Now in its fifth edition, Krakow’s Off Plus Camera International Festival in Independent Cinema has been marked as one of Europe's most promising young festivals. It's a tough task to pull off; most new festivals toil in obscurity, regardless of their ambition; generally content to be of the regional variety, a festival that has yet to build buzz within the "filmmaking community" usually tries bring in a few industry guests, find stories that will resonate with their audiences and call it a day.
This infant festival has found its niche by being one of the few festivals in Europe mindful of the variety and significance of non-studio filmmaking from New York to Korea, while having a keen ability to bring in the kind of top-of-the-line guests that apparently excite audiences. Establishing itself in a short time as a sought after destination for indies looking for more international traction after a world premiere at one of the big winter of fall fests, Off Plus Camera hasn’t even settled on exactly what it’s going to be, expanding in each year of its relatively short existence.
With a sprawling program that includes juried competitions with large cash prizes, extensive repertory programming that focuses on various national cinemas, a Polish screen writing competition, rooftop screenings and a newly minted co-production market both for Eastern-European auteurs and American independents (Azazel Jacobs, Andrej Zulawski, Malcolm Murray and Marcin Wrona had new projects being pitched), Off Plus Camera’s ambitions aren’t hidden.
Neither are its incredible amenities and handsome venues. There isn’t a multiplex in sight. Its screening venues, outside of main theater the Kijow Centrum, are a series of terrific microcinemas that stretch from the basement of the Alchemia bar in Kazmierz, the city’s famed Jewish historical district, to a gorgeous screening room on the second floor of a YMCA in the northern part of the city. They feel like places for serious audiences who will happily stay long after a screening to dig deep into a deceptively rich film, such as Todd Rohal’s "The Catechism Cataclysm."
That Festival Director Simon Miszczak and Artistic Director Ania Trzebiatowska are able to pull it off without breaking much of a sweat (at least until they reach Krakow’s legendary nightclub dance floors) speaks to the how quickly they've built the ten day affair into the well-oiled machine most festivals ought to aspire too.
The festival has shown a commitment to bringing many of the leading lights of the American and International indie world to Poland each year. For this year's Against the Current prize, given each year to a celebrated performer of some renown, the festival hosted actor David Thewlis. European directors Luc Besson, Volker Schlondorff and Roland Joffe were also on hand for mini-retrospectives. American indie stalwarts such as Oren Moverman, Tom Kalin and Josh Radnor were on hand as jurors.
Meanwhile, Off Plus Camera partnerships with leading American festivals allow it to have a depth of American independent programming unheard of in Europe. Sundance programmers Mike Plante and Trevor Groth collaborate each year on a section of recent American indie film called "From the Gut," while Slamdance Programmer Josh Mandel brings some the best of his festival to Krakow in the "Slamdance on the Road" program.
However, the heart of the festival is its two competition sections, one which focuses on Polish films, and a 12 film, international "Making Way Competition" (which bestows a $100,000 upon the winner), which this year included work by Americans Evan Glodell ("Bellflower"), Terrence Nance ("An Over Simplification of Her Beauty"), Mark Jackson ("Without") and Rebecca Thomas, whose "Electrik Children," which bowed at the Berlinale last February, took home the FIPRESCI Prize.
Denmark’s Mads Matthiesen, whose Sundance World Cinema Directing Award winner "Teddy Bear" was recently one of the most divisive films at New Directors/New Films last month, took home the top prize. That film, about a lonely, emotionally starving Danish bodybuilder and his month, isn’t quite as strong as last year’s winner, "The Journals of Musan" (this author’s favorite film of 2011), or the 2010 top film, "Protektor," but it is an honorable and intermittently moving production made by people of clear talent and ingenuity, which seems like an apt description of Off Plus Camera as well.