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UNICA (Union International du Cinema) 2007
in Liptovsky-Mikulas, Slovakia

In keeping with one of UNICA's aims, "peaceful co-operation and friendship between peoples", this report is the work of several delegates from different countries. The core story is by Dutch journalist Romy van Krieken. Other written contributions from Freddy Beard, Brian Dunckley and Gerald Mee (U.K.) Pictures from Martin Ctvrnek (Germany) and Jan Watterson (U.K.)
To see the main awards - click here.

Some of us from Britain flew to the tiny airport at Tatrad 1 hour away from Liptovsky-Mikulas
but most arrived in Bratislava and had a 4 hour onward trip by coach or train ...

Getting there

Trying to keep track of the stations by following my itinerary is harder than I thought, as I fail to find names like Vychod or Nastupiste until I realise those are Slovakian for Exit and Platform. Why they would have that last word feature more prominently than the place-name itself is beyond me.

General impressions

It is the same in Liptovsky where there are restaurants that have big signs identifying them as such but we are hard pressed to find a name to lend them a unique personality. As a result we wind up recommending each other places as: "a cream coloured building with 'Restaurant' in red letters." I have still no clue what the actual name of that place was.

Wherever an establishment does feature a clearly marked name it is only in order for us to marvel at it. Hotel Palazzo seems to be named euphemistically. Hotel Steve fails to produce anyone who might sport that moniker. Pension Bowling (unfortunately for some) does live up to its name but Hotel Squash might be as much a reference to the sport as to the size of the rooms.

The toilet doors don't have keys (but strangely enough they do have locks) and the paper is outside the cubicles. As in Korea prices have more digits but there is no need to convert to our currency as everything is dirt cheap. Here we buy each other rounds of dinner rather than drinks! They have Tesco and Co-op but no one thought to bring their customer cards.

Although films are the reason for UNICA, the social gathering of 300 people from all over Europe, Argentina, Canada, Russia and South Korea is at least as important. The Slovakians ensured that we saw as much as possible of their culture and the area around Liptovsky Mikulas.

We were greeted by a local male choir in the rain and they sang again on the stage for the opening ceremony. The Slovakian fujara was also played. Recognised by UNESCO as an integral part of Slovakian culture, it is an very long wooden flute which rests on the ground when being played.

A young lady quartet played violin, flute, piano and bass during the opening dinner, a varied programme of classical and modern music. - Freddy Beard


Photo of Jean-Claude Lejosne working al fresco on his laptop. Photo of Jan Ctvrnek, FreddyBeard and BrianDunckley. Photo of the preserved steam train taking delegates for a run. Picture of Monika Haskova and Fillipo Lubiato.

Portrait of Zuzana Skoludova.

Jean-Claude
Lejosne

chief
translator

Jan Ctvrnek (Germany)
Freddy Beard &
Brian Dunckley
(U.K.)

Preserved steam train
taking delegates on
one of the
excursions.

Monika Haskova
translator (Czech) and
Fillipo Lubiato
jury chairman (Swiss)

Zuzana
Skoludova

Slovak national
organiser.


The annual UNICA event has taken much the same format each year since its foundation in 1931. One exception is when it was held in the United Kingdom in 1951. The opening took place at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London's Park Lane and the next day the whole party was transported, by special train, to Glasgow, where the event continued! The only other split-venue UNICA was 2007 in South Korea.

UNICA used to spread over about nine to ten days but a few years ago this was shortened to fit in to just one week to allow more people to attend. It was argued that many of the younger people were having to take extra time off work and breaking into two weeks may have deterred them from attending.

The current format consists of - Registration, an Opening Ceremony and Banquet on the first day, followed by sessions of film viewing - each participating country having an allotted 'slot' during the week to present its programme. An International Jury of seven members view all these programmes and after a group of programmes there is a period for informal discussion which is open to all.

During the week it is usual to be offered two half day excursions (there used to be a full day one but time does not now allow this). - Gerald Mee

First Day

In his speech UNICA's president, Max Hänsli, tells us about the record of a UNICA meeting in 1936 which state that it will never last as there are so many elderly people involved ...

At the first lunch the staff need to get the hang of our numbers descending on their restaurant. I sit with the British so we wait patiently. Next to us a waiter spills a tray and leaves gravy on the floor. His colleague slips on that and spills dessert. Lunch is a three course meal whereas dinner is only one which indicates their relative importance. Oddly enough both are served at 100 kronen apiece. The water has no bubbles so can easily be mistaken for tap water but it tastes like mineral water as it has a lot of minerals in it by nature.

Second day - First Outing

On the bus for German speakers the guide rattles off the information by heart (we checked) including dates and figures. Every second phrase is Tatra Mountains and everything is the best, longest or highest in Slovakia.

The Open Air Museum is small but nice and we have enough time to walk around. We come across abandoned steam trains in an old shed which has such atmosphere it begs to be put into a film.

Our first half-day visit was to the Liptov Village museum, Pribylina, where houses had been re-erected that had to be moved when the Liptovsky Mara reservoir was formed in the 1970s, including the Early-Gothic Church of Virgin Mary. We saw musicians and acrobatic folk dancers and were given an organ recital in the Church. Next we visited the Western City, Tatralandia and had dinner in the Mexican Restaurant. - Freddy Beard

I am laughed at for wearing my pajama pants underneath my jeans but we are in a country with the audacity to have snow in summer! The local solution - apart from strong drinks which make the Croatian rocket fuel seem like the equivalent of ginger ale - is a warm herbal tea. I can heartily recommend it. If only the girl handing it out could have told me the make, flavour or any other distinguishing trait. Unfortunately my taste palate is not delicate enough to make a positive ID myself. It was reddish with tiny pieces of black herb-bits ...

Dinner at Western City makes us feel we are in Disneyland. It is something the locals are proud of and probably one of the few places that can accommodate three hundred people. There is a major time-gap in the handing out of food on either side of the barn. We suspect they need to clean the plates from the one in order to hand them out to the other. This is confirmed when the food of the latter turns up cold - despite the thick layer of batter round the burgers. On stage there is entertainment in fits and starts. Four girls line-dancing managed to get twenty of us to join in. Oddly enough not a single Brit is up there but plenty of Dutch are... After the main course we go for coffee - again no tea available...

UNICA 2008

After the Tunisian programme, UNICA's translator Jean-Claude Lejosne keeps waxing on about the place so much we begin to wonder what he is covering up. Max Hänsli is equally broad in describing all steps of communication with Tunisia until he gets to the point. 2008 will be done like Korea: we pay UNICA and they arrange the hotels and participation. In December UNICA will send a tender about hotels, prices and such. We all have to arrange our own flights. The festival will be held from 28th June to 6th July 2008 in Les Oranges Beach Resort in Hammamet. Click here for more details.

As one would expect, UNICA produced a crop of diverse, interesting and, of course, top class films covering all the genres.

More animation enthusiasts across the world are turning to computer generated programmes to give expression to their ideas. Most of the dramas seemed to be on the very dark side but these were offset by some first-class comedies. - Brian Dunckley

Fourth day?

Towards the end of the week the annual UNICA Congress takes place. This is in fact an annual general meeting. Here is where the formal agenda allows the usual annual reports of the UNICA Committee members and where the finances are discussed. The Treasurer also recommends the amount of the annual payment that each country has to contribute. Some countries do in fact contribute more that just their dues! Member countries which are in arrears with their payments are 'struck off' and applications for membership from new countries are discussed and voted on.

There is a report on the activities of the Friends of UNICA which is a group of individuals who pay a 'subscription' to help the funds and take part in several friendly meetings during the year.

It is during this session that forthcoming UNICA venues are reported on and possible offers of hosting the event for up to four or five years ahead are considered. Of course, it takes several years to prepare and organise. A delegation of Committee members has to visit the proposed venue to make quite sure that it would be practical and suitable, bearing in mind the high standard that is expected.

UNICA 2008 is to be hosted in Tunisia. There has been some difficulty in finalising this venue but Congress was assured that all is well and that the event will take place there at a time before the weather grows too hot and before the Feast of Ramadan !

The following years are also discussed as country delegates offer their hospitality. 2009 is offered in Poland, 2010 in Switzerland, 2011 in Luxembourg, 2012 possibly in Georgia ( Georgia has renewed its membership after a short period of absence). - Gerald Mee

At the general assembly Mr. Chang gets a special award for services rendered which is considered a bit much but is not the only back-and-forth of gifts. During this I roam the city. At the museum, which should open at ten, I am met by a closed door and a sign saying The closet entrance 11.00. It took a while to understand the sign meant: "the next (closest) entry time is 11am." I walk through the museum in half an hour due to its small size and the fact that everything is in Slovakian. My English leaflet only gives a translated summary.

Second Outing

We go on a steam train with wagons of various classes so some of us arrive colder than others. As we approach our destination we hear shots. Men board the train demanding our money. Those who don't give any are escorted out and tied to a tree and whipped. Fortunately this is tradition rather than crime. Afterwards they show how they fell a tree and how a man climbs a tree to collect seeds. Unfortunately the second demonstration starts before the first one is well and truly underway so everyone misses half of either.


Photo of Dave Watterson.

Photo of Slovkian 'cowgirls' dancing.

Portrait of Romy van Krieken.

Some of the British delegates to UNICA 2007.

Photo of Jan Watterson.

Dave Watterson
(UK) with bread,
dripping and
chopped onion!

Slovakian 'cowgirls'
entertaining at
Wester City.

Romy van Krieken
(Netherlands)
a traveller!

Ron Challen, Brian Dunckley,
Norman Speirs, Alice Dunckley,
Dorothy Speirs, Betty Jennings

(UK)

Jan Watterson
(UK) with
camera.


Jury

This jury is more in tune with one another than the one from last year. They all dig symbolism and deeper layers - leaving few words for 'merely' entertaining films. They are rather sparing with praise: only a handful of gold and silver medals. But any film one of them puts forward to be upgraded is duly done so. Interpreter Monika Haskova distinguishes herself through speed and doing it all by heart - giving Jean-Claude a run for his money.

The system of judging means that the seven judges (from different countries) see all the films . They select about forty of them to comment on, and vote for, at a public meeting at the end of the Festival. It seemed to me that those selected for the discussion this year were, in the main, chosen because they had something to say or were full of symbolism. Perhaps this reflected the fact that the jury were weighted towards the eastern block where these things are paramount. What seemed to be missing from the final list were those made purely for entertainment and audience appeal. One noticeable exclusion from the top 40 was Hannah by Urbain Appletans which won our own Daily Mail Challenge Trophy at BIAFF in 2006, where it received great audience acclaim!

The two British films that did get into the final discussion were Terry and Debbie Mendoza's Side by Side; a documentary revealing that Jews and Arabs can and do live happily together, which won a Bronze Medal and the Fellini Humanity Award for cultural significance; and Stripped by Mark Jackson, a short comedy whose special effects were highly praised which was awarded a Silver Medal. Congratulations to them and the makers of the other UK entries: Lester Redding; Alisan Beadie; Garry Brown, and the two One Minute entries: Billy Ellwood and Mike Shaw, they did us proud and can be certain that the audience thoroughly enjoyed the whole programme. - Brian Dunckley

Closing

The IAC 75th Anniversary (Croatian) Rocket Launch drew a fine crowd but no take off. The annual "class photo "went off smoother, albeit short of one Scottish lady and with a Dutch girl for a substitute (for which she is very honoured.)

At dinner an orchestra plays a variety of music which we have fun identifying. The orchestra is from a music school and equally fresh-faced youths entertain us with dances to All That Jazz and Grease. It is typical for this UNICA: it is not done by flawless professionals but that's the charm of it. The fact that it wasn't all smooth made me feel at home as I can identify with that.

Cultural Surprises - One afternoon the Kultury Dom (Arts Centre) laid on a selection of tasty cheeses formed into strings, and we were again entertained by local musicians and dancers.

Some of us visited a mountain lake and ski-jump in the Tatras, went on to the Vazec Cave, where cave bear bones had been found and later to the Demanovska ice-cave. Lots of walking to use up the calories consumed in the pierogis (stuffed dumplings) and other interesting Slovakian food. - Freddy Beard

The Kerr clan-motto (how is that for trivia knowledge!) "Late but in earnest" comes to mind when regarding our Slovakian friends. At the end of the week free bottles of water from a sponsor pop up by the dozen. Too late to be fully consumed but not too late to be appreciated. Giving us free lunches on both trips but failing to tell us beforehand so they were only half eaten. An address list at the closing - after we made do by scribbling on programme brochures.

I exchanged email addresses with a French couple as if my (lack of) spoken proficiency hadn't told them everything about my written adeptness. But it did get me to finally sign up for a French course at the Alliance Française which I will start in January.

Some people asked me if I do lectures, acting and the likes. I merrily agreed to all, wondering if anything will come of it on their - and my part. Fortunately I had enough survival instinct to tell them I might not have the time as I am abroad a lot on business.

Journey back

The fun of flying foreign airlines is it gives you a last chance to savour foreign vowels and pretend you are still on holiday. No sooner am I on board Austrian Airlines than I hear the Blue Danube... Aahhh....

- Romy van Krieken


The Jury awarded:

The Most Interesting National Programme Award

Gold Medals to:

Still from 'Mila'. Still from 'Lonely Soul'. Still from 'Wolf'. Still from 'Safety Matches'.

Mila

The Lonely Soul

The Wolf

Safety Matches

The Fellini Humanity Award

Prix Jeunesse

Remarkable Actors

Remarkable Directing

Szalontüdö/Tripe and Onions by Márton Szirmai (Hungary)

Remarkable Photography

Jury award

Audience Vote for the World Minute Movie Cup

  1. Trojuholnik / The Triangle by Ján Kuska (Slovakia)
  2. The Remote by Mike Shaw (U.K.) See article about making the film here.
  3. Up To Date by Josef Trixl (Austria)
    Pan Jarin / Mr. Jarin by Jaroslav Nykl (Czech Republic)

For full details of the Silver and Bronze Medal awards see the UNICA website: http://unica-web.com


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Page updated on 21 January 2011
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