Motovun moviegoers arrive in force

Connected festival organizers help event to shine

Celebrating its fifth birthday, the Motovun Film Festival unspooled July 28 to August 1 on a mountaintop village in Croatia. In just five years the festival, funded mainly by private sponsors, has earned an international reputation and, in that respect, has outclassed the more official, state-run Pula Film Festival, which celebrated its 50th anni a week earlier.

The fact that Croatian filmmaker and festival director Rajko Grlic teaches in Athens, Ohio and his chief advisor Mike Downey is a well-connected British producer and former journalist certainly have something to do with Motovun’s success. Among the guests this year were Paul Thomas Anderson, who came with “Punch-Drunk Love,” and Stephen Daldry, bringing “The Hours.” They collaborated on a five-minute instant movie directed by Anderson and featuring Daldry’s wife and child, which cheered the fest’s closing ceremony.

An international jury chaired by British producer Nik Powell awarded “Punch-Drunk Love” the main prize, though Powell had to abstain from voting due to his friendship with Anderson. The same jury gave the Croatian film “Witnesses” (“Svjedoci”) a prize in the regional section, where five titles competed. Directed by Vinko Bresan, known for his popular festival-grade comedies “How the War Came to My Island” and “The Marshall,” “Witnesses” is a change-of-pace drama about a war crime set in 1992 during the Serbo-Croatian hostilities. It stirred heated debate among local viewers, whose opinions about the film were strongly divided.

A Fipresci critics jury selected the Brazilian film “Margarette’s Feast” (“A Festa de Margarette”), harking back to the silent cinema of Chaplin, for its prize.

The festival is not small. Some 3,000 young people camp around the base of the mountain and invade the tiny town at night, filling the narrow medieval streets to bursting and making attentive audiences at two outdoor and one indoor cinemas. The film selection was strictly festival-of-festivals and not particularly new, with the exception of two Croatian premieres.