Footnotes: Breviary – Film Magazine, 1990

3 June, 2021

Of all the roaring pages that were written throughout the first months after the Romanian Revolution, a few of those belonged to one Film Magazine, “the paper of Romanian filmmakers”. Passionate and uppity, as in the case of all these nineties-era ephemera, Film is quite difficult to analyze as a self-sufficient magazine; its topics mostly covered the reorganization of the film industry – resignations, votes of confidence, accusations, apologies, proposals –, to such a degree that any conversation about the magazine would much rather find its place in a hefty essay about cinema’s change of face, be it one that was factual or simply proclamatory, taking place in the early stages of the post-Revolutionary era. And in the case of any such history, this one particular page is priceless, since the project itself is generous – supported by filmmakers and addressing itself towards the large audience, Film put just about everything that was going on in the industry under the microscope from the very first days of the Revolution down to the aftermath of the February, 1990 Law on Cinematography.

But, from where I am standing, things are not quite as clear as this. The changes which cascaded upon the institutions of cinema had proclaimed themselves as the standard-bearers of justice, but looking at them now, thirty years later, the spell of intimacy that had charmed the industry throughout the eighties seems fully broken; the conventions, sympathies, and enmities of yore are unknown to me. Just the events that transpired in the IATC ask for a full-fledged journalistic inquiry, not to mention the fact that Ecaterina Oproiu, in and of herself, is deserving of a sizable critical biography. This is why I am using the fragmentary form of an index as the most just means for my aims.

  • 1, 2-3, 4-5

The magazine lasted for about three months, but in this period, it went through things that other magazines go through in years. Its editorial debut takes place in January, with a simple issue (4 A2 pages), which is mostly testimonies from filmmakers – detailing how and when the Revolution struck each and every one of them. The following two issues, the ones from February and March, would turn out to be double-sized editions that cost ten times more than usual.

ACIN

On the 24th of December, 1989, the Association of Romanian Filmmakers (which became a Union in February 1990) designated a Provisional Committee of Filmmakers which would take the reins of Romanian cinema up until the March elections. Those summoned were Mircea Daneliuc, Vivi Drăgan Vasile, Stere Gulea, Florin Mihăilescu, Dan Pița, Victor Rebengiuc and Alexandru Tatos, who, along with all the other duties, would also be a part of the magazine’s editorial board, along with pioneers such as Paul Călinescu and Jean Georgescu, director Nicolae Mărgineanu, actor Marin Moraru and literary critic Alexandru Paleologu. The board then went on to appoint the editorial collective – Manuela Cernat, Ioan Groșan, Sorin Ilieșiu, Corneliu Medvedov, Roxana Pană, Florian Potra, Aura Puran, which slimmed down by the second issue when Medvedov and Puran vanished from the list of editors; instead, Romulus Rusan joined the team.

Alexandru Tatos

Wednesday, the 27th of December

(…) In what concerns me, I was elected to the Provisional Committee of Filmmakers. In my opinion, I think that very few places have a committee that brings together the most valuable and «unblemished» members of a trade, and we are struggling to lead the ACIN, to restructure it until the next round of elections in March. At the same time, I’m thinking about the future: because, now, I also want to work…” (Alexandru Tatos, Diary notes, p. 650)

Alexandru Tatos died before the end of January, 1990. The February issue of the magazine opens on an interview conducted by the magazine’s editors with the Provisional Committee on the 22nd of January, that is, just two days before Tatos’ final hospital admission. In March, the magazine published the final entries in his diary for the first time. (no. 4-5, p. 6)

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Alexandru Tatos, Vivi Drăgan Vasile și Velvet Moraru

Antecedents

The better part of the magazine’s efforts was to promote films that had run into problems with censorship during the Ceaușescu regime. On the first issue’s second page, ample space is given to a memorandum penned by Lucian Pintilie and addressed to Ilie Rădulescu (by-then secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee), which had been broadcast on Radio Free Europe in 1984. The pressing matter? The situation regarding Carnival Scenes, Pintilie’s return to Romanian studios after his self-imposed exile in France in the mid-seventies, which took place shortly after his film The Government Inspector was banned (for more details, look here and there). Well, Carnival Scenes didn’t end up having a much better fate; banned in the eighties, its premiere would only end up taking place in the fall of 1990. Also in regards to the film, the second issue includes Pintilie’s interview for Echinox magazine (conducted by Fleșeriu) in 1980, a piece which was supposed to run in one of the latter magazine’s 1981 issues, but was also banned. And it’s not hard to comprehend why.

What would you like to direct and why haven’t you managed to do so (yet)?

L.P.: What I would like to direct? It’s a dubiously ingenious question… The stack of scripts is weighing down on my desktop, breaking it into two… (…) Why haven’t I managed to direct them yet? Oh, please! Who would ever imagine that, by asking me such a question, merely asking it, there isn’t some sort of rhetorical complicity between you and me? Truly, even so, why haven’t I carried out my projects… I also sit and wonder why!”

Underneath Pintilie’s memorandum, two others are reproduced, both addressed to Prime Minister Constantin Dăscălescu and dated the 16th of November and, respectively, the 11th of December, 1989. The initial signatories – Mircea Daneliuc, Alexandru Tatos, Stere Gulea, Ioan Cărmăzan, Nicolae Mărgineanu, Valeriu Drăgușanu, Vivi Drăgan Vasile, Florin Mihăilescu, Victor Rebengiuc – followed in December by Iulian Mihu, Cristiana Nicolae, Petre Petrescu, Felicia Cernăianu, Vlad Păunescu, Dragoș Pîslaru, Andrei Cătălin Băleanu and Savel Știopul, were asking for the impeachment, and then for the conviction of Mihai Dulea, Vice President of the Council for Culture and Socialist Education (“for repeated work-related abuses, interferences in artistic creation based on personal tastes, favoritism, squandering of public funds…”).

Then, of course, we have the rehabilitation of films whose fame stretches until the present day; Lucian Bratu’s remembers the incidents caused by A Film with A Charming Girl (1966) in an interview by Sanda Vișan (nos. 2-3, p. 3); Pintilie’s The Reenactment (1970) is the focus of an article in the March issue, in a translation of a 1971 interview with Pintilie conducted by Marie-Odile Briot for Positif); Sorin Ilieșiu makes a vox populi out of Daneliuc’s The Cruise (198) after the film (re)screening; as for Dan Pița’s Sand Cliffs (1983), the paper featured a montage of texts in the same February issue – a memorandum penned by Pița in ’83 and addressed to Petre Enache, Secretary of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party, in which Pița enquires about what is happening to his films, as well as a fragment from Nicolae Ceaușescu’s speech on the 4th of August, 1983, when the leader accuses Sand Cliffs of inaccurately portraying socialist youth, ending on a fragment published the following year in Le Monde, where attention is drawn to the fact that the film was banned). 

Along with all of this, there is also an interview with a filmmaker whose name didn’t achieve posterity, William Goldgraber, “the man who shot pictures of C. Pîrvulescu at the 12th Congress”, as Tita Chiper subtitles it in her piece. A collaborator of the West-German National Television, Goldgraber managed to pass his recording to Channel 1, which broadcast it on the very same day (the 19th of November, 1979).

Berlinale

It was quite natural for the Berlin Film Festival to be the first large-scale event in the film industry to show interest in the Revolution’s films. Sahia’s Free Journal is presented in the festival’s first Panorama after the Fall of the Berlin Wall (9-20 February, 1990), and part of the collective that directed the film takes part in the festival, where they start a hunger strike in solidarity with their colleagues at home (see The Filmmakers’ Strike). Moritz de Hadeln, the then-director of the festival, watches over them; the son of a Romanian emigre (Alexandra Bălăceanu), de Hadeln had already shown an interest in Romanian cinema and would continue to do so in 1991, when the Berlinale hosted a retrospective of Romanian documentary cinema spanning between 1898 and 1989. As for the past, Manuela Cernat pens (in nos. 2 and 3, p. 4 & 6) a short history of the Swiss director’s visit in 1985 Romania, where he invites Dan Pița to submit his Pas de deux (1985) to the Berlinale’s 1986 competition, along with featuring Contest (1982) and Chained Justice (1983) in the Panorama, the latter of which also showcased Fatally Wounded for Love of Life (dir. Mircea Veroiu, 1983) and Mircea Daneliuc’s Glissando (1982). What followed this decision was a true mess since, shortly before the festival, the Second Cabinet asked for the removal of Pas de deux from the competition, and friendly states, such as the Soviet Union and Bulgaria, also asked for their countries’ films to be retracted; de Hadeln, however, rejects their requests, and a series of special interventions end in the resolution of the conflict. Pița ends up winning the festival’s Special Award and is invited on its jury the following year.

Declaration-manifesto

Published as the opener of the debut issue, the declaratory manifesto of the Provisional Committee of Filmmakers goes like this:

“The Provisional Committee of Filmmakers decides to support the Front for National Salvation with its entire being.

The Committee, which was elected during the session of the Filmmakers’ Association meeting on the 24th of December, makes itself available to the Council of the Front for National Salvation, in order to bring its contribution to the democratic reorganization of Romanian cinema. Towards these ends, the Committee will proceed by:

1) Promoting the criteria of quality and truth in all spheres of cinematic creation.

2) Abolishing any form of censorship aimed at cinematic creation, as well distributing films that have been banned until now at a national level.

3) Elaborating a Law on Cinematography that would put into place a legal framework that would protect both creations as well as the means for a dignified life for Romanian filmmakers.

4) Creating new organizational structures of cinematography, in regards to both production and distribution of films.

5) Reorganizing upper education in the field of cinema, in accordance with criteria of competition and professional merits.”

Design

The magazine’s graphic design was created by Gianini Georgescu, the first issue being a collaboration with Geta Brătescu. The logo which the pair conceived back in those days is still in usage today, having been adopted by the contemporary iteration of Film magazine, published by UCIN starting with 2014. There is not much else to say about the magazine’s visual identity, other than the fact that the first two issues feature collages of photos of the dead bodies and ruined buildings left in the aftermath of the Timișoara scuffles on its final pages.

Documentary

Lately, there has been much talk about the murky situation of Romanian documentary cinema in the nineties. Along with a few passionate testimonials about how the Sahia studio was working on the films of the Revolution (and particularly those penned by Laurențiu Damian), Film (nos. 4-5, March) publishes a very interesting article written by Marion Ciobanu (who worked as a script editor at Sahia) after the Law on Cinematography had been passed in February, 1990. In short, Ciobanu claimed that the free market had surprised Sahia at a very bad moment; in fact, any moment at all would have been bad, since the documentary film studio had been historically neglected in favor of the National Television or the feature-length fiction studios, which were now entering the market with the power to also direct documentaries and advertisements, which had been the Sahia studio’s main means of winning their daily bread; and with better equipment and fatter budgets on their side, to boot. “To make things clear: I am not asking for the misery of others, rather, I am asking for the Sahia Studio to have a fair start in the competition of the free market.”

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Jurnal liber (r. colectivul Sahia, 1990)

Dubious affairs

As in the case of most magazines that came out during the days of the Revolution, Film also has its share of histrionic outbursts. Such as the account of Romanian actor Valentin Vârtan (no. 1, p. 2) in particular, who claims that when the fall of the Ceaușescu regime was announced in Timișoara’s Opera Square (currently Victory Square), ten (!) women spontaneously gave birth, on the spot, out of sheer happiness.

Ecaterina Oproiu

The well-known editor-in-chief of the Cinema magazine was doubtlessly one of the greatest losers of the transition, but it must be said that she put up a fight. In the magazine’s very first issue (p. 3), in the readers’ submission box, Ludmila Patlanjoglu pens an article in which she tells the story of how, following several critiques she made towards the editors of Cinema, who were already working on the New Cinema magazine, Oproiu had literally beaten her up. Rumors say that Eugenia Vodă had also been in line for a beating, but she had managed to escape. The history of Cinema wasn’t regarded all-too-well, anyways – Ioan Groșan claims in the first issue (p. 1) that “film criticism and its specialized publication (the «Cinema» magazine), strapped in the chains of a phantomatic, yet oh-so-omnipresent Council of Culture, had almost in corpore adopted the uppity-neutral tone which would thus equally discuss the works of Geo Saizescu and those of Fellini. What must be said, however (…) is that we need a new film magazine.” Things become even clearer in February – under a list of shame of sorts (“The Tributes of «The Golden Age»”, p. 5), which nominates 17 titles (seven of which are documentaries directed by Virgil Calotescu), lies a paragraph titled „A declaration of love”, which is in fact a short history of one of Oproiu’s interventions in one of the meetings between the Filmmakers’ Association and Ceaușescu, in which the film critic sleekly talks to the leader about how little she cares for high functions and how much love she bears for him, personally, and for the party in general. One page later, Alice Georgescu records the proceedings of the General Assembly of the Critics’ section of the Filmmakers’ Association, whereby another provisional committee is founded: composed of Georgeta Davidescu, Alice Georgescu, Florica Ichim, Magda Mihăilescu, Roxana Pană, Sergiu Selian, and Paul Silvestru. The General Assembly’s first decision – to “disavow the leadership of the «Cinema» magazine, which is not privy of our moral and professional credit, and is hereby disassociating itself from it.” The thing is that, when they speak about the editorial office of Cinema, the seven members of the Assembly seem to be, in fact, referring solely to Ecaterina Oproiu. Since, alongside her, the office was also helmed by Mircea Alexandrescu, Virgil Poiană and Alice Mănoiu. Truth be told, Poiană seemed to vanish shortly afterwards, but Mănoiu and Alexandrescu continued their careers as critics for the New Cinema. An editorial outfit which, according to Ludmila Patlanjoglu’s text, also seemed to have featured Oproiu at first, but only for a short time.

The Front for National Salvation (FSN)

Film was initially welcoming to the Front for National Salvation, even its Committee was initially named the Provisional Committee of Filmmakers towards the Support of the Front for National Salvation, and this support is overly stated in its declaratory manifesto. However, in February, when the FSN announced its intention to run for the spring elections, which it would go on to win in a landslide, the Committee disassociates itself from any kinds of electoral intentions that might have been inferred from its initial standing.

The Foundation of Visual Arts

Whose website features copies of the first two issues, along with a montage of recordings shot by Cătălin Vago during the Filmmakers’ strike.

The Filmmakers’ Strike

In January, works were well underway on the new Law on Cinematography. According to Mircea Daneliuc (nos. 4-5, p. 5), on the 20th of January an agreement is reached between the filmmakers and Andrei Pleșu, then Minister of Culture, and Petre Roman – cinema, through the Romanian Film Center and the Filmmakers’ Union, would be independent of the ministry, because the initial proposals had been much too similar to the old dynamics between the industry and the Council of Culture and Socialist Education. More so, the filmmakers accused the Pleșu-led institution of only changing its name, leaving the same functionaries on the inside. It was already February, and the law was still not published in the Official Bulletin. Instead, the Ministry of Culture had been granted a functioning agreement by Petre Roman, whereby it was stated that the Ministry would be granted the “Archival and Distribution offices, meaning the budgetary funds, while the Film Studios of the Filmmakers Union would receive «freedom». They were thus free to beg for a budget and for indications.”

Upon finding out the news, the Provisional Committee made an announcement at the National Television on the 13th of February, stating its intention to start a hunger strike on the following day. A part of the events which followed this decision can be seen in Cătălin Vago’s recordings. Along with street protests in Victory Square, 50 filmmakers enter a hunger strike. The protest sets out to move in front of the Intercontinental hotel, but, on the way, Sergiu Nicolaescu and Dan Pița intercept the convoy. Nicolaescu claims to have solved things and has the law all written down. They meet each other at the Intercontinental. The filmmakers refuse to go along with Nicolaescu (for example, Nicolae Giraldi recounts the following to Cristina Neagu: “(…) this claim had already been made before, and then retracted, so we refuse to leave before we see all of the papers signed.” – no. 4-5, p. 4). During the evening, the protesters move in front of the Romanian Athenaeum, where they find out that Sergiu Celibidache is conducting a concert where several authorities are in attendance; Pleșu passes by the crowd, Iliescu takes the back exit. A new day of striking begins. The Romanian delegation at the Berlinale takes up solidarity with their colleagues at home, starting a petition that was signed by several international filmmakers. The day goes by, and Dan Pița arrives in the night to announce that the decree has been signed. The next morning, Nicolaescu presents the last page of the document to the protesters. They ask, in turn, for all of its pages. At last, the full document arrives in the hands of the Committee. They ask for modifications. Only on the 17th of February, after three days spent in their hunger strike, do the filmmakers put an end to their protest.

Speaking of Film, the images from the protest itself are quite spectacular. The magazine, as an object itself, becomes a placard for the strikers.

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Greva cineaștilor (imagine – Cătălin Vago)

IATC

The students were one step ahead of the seniors. Ever since January, the youth were engaging in combing out the teaching staff – this teacher stays, that one leaves. The state of the film school was not a novel topic; starting with its declaratory manifesto, the Provisional Committee was taking its reform upon itself. Sorin Ilieșiu conducted a series of interviews with the protesters, and Marius-Dumitru Șopterean, by then a senior student, took it upon himself to clarify the demands of the IATC students in a declaratory essay (no. 2-3, p. 5). Mihai Șora, who was the Minister of Education at the time, was made aware of the essay. Everything came to an end in March when a part of the old faculty was removed (amongst them – Mircea Drăgan, Mircea Mureșan, Cornel Diaconu, Geo Saizescu, and Pantelie Țuțuleasa) and replaced with new members, most of whom are filmmakers that are still associated with the legacy of IATC, which was then renamed the ATF, and then UNATC over the next 30 years: Victor Rebengiuc, Stere Gulea, Elisabeta Bostan, Florin Zamfirescu, Sorin Ilieșiu, Manuela Cernat, Laurențiu Damian, Copel Moscu and so on.

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Greva IATC

Mircea Daneliuc

Almost two months before becoming a leader of the Filmmakers’ strike, the tempestuous Daneliuc announced his resignation from the Provisional Committee of Filmmakers, in response to accusations of “radicalism”.

Sergiu Nicolaescu

The eternal prince came quickly under the fire of the Committee. On the first page of the debut issue, one can also find an injunction addressed to the FSN – asking for the criteria which led to Nicolaescu and Adrian Sîrbu being co-opted in the Front. As I said, Nicolaescu’s first encounter with the strikers, on the 14th of February, is featured in Cătălin Voga’s recordings for FAV. This all took place after the FSN announced its intention to run for office (a moment in which individuals such as Pleșu, Gabriel Liiceanu, Ion Caramitru, and others left the party), a fact which prompts one of the filmmakers to ask Nicolaescu if he had betrayed the Revolution and decided to go forwards with the FSN. “The Front? But I’m not a member of the Front. Why would I be there? Why are you starting with doubts?”.

Slogans

More precisely, one that had a playful sixty-eight-ist spirit to it, which was oftentimes cited in Mariana Constantinescu’s testimonial (no. 2-3, p.2) – “We want the Future”.

Želimir Žilnik

How else could I manage to pull out a Z? The Yugoslav filmmaker arrived in the country during the full Christmas season, along with a team of colleagues, in order to shoot a material that was produced by the Novi Sad television station (which tele-pirates from Arad and Timișoara knew all too well). 

*

The transition has begun.



Călin Boto Călin Boto
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. At Films in Frame, he writes "Footnotes" - a monthly editorial published on a Thursday.