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Filmmakers fight to keep Romanian arts institute neutral

Some 3,500 sign petition protesting pol's intervention

PRAGUE — Romania’s leading filmmakers are protesting a move by the new government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta to put the Romanian Cultural Institute, the body that promotes the country’s arts at home and abroad, under tighter political control.

The RCI has done much to showcase the most progressive work in film and other arts to auds via its London and New York City branches, say filmmakers including Cristian Mungiu, who won Cannes’ Palme d’Or with “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” in 2007.

Putting the org under the control of Romania’s senate, as Ponta’s June 13 emergency ordinance will do, is a “brutal intrusion of politics in the cultural life,” according to Mungiu and 3,500 other figures of the Romanian arts world, led by helmer Lucian Pintilie.

The group has signed a petition demanding the takeover be reversed and has joined civic rights groups to demand the cultural institute be kept neutral.

In a country that survived one of the former East bloc’s worst dictators, Nicolae Ceausescu, such an “irregular and un-democratic” legal maneuver is particularly troubling per Mungiu.

Ponta has argued in the press that the emergency bill, which allows him to legislate without the approval of parliament deputies, was necessary because the RCI spends some $13 million in public funds, but has “dysfunctional aspects” and must avoid “accounting irregularities.”

He also accused the RCI of failing to perpetuate national identity, and not engaging expat Romanians, apparently annoyed that the org has been focused on reaching international auds.

The charges have raised the ire of many critics, who point out that the RCI has done much to promote the films of the New Wave of recent years.

“Ten years ago, when you said ‘Romania,’ people abroad thought only about Ceausescu and gymnast Nadia Comaneci,” said helmer-scribe Cristi Puiu, whose 2005 portrait of Romanian health-care chaos, “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” won Un Certain Regard at Cannes. Now, said Puiu, thanks to the cultural institute, “our cinema is famous.”

Romanian political observers are suggesting that the center-left Ponta is clamping down on the RCI in an attempt to undo a high-profile org that drew praise and reflected well on his predecessor, Emil Boc, who resigned this year amid violent protests over public spending cuts.

Romania’s $26 billion rescue package has put severe pressure on the government to slash budgets.

The RCI, which operates the Romanian Film Festival in New York and is a key supporter of the Transylvania Film Festival in Cluj, is officially under the aegis of Romania’s president but has been essentially independent and non-partisan for years.

The RCI’s New York director, Corina Suteu, rejects any suggestion of dysfunction or financial improprieties and says, “The party in power is definitely one very representative of the legacy of communist mentalities.”

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