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Film-maker Cristian Mungiu on European cinema

 Film-maker Cristian Mungiu on European cinema
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Last year, Romanian director Cristian Mungiu was the surprise winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with his film 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days. A low budget production, shot entirely in Romania, and set against the grim landscape of that country’s Communism regime, it tells the story of a young pregnant student, who with the help of her friend, seeks an illegal abortion. One year on, Mungiu was chosen to chair Europe Day at Cannes, which is intended to promote European cinema, held under the auspices of Culture Commissioner Viviane Reding,and EU President Barroso. EuroNews talked to the director about his acclaimed movie, his view of current European cinema and the difficulties facing the region’s filmmakers.

EuroNews: “You won the Golden Palm last year. Was it the beginning of a long story for your movie ?

Cristian Mungiu: “Mostly because of the Palme d’Or, the film was released in a lot of territories; but it’s important to say that the film had a huge impact during the Cannes Film Festival last year because of the press. They helped me very much to open this film in a lot of places and I discover that there is respect everywhere in the world for this Palme d’Or. It’s unbelievable and a part of this respect is also for my person during this year. The problem really is with the films that don’t have the chance to get an important award and for these films we need to do something in terms of backing their distribution, because there is an audience for European films, there is an audience for small films, but there isn’t a big audience, there isn’t a multiplex audience. So we need to help people who are willing to support such films to make a small local distribution and to popularize the cultural diversity we are talking about.”

EuroNews: “What do you think about the diversity of European movies ? Do you see some standards or is it just an aggregation of national cinematography?”

Cristian Mungiu: “You can’t really talk about standards. What is standard in art? You can’t put it in that way. You know, the only thing that could define European filmmaking is that it’s not American, it’s not mainstream, but apart from this, there are so many differences, not only among countries, but even among filmmakers belonging to the same territory. So, the argument of such filmmaking is diversity and that it offers an alternative. We don’t have to fight the mainstream, the mainstream is going to be there all the time, but there are a lot of people who want to have an alternative to the mainstream, and this is where we come from.”

EuroNews: “The media, especially last year, talked about a new generation of young filmmakers coming from Central and Eastern Europe. Is that real?

Cristian Mungiu: “What happens is that very often the most interesting films today belong to filmmakers making their first or second films. They are still full of fresh ideas and they have some personal stories to tell. And the system of financing in Eastern Europe now allow such filmmakers to make their debut. And probably this is why you see a lot of films emerging from the region and specially filmmakers who are under 40.”

EuroNews: “Is it more difficult today to find money and produce a film or is it more difficult to get it released?”

Cristian Mungiu: “Well, honestly, it’s not so complicated to find the budget of your film if you want to make a film below one million (euros). It’s also easy if you want to make this step and work with a big star and if you are in the position to work with a big star and make a big budget film. It’s very difficult for films that are in between and honestly I think it’s more difficult today to release a European film in a foreign country than to produce it in a system of co-production.

EuroNews: “What are the main challenges for European movies and filmmakers to become more attractive and to be sold abroad ?”

Cristian Mungiu: “The most important thing to do and to remember for the European authors is that there is an audience and films are to be made for this audience. We don’t have to be so self-centred, saying we are artists and we are making films for ourselves. But we also need to help educate people all around the world to understand and see such films because there are times when such films are not that easy to see. This is not necessarily entertainment. The kind of European cinema also means that you are going to listen to a story about somebody’s problem and this will help you to solve your own problems, but it’s not that easy to understand.”

EuroNews: “Do you think that cinema still has a political influence today ?”

Cristian Mungiu: “Well, I think it has an influence. I don’t think it’s possible to change the world through films, I don’t think this any longer, but I think it’s possible to educate people and anyhow it’s possible to bring people together and to make them understand that, even if some of them are living in South Africa or Taiwan, or Asia, when they’re watching films they would understand that we are not so different after all. And it’s a way of communication through films which brings people together and that’s what is wonderful about cinema.

EuroNews: “In some European countries, there are fewer and fewer movie theatres. What’s the situation in Romania ?

Cristian Mungiu: “Honestly, it’s not a good situation. And this is why I decided last year after Cannes that I was in a position to make a statement. After the Cannes Film Festival, I decided to personally release my film in Romania as a way of fighting against having so few movie theatres left. We have less than 50 theatres left in a country of 20 million people and it was really impossible for me to reach a wide audience in regular theatres; and therefore I did something somehow very romantic. I organised a caravan, a bit like 100 or 50 years ago, a caravan that toured Romania for 30 days, screening the film on a mobile projector. In big cities they don’t have any theatres left and the result was unbelievable”