#IntoTheSpotlight: Interview with Andrei Tănăsescu about American Independent Film Festival

12 April, 2019

American Independent Film Festival is only at its third edition, but it has already grown a name through its special guests and acclaimed films. What are the highlights this year?

We’re extremely happy to open the festival with THE SISTERS BROTHERS, a western comedy that was filmed in Romania by the Palme d’Or winning French director Jacques Audiard who will be present at both screenings for the Q&A.

Our other guest of honor is Roberto Minervini, who will screen his last two films and present a carte-blanche comprised of unmissable cinematic treasures.

We’ll also hold Q&A’s via Skype with none other than the legendary Paul Schrader for his latest FIRST REFORMED and with our guest from last year, Kent Jones, whose feature debut DIANE won Best Film, Screenplay and Cinematography awards at Tribeca.

I would also highlight our Sunday, April 14th, skateboarding double-bill of SKATE KITCHEN and MID90s, that will also host a discussion on urban culture with members of Bucharest’s skateboarding community, Cristian Benescu, and Andrei Gongu, alongside anthropologist Andrei Mihail.

Other ‘not to be missed’ titles would be the audio-visual triptych comprised of Rick Alverson’s Edward Hopper-meets-David Lynch THE MOUNTAIN (starring Tye Sheridan, Jeff Goldblum, Denis Lavant and Udo Kier (!)), Panos Cosmatos’ MANDY and Brady Courbet’s VOX LUX (starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law), as well as David Mitchell’s mind-bending UNDER THE SILVER LAKE.

Do you have a favorite film this year that you want everyone else to see?

My coup-de-coeur this year is Panos Cosmatos’ MANDY – a fantasy-horror on the surface, that deep down is a subtle, pictorial depiction of the cosmic connection between two people in love.

I encourage everyone to give themselves over to the sensorial force of its psychedelic stream-of-consciousness. What better way to close a festival?

The special guest of this edition is director Roberto Minervini, with whom you also organize a masterclass on April 16th. Why are masterclasses and related events important in a film festival and what future plans do you have in this regard?

Roberto Minervini is one of the most important directors working in America yet whose cinema is not as well known in Romania (we’re hoping to change that). His films flutter with poetic lyricism on the border of documentary and fiction, contouring empathic portraits of the American South and bringing us closer to, and understanding a marginal part of American society that is often ignored or stereotyped by the media.

What is particular to his cinema is Minervini’s process, his dedication to his characters and immersion within their lives, the access he receives that is then imparted to us, the viewers. Such details are essential to further understanding his films and the artistic-humanist drive behind them.

A masterclass is a perfect environment for these details to unravel and for audiences to further connect with the films – an opportunity rarely afforded by Q&A sessions.

Moreover, offering a carte-blanche to our guests of honor (a tradition we started last year with Kent Jones) allows the festival to showcase a different curatorial perspective on American films and bring diversity to our selection. Case in point, Minervini’s choice of Barbara Loden’s WANDA and the jazz-poem documentary TCHOUPITOULAS of the Ross brothers.

We plan on making the guest retrospective + carte blanche a recurring component of our festival and invite our audiences to take the plunge.

How did the American Independent Film Festival come to life and what was the impulse for organizing such a festival?

AIFF started 3 years ago out of a need to fill a gap in the local festival and theatrical distribution market.

It might seem odd to hold a festival of films from the country with the largest cinematic cultural dominance in the world, but if one takes a closer look at the reality of American indie distribution in Romania the picture becomes clearer.


It’s often the case that while there are plenty of national film festivals showcasing the varied cinema of the respective country, American representation in the theatres is only found in the blockbusters that dominate the box-office.

More and more smaller-budget and art-house American films are being left out of the local distribution network. In general, I think there’s a misconception that American cinema is this monolithic self-sustaining industry that doesn’t need the distribution other national cinemas to do, when in fact indie films stand in the shadow of big-budget blockbusters

*of course, there are different motivating factors behind the distribution companies’ choice of European films (funding support from MEDIA, etc.)

In short, there is an entire spectrum of independent or “hard-to-distribute”, and yet culturally relevant films, dealing with urgent socio-political topics, that we thought necessary to bring to the big screen.

How do you feel AIFF has evolved since the first edition until now?

It’s too early to make any hard claims of ‚progress’ especially as it’s only my second year as a programmer for the festival. I would say that the entire team is more in tune with each other’s cinematic sensibilities which makes for an organic process of programming the festival. Implicitly, our awareness of urgent and important themes in American films (not to mention topical issues of American society) has led to a more cohesive program.

What were the challenges you encountered while organizing the festival since it was born and until its third edition?

The biggest difficulty remains the (in)ability to secure rights for films.

This is either because of prohibitively high screening fees or simply the film being unavailable for our ‘territory’. This last point has further ramifications, for we either have to wait a year for the film to be available (thus risk its dissemination on torrents in the meantime), or we’re simply blocked from having the film by VOD rights.

It happened with one film that we tried two years in a row to program, each time getting closer to sealing the deal but getting shut out in the end (in spite of the director being on our side). The frustration in this particular case is that we had an entire event planned behind it, ready to shine a bright spotlight on a relatively unknown film that would get huge audiences in Bucharest.

All in all, these challenges only make us more determined to get every opportunity to bring the films we believe into Bucharest’s cinemas each edition.

What does the festival aim to achieve in the long run?

We aim to keep up our strong selection and hope to bring more guests and offer cinematic treasures for our audiences to discover. I think one of the most rewarding things is sharing with the public works of cinema that challenge and inspire and as long as we keep this tradition going, AIFF will have a bright future ahead.

If you were to choose a memorable quote from a film that would also describe the festival, what would it be?

There’s a scene in Roger Corman’s THE INTRUDER where a small-town journalist and his wife share their thoughts and feelings on integration, while a cross-burning is happening outside their house. He reveals that up until a local agitator stirred up racial tensions, he was against integration in schools, yet something changed. Something about the blind hatred and violence of his fellow citizens pulled the racist veil off his eyes. He concludes by underlining the agitator’s only quality worth recognizing: he’s „made us face ourselves.”

It’s a line that, although delivered in 1962, sadly finds itself spoken once more half a century later by an entire country (and echoed all over the world). It’s the type of wake-up call that time won’t allow us anymore to keep pressing the snooze button on – and that we hope Roberto Minervini’s films and carte-blanche will have for our audience.


Romina Banu Romina Banu
Photographer and editor; she co-founded Dissolved Magazine together with Melissa. For Films in Frame she gathers film and TV series recommendations for lazy weekends and she writes about interesting projects from the film industry. Other than that, she likes traveling, chilling with her cats and sleeping.