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Transylvania fest gets class upgrade

Event goes A list

BUDAPEST — When it celebrates its 10th anniversary June 9-10, the Transylvania Intl. Film Festival will also celebrate its elevation to the ranks of a major fest.

Since its inception in 2002, Transylvania has operated as an Eastern European version of Sundance: an edgy, ambitious and unpretentious event screening young directors from around the world in the old Romanian city of Cluj.

But now, as it opens in both Cluj and the city of Sibiu, the fest will claim A-list status after being reclassified by film festival governing body FIAPF earlier this year.

This promotion places Transylvania on the same playing field as Berlin and Cannes, with the specific mandate of premiering first and second films of new directors and showcasing the best of Romanian cinema.

For Romania’s filmmakers, Tiff’s new position validates almost two decades of hard work to rejuvenate the industry after the fall of communism.

Being A-List is important not only for Tiff, but for the Romanian cinema industry, says Toma Peiu, the festival’s press chief. “The birth of Tiff 10 years ago coincided with the rebirth of Romanian cinema. The two have grown together.”

More than one visitor to the event has compared the fest’s energy with that of Romania’s cinema, which — thanks to films like “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days,” winner of a Palme d’Or in 2007 — is gaining an international audience.

“I think there is a unique sense of honesty about (Romanian films),” Wim Wenders, special guest at the 2010 Tiff, told Variety. “These filmmakers do have a language in common, of looking at themselves without self-pity, often with humor. They don’t take themselves as seriously as many other filmmakers.”

Fest’s lineup, according to artistic director Mihai Chirilov, aspires to “a balanced and eclectic selection” that this year includes genre movies such as Iceland comedy “King’s Road,” by Valdis Oskarsdottir, and two thrillers, “No Return” (Miguel Cohan, Argentina) and “The Silence” (Baran Bo Odar, Germany). Other films in the lineup include Cannes director’s fortnight- selected “Volcano” (Runar Runarsson, Denmark) and Romanian director Constantin Popescu’s second feature, “Principles of Life.”

According to Peiu, new attendees will include Western European and U.S. producers, sales agents and distributors. The 2011 fest is also planning more industry-related events than in past years, such as panels focusing on distribution and production.

“We are expanding in the business direction,” Peiu says. “We want to make the fest increasingly important in the industry. We want it to be a meeting point in the region.”

No matter how much business is done, the festival is unlikely to lose its charm. “Tiff has very much that Sundance spirit,” Wenders says. “There are other festivals that have good programs and films. But how do you produce spirit? It has to come out of the place itself.”

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