The International Cinematographers’ Film Festival “Manaki Brothers” has been gathering cinematographers from the country and the world in Bitola for 40 years now. The forty-year jubilee is a mature age for a festival with an acclaimed international reputation, and that is where the questions arise from: what is the future of this festival; what is the future of film festivals in general; how (will) the festivals face the rise of the streaming platforms for production and screening of films and how much will they influence the festival formats?
The film critics Theo Votsos from Germany/Greece, Paul Katzenberger from Germany, Miha Brun form Slovenia and Dzevdet Tuzlic from Bosnia and Herzegovina, years-long guests and friends of the “Manaki Brothers” festival gave their opinion on this subject.
The “Manaki Brothers” festival, whose 40 years are a number it can be proud of, shouldn’t worry about its future. I think it is the biggest film event in the country, a large number of Macedonian film workers visit the festival, and now they present their films here. “Manaki Brothers” is a very important event for the film community in Macedonia. The challenge, as in the past, is to improve the not-so-good festival infrastructure. It will be much better if there is a third and a fourth location for screening films: I have the impression that the festival implements new programs – such as Country in Focus (Montenegro and Georgia) – so it is not possible, in the existing conditions with one screening at a time, to see the films which are in the competition program and to follow the other programs. It would be better if there is a second screening of films for the future. I think that is the main challenge of the “Manaki Brothers” – to build a better infrastructure for screening films. Otherwise, the festival shows for decades back that it is a significant event for very famous cinematographers, who come even from the furthest points of the world.
I don’t think that film festivals around the world are facing a crisis. All those new media-technological phenomena such as Netflix aren’t the problem, their productions are screened at prestigious festivals. Festivals are going to change in the future because they implement more and more of the new phenomena emerging from the technological development. Roma by Alfonso Cuaron, produced by Netflix, won the Venice Film Festival last year and took part at many other festivals. The internet-formats will be more present at film festivals. I think that festivals shouldn’t have a problem with justification of why they (would) include these new formats. The festivals are an opportunity for people to present at them, to discuss films, as spots for meetings, as spots where film is celebrated… I think that the film lovers – not just film professionals – have the need to be present at festivals.
The main challenge film festivals around the world have nowadays is how to face the changes in the film industry. People watch films less in cinemas, and more on streaming platforms such as Netflix. Some of the big festivals have no problem with these platforms, Cannes has a problem… I wouldn’t know to say who would win this battle. But I don’t think that is the ultimate threat for festivals. A very important thing for the film festivals is the region they are taking place in. If you have established festivals such as the ones in Cannes and Berlin, then there is a big national interest in investing a lot of money in such events, attractive for the country. The Berlinale is such a strong brand that the people watch films in its programs that they usually wouldn’t watch. There are TV channels in France and Germany, established with the support from state funds, which screen art films that educate people. They screen films two years after their premieres at the Berlinale, for example, and no one watches them, whereas, when screened at the festival, a lot of audience comes in because of the strong brand of the Berlinale. This festival is a very strong brand for the film industry and the whole world for a longer time, so why would Germany give up its importance.
The challenges of the “Manaki Brothers” are of totally different category. There is a specialized festival for films from Eastern and Southeastern Europe in Wiesbaden, Germany, but that region has not strong film industry. It was founded by idealists, and now, 20 years later, they face a tough battle about financing, something this festival in Bitola also does. The “Manaki Brothers” is a significant event for Macedonia, the patron of the festival is the President of the country and the whole nation stands behind it. Although the “Manaki Brothers” isn’t the most famous festival in the world, it is very well known in the region, with a small country behind it, it fights for survival, but also even bigger festivals fight for survival! I think that the festival is significant for the country because it is a very significant cultural event, it is attended by both film professionals and students, it has a large number of friends around the world because it is specialized in cinematography… But, on the other hand, the question arises again of how attractive it is for finances to be secured for its next edition next year.
The festival of cinematographers in Bitola is the oldest specialized festival in the world. It has probably been painstaking to keep it up for 40 years in a country that has changed political systems very often, from the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, then the independent Macedonia as FYROM, then, as of this year, North Macedonia, and in the last decades there was taking over of the “Manaki Brothers” from various sides. Anyway, none of that downgrades the significance of the Manaki brothers, as the festival bears their names. Visiting the festival for many years, I know that there have also been influences form politics, which hasn’t been good, and it would be nice for the festival to have financial support from the institutions, but without any political interventions. The attendance of the festival programs by the students and the locals from Bitola, but also from the whole of Macedonia, should be constantly encouraged.
The world festivals? They used to say that television would ruin film, and now I think that television helps the artistic film survive the “illness” called blockbusters! Great actors, scriptwriters and directors have nothing to do in this momentary constellation where the film industry is situated, which have transferred to the productions of film series that become more and more serious. As Alberto Barbera of the Venice Film Festival says, the authors go to the platforms such as Netflix and Amazon because they have such freedom to do the films they want to, then they distribute their film or series, and it all has a feedback. I think it would be interesting, it will be different form now. The digital technology brought changes to the world of cinematographers, some of them are useful, some of them have flaws.
I am an optimist when it comes to the future of film festivals, because I think that no technological innovations can destroy something which has a special artistic value. When the internet came around, the question of whether the radio survives arose, and here we still have the radio. It’s the same thing with the festivals. You can’t meet so many people, talk to them, raise a glass with them on social media. One shouldn’t ignore the facts that the films which have won at festivals gained a larger interest for cinema screenings. The streaming platforms took away one part of the cinema audience, but there is still an audience that wants to watch films on the big screen.
I was at this festival for the first time 35 years ago, when the chilies traveled from Bitola via train to Zagreb, and were selling at the markets as crazy. We keep enjoying the atmosphere that Bitola can make for the festival guests. It has changed a little bit over the years, so we are not still sitting down at the garden of the guy that was bringing the chilies to Zagreb, but we sit down at other places throughout Bitola, but that is irrelevant. The important thing is that the “Manaki Brothers” is a rare festival in the world, there are only a few focused on cinematography. Bitola recognized the significance of that segment of the film art 40 years ago and achieved wonderful results. When we see the documentation and the photographs with the great names of world film that have come to Bitola and hanged out with the people and the press, I can only conclude that the “Manaki Brothers” has a future.