Outdoor screenings in poorer neighborhoods draw crowds

CLUJ, ROMANIA — Outdoor screenings in unlikely venues, which brought the fest’s lineup — and more importantly, Romanian films — to thousands of locals in a nation in which Hollywood fare dominates the multiplexes, were the hit of the recent Transylvania Film Festival, held in the high-mountain city of Cluj, Romania.

A shift in the nation’s cinema infrastructure has made it increasingly difficult for Romanians to see Romanian-made films, says filmmaker and fest president Tudor Giurgiu, mainly because the nation’s newly built network of multiplexes almost exclusively feature foreign blockbusters and studio product. Between 2006 and 2010, Romanian films’ B.O. has shrunk from 4.3% of the total take to 2.7%. Last year, U.S.-made films controlled 88.9% of the market.

But fest organizers say these numbers do not reflect interest among Romanians for domestic titles, particularly over the past 10 years during the nation’s new cinematic wave, which has created international hits such as Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” the winner of the 2007 Cannes Palme d’Or.

According to international press spokesman Toma Peiu, attendance at the outdoor screens was just under 19,000, and represented a whopping 30% of the fest’s total attendance. A big hit at the outdoor screens was Romanian-made films, and fest organizers admit the rationale behind the viewings was to bring domestic titles to the people.

Most startling to industry insiders was the popularity of the open-air screening in the densely populated working-class Manastur district, described by locals as Cluj’s grimmest and biggest neighborhood.

“You cannot win a working- class audience that has lost track of the cinema unless you play to them,” Peiu says. “And the feedback we got (at Manastur) shows that the battle can be won.”

Giurgiu says at Transylvania and other Romanian festivals, homegrown pics regularly notch sold-out screenings, and interest from local auds is very high.

Yet while local films suffer at the cinema, distributors say interest in Romanian films is evident in local DVD sales. As a result, a DVD set of 11 of Romania’s top films over the past decade was released at the fest through a partnership between Ex-Libris, Transylvania Film and Romania Film Promotion. Called “New Romania Cinema: The Beginnings,” the set showcases local directors Marian Crisan, Adrian Sitaru, Florin Serban and Radu Muntean, among others.

So Romanian film has an audience, but increasingly it is on the smallscreen; Peiu says a central aim of the fest has been to draw Romanians back to theaters.

“We would like to think that the festival has educated a very special audience,” he says.

“(The success of the Manastur screenings) were impressive for us, in that even on rainy evenings and without proper seats, there were never fewer than 270 people” in attendance, Peiu says.

Ileana Cecanu, managing director of the distribution company Transilvania Film, was most impressed by the enthusiasm of the viewers at Manastur who number among some of the city’s poorest inhabitants. “Looking at their faces as they watched was amazing,” Cecanu told Variety.

Held June 3-12 in the high-mountain city of Cluj, the Transylvania fest screened more than 220 films from Iceland to India for 1,228 accredited guests.

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