This year’s OWR Film Club edition is aimed at recovering and analyzing the evolution of the Romanian documentary cinema from the interwar and the communist eras, starting from the awareness of a major systemic lack concerning the accessibility and a rigorous critical approach of this genre in Romania. The “Sahia Vintage” project, also developed by the One World Romania Association, is the only one which made constant efforts in the last few years to bring archival documentaries, grouped by theme, back to the public’s attention, as well as to the professionals’ attention. This time, we want to take a step further towards giving historical and aesthetic significance to films, taking into account the cultural and institutional contexts, as well as the place occupied by them in matters of production, distribution, and critical reception within the Romanian cinema of those eras.
The project aspires to work as a pilot for a subsequent, more extensive research program, including academic research, focused on Romanian documentary cinema – in collaboration with UNATC “I.L. Caragiale” Bucharest’s Faculty of Film. Not only are the publications and the books dedicated to this subject rare, but they also often touch merely the surface of the relevant aspects, and they rather synthesize a historical evolution of the genre, to the detriment of applied analyses. In time, this phenomena led to a poor knowledge and recognition of Romanian archival documentary cinema among critics, the specialized, and the general audience, and, implicitly, to a minimization of the artists who contributed, over time, to the realization of documentary films.
Moreover, the documentary genre has always been rather marginalized in relation to fiction, both in matters of distribution, as well as in critical reception. For instance, although in some eras there were institutional structures dedicated exclusively to the production and the exploitation of documentaries (The National Cinematography Office, in the interwar period, beginning with the year 1936, or, after the War, Romfilm – between 1948-1950, and, of course, the “Alexandru Sahia” Studios, beginning with 1950), the resulting films were, in general, either screened as supplements for fiction features, which placed them in an inferior position right from the start, or, in many cases, they only rarely saw the light of day (at various festivals, or one-time screenings dedicated to a small audience.) This was a key factor in the undervaluation and the lack of attention shown to this genre, with the exception of some moments which were emblematic for the international acknowledgment of Romanian cinema, especially through important awards obtained by documentaries at various major festivals in the world, starting with the first distinction of this type, won by “The Motzi Country,” directed by Paul Călinescu, at the 1939 edition of the Venice International Film Festival. In an almost ironic way, recently, the first Romanian film nominated for the Academy Awards is also a documentary – to be more precise, “Collective,” directed by Alexander Nanău.
The project with be comprised of Romanian archival documentaries, grouped in programs dedicated to authors who have been relevant in the evolution of the genre. In selecting the filmmakers, the aim has been to recover important authorial figures who didn’t get enough recognition for their contribution to the development of documentary cinema, and to Romanian cinema in general, as well to create a context which would reveal the close connections between documentary cinema and literature, on the one hand, as well as, on the other hand, those between fiction film and documentaries.
For this edition of the festival we have scheduled, at the Eforie Cinema, the first four documentary programs which have already been presented online, at cineclub.sahiavintage.ro. Two of the programs are comprised of documentaries made between 1934 and 1948 by Paul Călinescu, one is dedicated to the non-fictional works of Jean Mihail, and the fourth consists in short films written by three of the writers who constantly collaborated on the creation of various documentaries during the communist era: Nina Cassian, Radu Cosașu, and Geo Bogza. The last two programs are expanded previews (avant-premičre) of films made by some of the most prominent Romanian female documentary authors: Florica Holban (the first woman cinematographer in the country), and Ada Pistiner. The programs will also include films which won’t be available online afterwards.
The project is coordinated by Ana Szel and Andrei Rus.