About TIFF, with Oana Giurgiu & Dorina Oargă
Dorina and Oana are two of the main people behind Romania’s biggest film festival – Transilvania International Film Festival, or TIFF – as we all call it. Given the extraordinary situation we are facing this year, with a lot of worldwide festivals being postponed or even canceled, I was curious to know more about this year’s edition of TIFF – which was planned for early June and postponed to the beginning of August. Romania’s cases of coronavirus are rising every day as we have reached the number one spot in the EU at the number of new cases, which can be alarming for any event organizer this summer. So how will this year’s TIFF look like and what are the main issues the organizers faced?
In the interview below, Dorina Oargă (Head of the Guest Department) and Oana Giurgiu (Executive Director) sat down with me over some snacks and a cup of tea, to discuss in detail the 2020 edition of TIFF, while also reminiscing about the past editions.
DORINA OARGĂ – Head of Industry @TIFF
Dodo, what does cinema mean to you?
I never asked myself that question; don’t know exactly, but I am into film since I was a child, I grew up in a small town – in Aiud, where we had only one movie theater where I could go but only from time to time, and I was quite upset for not being able to watch more movies. I started downloading movies to enjoy something that wasn’t accessible to me. When I got to college, in Cluj, I had a lot of friends who worked at TIFF – that’s how I got in this entourage. Cinema might just be my way of escaping reality.
So this is how you came to work in the film industry and then at TIFF?
Yes. It happened about 12-13 years ago, I had a friend – Mihai Grigor, who worked at TIFF and I was always following him, he always got us invitations to the DIESEL parties at TIFF. I had just graduated from Geography – English, at Babes-Bolyai.
Oana: And I remember we needed someone in the GUEST department.
Dodo: I started in print traffic (n. reception and distribution of film materials) and we had the screeners on DVDs. We had some xerox boxes in which we kept the movies – at that time, we didn’t have the online platform, so I had to make copies all day and pay attention to whom I give them (for viewing and selection) and from whom I take them back. The same year, Rik (n. Vermeulen) asked me to help him with the programming – tide up the excel file, he had noticed that I was very organized.
Oana: Rik Vermeulen is the one who helped us with the organization of the festival, since the very first edition; a Dutchman who came to implement the whole system of volunteers at TIFF, he had previously worked at Rotterdam IFF and other major festivals, which is why he had a know-how that we did not have; we would do things by the ear, as we thought it was right to, and he came and sorted out our madness.
Dodo: He still comes to the festival as a guest.
What is the biggest challenge for you at TIFF? Have you ever felt stuck in the routine of organizing the festival?
I don’t think it’s a routine, every year I try to bring something new and there are always new challenges, which I like. Last year was probably the most difficult one, besides our own programs Transilvania Pitch Stop and Transilvania Talent Lab and our partner’s programs (LIM and First Film First), we also had European Film Forum. It was overwhelming.
2020 seems to be a lost year, as many consider it. A lot of festivals have been canceled or postponed, and many of those that have moved online have redesigned their industry component at a micro-level. Since I know how important this component is at TIFF, I’m curious how you’re going to approach it this year?
We will have a hybrid between online and offline. August is a busy month, there are many festivals that have moved their industry events during this time, and there is an oversaturation when it comes to online content. There’s something to gain and something to lose – there are many people who probably couldn’t have come to TIFF since it’s right after Cannes, so it’s a plus that they can now watch some movies from the comfort of their home, or attend our pitch; and for those who are coming, it is a great joy, many want to travel, even if there is a fear of interacting with other people.
It will be a unique edition. Depending on what other restrictions will be implemented until the festival starts, we will see how much of it can be held offline and how much needs to be moved online. Somehow, we rely on the local guests, who can travel by land.
QUESTIONS FOR THE TEAM – Dorina & Oana
Tell me some behind-the-scenes TIFF stories, which represented a kind of milestone in the evolution of the festival, but also moments that stayed with you, the organizers.
Oana: Rick was mainly in charge of the festival program, and one year he cracked because there was a massive amount of information he had to manage. He had a huge bed sheet on which he wrote down all the things, and somehow he also remembered them, but his mind got tired and realized that he could no longer cope. It was the moment when his job took a new shape, it was digitized. I also had my moment when I realized that the whole festival depends on a single excel file, which I own and contains information such as: when people come, when they leave, with which flight, what hotel they stay at, which screenings they have to go to and so on. If my computer broke down, everyone could have easily gone home, because there wouldn’t have existed anything else to work on. I realized then that it’s too much a responsibility for one person, and that’s when we started working with a festival software.
Dodo: At that time, only ten of us were allowed to access and work with a dedicated database and it only worked on Windows – everyone who worked on a Mac needed some kind of a parallel desktop to access the software, and when the server was physically sent, from Bucharest to Cluj, the entire activity was on hold.
Oana: But until that moment, which changed something in the evolution of the festival, there were the times when we didn’t even have laptops, just computers. I remember leaving Bucharest with four desktops in my car, plus the screens, a colleague, and our luggage – all in a Matiz. We left Bucharest very late, we arrived in Sibiu at midnight and I couldn’t drive anymore, so I suggested we stop somewhere overnight. But we didn’t know where we could stay and, moreover, where to leave the car that contained all the festival information – no hotel, at that time, had a secure parking lot. So we went to a friend of my colleague’s house, who had only one bedroom, and the poor man slept on the floor so that we could sleep on the bed; he wanted to play the guitar that night and we were so tired, it was two in the morning, but hey, the man had welcomed us in his house, he was sleeping on the floor for us, we had to keep him company. And he did sing well!
Dodo: The festival has changed a lot since then, we don’t bring the servers by plane anymore (laughs), and the festival platforms work well.
Oana: I’d like to tell you one more story. At a different edition, on the last day of the festival – it was a Sunday and we were having the screening after the gala, Tudor (n. Giurgiu) took the stage to present the film – I think it was The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, I remember Dana Bunescu and Velvet Moraru also being on the stage. Anyway, Tudor introduced the film and the two guests, and after he got off the stage, he fell off his feet and was taken to the hospital with appendicitis in the last stage. The problem was that there was some really important information on his laptop that no one else had, and we couldn’t get in. We had to hack his laptop so we could finish the festival that day. All these events have shown, over time, that digitization is necessary, which has been the main milestone in the evolution of the festival.
TIFF has been on the market for 19 years and has become, over time, the largest and best-known local film festival. Although many other festivals have appeared in recent years, none of them have managed to match your success. Why do you think we have only one film festival known at an international level and what are the strengths of TIFF?
Oana: I think TIFF’s biggest asset is its team. The people in the backstage, who build the festival, they set the vibe. If someone is not in harmony with the rest, he’s eliminated in a natural way. The system expels what it doesn’t like.
Dodo: We, the people behind TIFF (the core team, I mean) have known each other for many years, we grew up with the festival and over time, things settled down.
Oana: I think the vibe you create around yourself is extremely important; which means, if you feel that there’s someone on your team who will not add up, you better let it go. If the atmosphere is bad, better leave it to rest.
This year, the festival will be held two months later than originally planned. What will it look like: what has the Covid-19 pandemic changed and what will remain the same?
Oana: It will be a different kind of festival – held outdoors, with screenings that will take place in the evening, once the sun goes down; that was usually our time to get ready for the parties, but now, parties no longer exist, so we will prepare for the screenings. The dynamics of the festival will be totally different and I think it will be a festival where people will watch a lot of movies.
Dodo: And that’s exactly what makes me happy! Over the years, I didn’t get to watch any films during the festival – the only film I would go to was the closing one, where I would usually fall asleep (laughs). I secretly hope that this year I’ll finally have the chance to watch some movies.
Will there be fewer sections in the program?
Dodo: We don’t have the program nailed down yet. Depending on the locations that will remain in the end, we will see how much we have to take out from the regular schedule, but some of the films will also screen online, on TIFF Unlimited.
Oana: Another thing that will be different, for sure, is that we won’t be able to schedule a lot of reruns, the movies will usually have only one screening and maybe a second one online.
Dodo: For our industry guests and participants we will have online and offline programs, such as Transilvania Pitch Stop, and the closed screenings (for industry only) will move entirely online.
OANA GIURGIU – Executive Director @TIFF
Oana, what is success to you?
That moment when the things I had planned turn out well, and usually the award I give myself for that achievement it’s called Oscar, and I give it to myself every time, I never have to wait until February (laughs). On a more serious note, I feel a sort of discomfort when I’m publicly praised for my accomplishments, and it’s because they aren’t just mine, but there’s a whole team who contributes to my glory. At the same time, I know my failures too, and they’re quite consuming.
What makes you move forward in your career, apart from your accomplishments?
I always knew that what will carry me on is the lack of routine – it’s why I chose to be a journalist in the first place; I realized that not a single day will be similar to the others. When the whole journalism career was over and I turned to filmmaking, it was even more obvious. Every film is a new experience from which you learn something new – if you shoot in a village, you learn its dynamic, if you shoot in a factory, then you have to learn its ways and so on. There was never a film where I didn’t have exciting and interesting surprises. To answer your question, I think curiosity is what makes me carry on, and satisfying that curiosity is what takes me from one project to the other. Going back to TIFF, for me, this year’s edition is a challenge, but an exciting one.
Dodo: For me as well, because we have no idea what to expect. We often receive questions like „what’s the plan?” or „how have you organized?”
Oana: I’m a bit sloppy and this year I haven’t really prepared for TIFF. I’m going to Cluj in a few days with as much information as I had in March. (laughs)
How would you describe the Romanian cinema today, compared to the cinema we had back when you started the festival?
Tudor Giurgiu’s plan to create a film festival had two main reasons: first of all, because Romania wasn’t on the film map in general, nor on the list of film festivals; second, those were the times right after Ceausescu’s regime, which had fallen ten years before, and our film industry was hitting rock bottom – we were going through a transition period, lots of changes were happening. TIFF launched at the same time with Mungiu’s feature film – Occident, and right before that, Cristi Puiu premiered his film Stuff and Dough, and it felt like things are starting to move a little. In a way, TIFF was an important pawn on the map of Romanian cinema, which stood at the base of the New Romanian Wave – a wave that came like a tsunami. The differences between then and now are huge because back then we didn’t have an industry that knew how to organize itself. TIFF was a chance for the up-and-coming Romanian filmmakers to connect with the European ones, which enlightened us. Everything we did in these 19 years have contributed to what we have today.
And still, our film industry has lots of shortages. However, we are praised every year at the biggest international film festivals and we have some really capable and ambitious artists and people who would like to contribute to its development. What do you think pulls us back, as an industry?
Institutionally-wise, things haven’t changed much, or at least not with the same speed with which we – the companies and NGOs, are evolving. Of course, for us it’s easier as we are smaller organizations; the administrative bodies, which are ruled by the state, are much harder to reform, however, nothing has changed in line with us, nor with the rest of Europe, and what’s even worse is we cannot communicate. This is one of the biggest problems – there is a sort of resistance that we are facing, which seems like a conflict, between us and the state’s institution that represents us and funds us, the filmmakers.
We should be able to discuss openly and collaborate, the institutions should follow the EU trends and get in line with them. And I think there’s something else that’s pulling us back – the frequency with which the ministry changes. Every time a new minister comes, just when he starts to get how things are going in this field, he is replaced by someone else, and it goes on and on and on. And probably the obstinacy we are facing from the film institutions is a factor of this frequent change of ministers at the Ministry of Culture, once at 1-2 years. Maybe that’s also why our Cinema Law hasn’t changed in decades, nor our rules and regulations, and so on. And these things will always pull us back, if we do not adapt to the times we are living in.
Dodo: And it’s not just about film productions, but also about festivals and any kind of event happening in the film industry. It’s the same old problem.
And to finish on a more positive note, could you please describe one another in a few words?
Dodo: Oh, let’s see what Oana has to say. (laughs)
Oana: I think we’re quite alike, and I’m not talking physically. Dodo has a more tech mind than I do, which makes her a great event organizer. We’re both friendly and voluble and we are the ones who always work with the people at the festival, such as producers, guests, distributors and so on. These are usually the people who need to do some networking and some are shy, so it’s great to have someone help them. Dodo smiles a lot, which is why I think people like her more. (laughs)
Dodo: Oana is the main person here, the person that everything starts with – she offers us empathy, you know if you have a problem or something exciting to share, you can always go to her. She’s that one person who will always listen to you and understand you.
Oana: I believe every team has a leader, some of them are featherbrain, but they keep things moving forward, and then there are the lieutenants in the back for which the army will always stay and fight.
Transilvania International Film Festival will be held between 31.07 – 09.08 in Cluj, and you can find all in the information you need about this year’s edition on their official website.