Footnotes: The many student years of CineMAiubit

8 December, 2022

A child of its times (the nineties), CineMAiubit has the sort of history that is pretty difficult to hold together, having had 26 editions across 27 years, split into two eras: before and after the New Romanian Cinema, passing through three different names of its foundational institution (ATF to IATC to UNATC), several artistic directors, over a hundred jurors, hundreds of awards, thousands of students and films. People usually look at it in order to discover the prehistoric works of the New Wave, that is the student shorts made by its flagship filmmakers, however, a cursory glance at the festival’s catalogs reveals a much richer history.

The traces of a forgotten world, whose cinema was shot in 16mm, 35mm, and video (Betacam), with format acting as a strict criterion in terms of how the films were placed into respective categories, as stringent as the biblical fiction/documentary dichotomy, and whose wider industry was struggling to turn the Costinești Youth Film Festival (founded in 1978) into a broader event. Only two other Romanian festivals that were founded in the nineties survive to this day, both somewhat parallel to the cinephile circles of Bucharest – Alter-Native (in Târgu-Mureș, founded in 1992) and Astra (Sibiu, ’93); DaKino (Bucharest, 1991) ceased to exist in 2019, and Costinești did so already in 1996, with an unsuccessful attempt at rebooting it in the early 2000s. Of course, TIFF was to become the shining star of Romanian festivals in 2001, constantly improving until it reached the standards it has today, but what is important in relation to CineMAiubit is the chance happening that, twenty years earlier, the same Tudor Giurgiu who founded TIFF has co-organized a flagship student short film named CRIZA91 at the Eforie cinema (currently, the Romanian Cinematheque), and at the 1995 edition of Costinești, helmed by artistic director Laurențiu Damian, a retrospective of student shorts of the IATC/ATF was part of the program.

Noul Cinema 2/1992

And another thing, this time, monumental in size – 12 hours long, to be precise: in 1996, at an edition of CineMaiubit helmed by Elisabeta Bostan, then the newly-appointed dean of the film school. Hosting one of its two national editions, the festival’s retrospective covered an entire day (out of a total of three), then became less of a fixture in following years, whereas, starting with 1998, the competition opened itself up for international production. Anyhow, despite its longstanding archivist flair, neither UNATC nor CineMAiubit knew how to popularize their historical films, which have more or less ended up being part of an inner-circle canon, given to students by their professors. Now, ever since Arhiva activă was founded, it’s hard to imagine a history of cinema in the absence of the glances in Dan Pița’s Life in Pink (1969), the libertines in Petros Minopetros’ To Be (1982) or, soon enough, without Florin Iepan’s Hotel Cișmigiu (1992), featured in this year’s retrospective program (spanning 1990-1993), in a remasterized version that might have a good soundtrack too, if we are to have luck.

The project reached the beginning of the nineties, so I’m assuming that the films, but especially the research behind them will also touch the festival’s early years.Beyond anything, CineMAiubit still retains a worldly history of the industry which is nowhere else to be found, as the catalogs also gives us names of the institution’s forerunners: during the first edition, the dean was Florin Mihăilescu, seconded by Cristina Nichituș, Manuela Cernat was the coordinating professor of the Audiovisual Communications department. Whereas Anca Mitran, whose CV seems to have been lost in some corner of the internet together with all traces of the books that she claims to have published, is mentioned as part of the teaching staff (in 1997) of the Cinematography department. As if it were an affective history, at least to me, a graduate of UNATC – I can see how, no matter how much the institutional fates were smiling towards them, names like Radu Igazság, Sorin Botoşeneanu and Doru Nițescu (the festival’s current artistic director) contributed to each and every one of the editions. 

Precisely this familiar atmosphere at the festival ticked off the film critics who attended the first few editions, and one of their objections still causes debates every single year, to this day – the pre-selection process is always indulgent when it comes to Romanian productions. Erstwhile, the same thing was said about Costinești, sometimes about DaKino too, but CineMAiubit seems to have taken ownership of its largesse, as if it were a playful credo, but it does so in particular to be protective of students, as it leaves the final selection up to its own jurors, other curators and, in the end, to the future itself, while seemingly being aware that its way of being – that is, student-like – means there cannot be a truly final selection, one that is definitive or definitory.

The many lists with award-winning directors and infinite lists of submitted films don’t translate well into the online medium: most films are nowhere to be found, even those by big names like – let’s say – Cristian Mungiu (The Hand of Paulişta, Grand Prix of the 1998 edition). Even so, fumbling through the dark, I’ve assembled a list of short films presented at CinemMAiubit that have interested me along the way. 

Hotel Cișmigiu (dir. Florin Iepan, 1992)

Although, at the time of their release, Florin Iepan’s early documentaries (meaning this one and Ten Minutes Together With the Working Class, 1995) were lauded by critics, they have remained marginal even within the history of Romanian non-fiction cinema, now in the process of being re-written by the younger generations of critics. Hotel Cișmigiu, a poetic documentary about the death of student Neli Bejan, who fell to her death in the well of an elevator in the eponymous Hotel, which back then functioned as the student dorm of the ATF, is the very best Romanian experimental short film that I have seen to this day, be it a student short or otherwise. Iepan and operator Constantin Apostolescu turn the camera into Neli Bejan’s gaze from beyond, piercing the decrepit hotel with long, floating traveling shots, underneath which the students roam around with abandon and frustration, setting these images to off-camera interviews. What’s truly fabulous is the state of grace induced by these images of Hotel Cișmigiu, concrete enough to be documented yet so abstract that they could truly be abstract, as if they would belong to Joris Ivens.

Bucharest – Wien  (dir. Cătălin Mitulescu, 1999)

The first film that laded young Cătălin Mitulescu in the Cinéfondation section of the  Cannes film festival (where he returned to in 2002 with 17 minutes late) is truly what one can call a cinema of its time, concretely preoccupied its immediate reality, of the rough situation of Romania at the end of the 2nd milleniul. Bucharest – Wien, meaning emigration, eventually illegal: two young men from Bucharest, marvellously perfromed by Cosmin Seleși and Andi Vasluianu, are planning to quickly leave the country in order to work abroad, a story which I assume many students at the time wanted to tell. The endgame matters less than the dynamics between the two: although he is the decision-maker in this situation, Niki (Seleși) becomes increasingly – yet discreetly – annoyed by the lightheartedness – at times dignified, at times rogue-like – with which  Crețu (Vasluianu) handles things, in a race against time where both should be at each-others’ disposal. There aren’t many other moments of male bonding in Romanian cinema that are more sensible than this.

Nea Pintea… the model (dir. Adina Pintilie, 2005)

It often happens that the protagonists of student documentaries overpass the films focused on them. It’s is not the case of Adina Pintilie’s choice of Marin Pintea, a former model employed by the Romanian Institute of Arts who, by then, had become and eccentric eighty-year-old, which she uses to give shape to reflections about age, corporeality and art. As pretentious as it may sound, like in the manner of Touch Me Not (2018), the filmmaker’s early works are much more eager to go out into the world, to work with a time and reality that are already at play, and Uncle Pintea does indeed have the worldly spark that is needed to keep anything alive, while Pintilie’s sensibility for the state of this true character, as she gazes intently (rather than with compassion) at his ages and moments of loneliness, reins in the spectacle that would otherwise overshadow it all. The film did not participate in CineMAiubit, as 2005 was the only year when the festival took a break – and in 2006, the filmmaker would submit four other films to the festival, which were awarded all together by the Romanian Film Critics’ Association.

Meat (dir. Miruna Boruzescu, 2006)

From its very beginning, the festival had a special section dedicated to experimental cinema (shared with animation films), but it took a decade for a certain spark to happen, when Adina Pintilie, George Chiper, Barna Nemethi and Eva Pervolovici ended up being colleagues. Miruna Boruzescu didn’t remain in the industry, but her short film, Meat, winner of the Best Experimental Film Award (ex-aequo) in 2006 still belong to the secret canon of UNATC, if only for the fact that it’s a singularity film. What Boruzescu does here is to further the shocking idea behind Martin Scorsese’s 1967 student short, The Big Shave: something happens to a young man while he is shaving, as he suddenly starts bleeding profusely without even noticing it. Fifty years later, nothing happens to Tudor Naparu without his accord. He starts shaving from head to toe, pulling his teeth and nails out in Meat, in a key that is infinitely graver than in the case of the previous film, which counted on the contrast between the atmosphere and the plot, whereas Boruzescu tries to use them as mutual leverage. Ever since the early days of CineMAiubit, people spoke about metaphorical films, but rarely could one see one as visceral as this one.

The Palm Lines (dir. George Chiper, 2009)

The difference between the above-mentioned experimental films and Chiper’s Palms has to do with its script, penned by journalist Mihai Mincan. Performing the role of a woman who is left all alone after a car accident claims the lives of her husband and daughter, Coca Bloos moves slowly and precisely within the empty routine of this so-called Emilia Dobrescu character. Many films are said to be similar to Jeanne Dielman, but The Palms truly seems to be a studied tribute, conceived in long and static shots, a clear set design, faded domestic colors and passive actions, only for the end to flip the perception about the protagonist upside down – not through an event, but rather, due to a biographical detail presented in the voice-over.

Film critic and journalist. He is an editor at AARC and writes the ”Screens” features for Art Magazine. He collaborates with many publications and film festivals as a freelancer and he is strangely attached to John Ford's movies.