Serbia’s High-School Drama ‘Next to Me’ Wins at Croatia’s Pula Film Festival

LONDON — The Golden Arena award for best film in the international program at the 62nd edition of the Pula Film Festival, Croatia’s leading movie event, went to Serbia’s high-school drama “Next to Me.” The festival, which takes place in a coastal town that dates back to Ancient Roman times and whose main screening venue is a Roman arena, ran from July 18-25.

Stevan Filipovic’s movie centers on teacher Olja, who is married to a painter whose work provokes violent reactions from Serb nationalists. One night, masked hooligans attack her. The next day Olja discovers that some of her students were responsible. She decides to confront them head on.

The jury, which consisted of producer Olinka Vistica, director-producer Srdan Dragojevic and journalist Christopher Goodwin, described the film as a “courageous portrayal of the new generation of our times haunted by the ghosts of old ideologies and fears shattered by uncertain future, new values and technology.”

The jury singled out for praise the performance of the young actors “who rendered with bravuro a high-school fresco as a metaphor of our society unfortunately still deeply affected by nationalism, homophobia and class discrimination.”

The diploma for best film in the Neighbors and Friends program went to “Koza,” directed by Ivan Ostrochovsky. The jury, which consisted of Martina Petrovic, head of the Creative Europe Desk; screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz; and Karel Och, artistic director of the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, honored the film “for its strength, beauty and emotions of epic proportions in a poetic and intense way.”

In the Croatian section, Dalibor Matanic’s “The High Sun” won the Grand Golden Arena for film, as well as the awards for director, actress (Tihana Lazovic), supporting actress (Nives Ivankovic) and supporting actor (Dado Cosic). The actor prize went to Emir Hadzihafizbegovic for Ognjen Svilicic’s “These Are the Rules.” The screenplay prize went to Josip Mlakic for “Ungiven,” directed by Branko Schmidt.

Artistic board member Mike Downey said: “The Pula Film Festival continues to improve year-on-year, especially in the international sections, and the Friends and Neighbors sections really hit the mark, and is giving the festival, once very weak in these areas, a boost not only in terms of world-class films but the number of people filling our cinemas.”

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