Romanian cinema on the rise

Foreign prod's, commercials have helped filmmakers

Romania may be the European country with the least number of films being produced each year, but who cares if two out of those six annual productions win top gongs on the fest circuit?

At the recent Cannes festival, Romanian helmer Cristian Mungiu nabbed the Palme d’Or with “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” while the main prize of Un Certain Regard went to “California Dreamin’ ” by the late helmer Cristian Nemescu.

Last year at Cannes, Corneliu Porumboiu picked up the Camera d’Or for “12:08 East of Bucharest,” and in 2005, Cristi Puiu also won Un Certain Regard top honors with “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.” Both pics excelled on the international fest circuit, and now that Mungiu holds the Golden Palm, there’s no doubt about it: Romanian cinema is hot.

Indeed, IFC Films has picked up “4 Months” for U.S. distribution, with Wild Bunch handling international sales.

“The success of Romanian cinema over the last three years have been a surprise for everybody,” says Dimitri Kerkinos, programmer of the Balkan Survey sidebar of the Thessaloniki Film Festival, adding: “Romanian filmmakers have not had a lot of support from the state and little infrastructure, but there’s so much talent, and I think the problems actually spark creativity.”

Kerkinos and the Thessaloniki fest can be credited with being the first to draw attention to Romanian cinema and giving the Romanian wave its momentum.

Mungiu’s feature debut, 2002’s “Occident,” which unspooled in Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, screened in Thessaloniki and won the fest’s audience award.

Thessaloniki also operates the Balkan Fund, which annually hands out $13,500 in development money in that region. Each year, four projects are selected, with the next pic by Mungiu tapped this year for coin.

What’s also helped Romanian filmmakers is the influx of money and know-how through foreign productions and commercials being shot in the country. For example, “California Dreamin'” was produced and financed through MediaPro Pictures, the biggest studio and production service provider in Romania. MediaPro had decided to produce local fare following the profitability of its production facilities.

Yet Romanian filmmakers don’t copy their visitors from abroad.

According to Kerkinos, the new breed of Romanian pics has a very specific style: “Realism, very sparse, almost documentary-style editing and a great sense of suspense. They make films out of nothing, and they’re using a common language. What we can see here is a new school of filmmaking developing.”