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Dubrovnik fest has uphill battle

Event suffered from inadequate promotion, logistical glitches

DUBROVNIK — Organizers of the third edition of the Dubrovnik Film Fest (May 25-29) admit they have their work cut out to make local auds respond as warmly to the program as the invited guests did to the beautiful host city on Croatia’s Adriatic Riviera.

Career kudos went to thesps Christopher Walken and Emily Watson and helmer Peter Medak. Walken said he and his wife, “The Sopranos” casting director Georgianne Walken, were pleased to attend because they had long wanted to visit Dubrovnik. Their interest was refueled by the historic city’s ongoing tourist renaissance 10 years after the end of the Balkan war, in which it was struck by more than 2,000 shells.

Watson and Medak also raved about the fortified Old City’s architectural charms (recently showcased doubling for Venice in BBC miniseries “Casanova”), but burg’s 47,000 residents were totally underwhelmed by the festival. There was single-figure paid attendance at some screenings for the eight-film international feature competition, based in the 200-seat, municipal Sloboda cinema. Turnout was equally low for out-of-competition special screenings and recent Croatian docs at the adjacent Marin Drzic Theater, a mid-19th-century legit venue.

This was stark proof of the assertion by fest’s Los Angeles-based director Ziggy Mrkich that “there is no film culture” in Dubrovnik, a locale with a long tradition of theater and classical music performance, including a summer festival of live arts heading toward its 56th edition.

Resistance to non-Hollywood pics in Croatia is not confined to Dubrovnik — theatrical market share for domestic features nationally is pegged around 2% — but the situation was exacerbated by manifestly inadequate on-site promotion for Dubrovnik Festival screenings.

The event, funded largely by the Croatian Ministry of Culture, Dubrovnik Tourist Board and the city council, also suffered multiple logistical glitches, including last-minute alterations to screening times and discussion panel venues. Croatian subtitles for the opening film, Charles Dance’s “Ladies in Lavender,” cut out after first 30 minutes.

Substantial improvements to organization and marketing will have to be made if Mrkich, a former Touchstone Pictures production staffer born to Croatian parents, is to build a local audience and compete with other Croatian fests, such as Motovun (August) and Zagreb (October). Biggest national film showcase by far remains the 52-year-old event in Pula in July, when the entire annual output of new domestic features is screened in a 7,500-seat Roman arena.

Dubrovnik competition honors went to Brit helmer Juliet McKeon’s drama “Frozen” (film and dinematography). Best director was Poland’s Ryszard Brylski for “Zhoorek,” and Croatia’s Dana Budisavljevic took the documentary award for “Everything Is Excellent,” about a porn actress.

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