from December 4 to 8th and is one of the coldest film festivals in Europe. Marcin tells us about what kind of influences he gets when programming the selection and the bisons running around during the festival and also tells us the minus degree record at the festival!
Tell us a little about yourself, you’ve been really active in the Polish short film biz in recent years, what did you do, how did you get here?
Well, I have been doing a lot of stuff related with short films recently. I am still super-new into this thing. I do this for about 2 years so far (plus few years of volunteering at various both short & feature film festivals) and I was also coordinating distribution of international shorts in Poland – I was programming a feature-length selection consisting of short films which was shown monthly in about 15-20 polish cities, kind of travelling festival, as we don’t have a short film distribution system like in Germany or France. We were doing open-air cinemas at big music festivals where we were showing only short films (Selector, Up to Date, Positivus). I am involved in several projects related with promoting Polish shorts abroad and every year we are showing selection of recent Polish films in over 20 European countries within some film-related events, Polish festivals aborad of regular film festivals where I did coordinate a Polish panorama/focuses like at Reykjavik Shorts & Docs (2012, 2013), ExGround (2012), Message2Man (2013), Kratkofil (2013) among others. We do cooperate with a lot of programmers as well – we propose them some Polish shorts, they do the same with their national projects for us.
When did you jump in to do Zubroffka? What’s the story?
Well… I moved out from my tiny village of 200 inhabitants to Białystok and I was doing volunteered at the first or second ZUBROFFKA. I actually don’t remember exactly how I met Maciek ( the artistic director of the festival) and the team. Somehow for years I stuck with them and every year I was involved into new stuff to end up where I am now. Mainly the thing was that I did not like high school and did not know anyone in the city once I moved there. I was a boy from small village and need to find my paths in the “big” city.
How do you see film festivals in the Polish cultural landscape now?
I guess here, as in every country, there are too many festivals. Every city & town has some film festival, or a few film screenings called as a festival. Many of them have grown up and are no longer only local players and you can see more and more Polish programmers at international festivals. We (Poland) have a really nice industry circle with heavy events and some extremely nice audience-oriented ones, too. We do cooperate with a lot of them – inviting each other, sharing programmes, films, etc.
How many submissions have you got this year for Zubroffka?
This year we got over 800 entries. I think it’s a pretty good result without any enormous-entry-maker like Reelport or Withoutabox. We are very happy with the quality as well, but at the same time it got so time-consuming to discuss short-lists before the actual selection, where you actually have around 50-70 shorts in discussion for each competition and we have a room for about 15-20 shorts each…
Did you watch them all? And please tell us the truth!
As a team, we made sure that each of us at least sees all of the movies – and at least half of them were watched by 3 selection committee members. I personally watched about 500 shorts that were submitted to Zubroffka. My annual breakdown is saying that this year I watched over 900 shorts (festivals, links, packages etc). Once we started to travel more to festivals, the pre-selection is getting easier and easier, what is pretty obvious.
Zubroffka might be one of the coldest festivals in Europe. How cold is it during the festival?
Well, our “the best” was around -25 degrees, but we do know how to warm up guests, even those who did not check the weather forecast and came without any jacket (it really happens). When it’s that cold it’s pretty easy to keep people in the cinema. I think it’s really fun, but bear in mind not to wear sneakers, as they are really dangerous, especially when you are on your way to the hotel in the early morning. This year I am a bit disappointed, as today is even +1 degrees, but anyway – please anyone who comes here: take your winter coat with you!
The festival’s mascot is a bison. Do you really have bisons running around Bialstok?
You wouldn’t believe, but yes. We are one of the two or three spots in Europe where you can see their “wildlife”, it’s pretty cool. There are some locked up close to the cinema, so if you don’t even go into the forest, you’ll get a chance to see some at Zubroffka.
As Zubroffka is in December, the submissions you get and the shorts you’ve seen throughout the year are probably influencing your choices. What kind of shorts fest is Zubroffka regarding the types of short films? What is your aim with programming?
Obviously other festivals and screenings around the world influences me, especially for our non-competitive sections. We always have a wide range of selections of Central & Eastern European national programmes, for example this year you can watch national panoramas from Bulgaria, Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, Serbia, Ukraine, Slovakia among others. We also have curated special sections like Midnight Shorts or animated documentaries. We do meet some foreign representatives, who are helping us with getting ‘best of best’ from their countries both for competition and special focuses. Regarding type, we don’t have specifications. We have only very limited time-frames for competitions, so we are trying to get creme de la creme with genres, countries variety.
Our main aim is to show our audience the world, that’s why we do a lot of national focuses every year, which can cover the contemporary landscape of those countries. Shorts are an amazing type to cover a landscape, moods, issues in many stories just as through feature-lengths programmes. Our biggest challenge every is year is to programme Eastern European films – it is hard to get them, mainly due to language borders. Some filmmakers do not know how to burn DVD (seriously), but they do such great films! This year we are extremely happy with EASTWARD WINDOW competition’s films and I think they can easily compete with the rest for a Grand Prix.