What’s now called the T-mobile New Horizons International Film Festival, one of the first Polish events dedicated to arthouse, experimental, ambitious cinema only, has become a widely recognized and valued brand over the thirteen years of its existence. It’s been gradually developing, moving, redefining itself —both artistically as well as size-wise—to become the second biggest Eastern-European Festival in its category, with only Karlovy Vary International Film Festival ahead. The importance and magnitude of this event can be best described by one simple fact: There is an adjective coined from its name. Among cinema buffs, the Polish word “nowohoryzontowy” (“of New Horizons”) clearly states that the project the viewer’s about to approach is innovative, open-minded, unusual, experimental and challenging, like the films the festival’s organizers have been bringing to Poland from all around the world for years.
The festival’s website provides more essential info on its expansiveness: It features four competitive sections, organizes art shows throughout the city and live music concerts every evening. New Horizons does care a lot about professionals, offering them various workshops and panels that aim at raising the level of participants’ skills, and helping them positively influence and integrate international film scenes. It focuses on teaching them how to collaborate to preserve unique characters and heritages. Maybe more importantly, the festival has managed to create a more sophisticated appetite among Polish filmgoers, challenging and educating them. In doing so it managed to create a new, conscious and aware generation of spectators. New Horizons had its vital input in the careers of directors like Michael Haneke, Carlos Reygadas, Ulrich Seidl, Theo Angelopoulos, Dardenne brothers, Lav Diaz, Bruno Dumont, Kim Ki-duk, Tsai Ming-liang or Bela Tarr (just to name a few) in Poland. But it invests equally much energy in presenting new works by masters of arthouse cinema as in introducing talented but fresh names and faces from all around the world.
New Horizons International Competition is one of the sections where their bold and provocative productions can compete, causing extreme emotions, evoking delight or rage. For example, this year Iranian Fat Shaker, deemed rotten, decadent and anti-Iranian by fundamentalists, meets a Filipino eros-thanatos encounter called Jungle Love. A French four-hour-long artistic project about lightning is competing with Cannes Queer Palm and Un Certain Regard- Directing Prize winner Stranger by the Lake, which talks about cruising, and Russia’s Aleksey Fedorchenko shows his Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari where vaginas speak in their own voices.
The New Horizons program is perfectly balanced. Journalists who have missed out on an opportunity to see big arthouse titles in Berlin or Cannes have a chance to catch up before they get local distribution. This year all this seasons’ festival favorites—from Kechiche’s Cannes winner Blue is the Warmest Color to Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Like Father, Like Son, Amat Escalante‘s Heli and the latest made-in-Poland international success Floating Skyscrapers—are here. Beside them, small-scale, brave and independent productions from Asia, the U.S., Africa, South America, Eastern Europe and retrospectives of Polish cinema’s enfant terrible, Walerian Borowczyk and Hans Jürgen Syberberg. With the proper guidance provided by the meticulously-put-together catalog and amazing festival staff even the occasional movie-goers are able to find their match. It’s hard to imagine a taste in cinema that could not be satisfied by this rich, multidimensional and diverse program. Unless it’s only a Man of Steel-style blockbuster that makes one happy. Although I bet that, with a little bit of determination, some explosions, battle scenes and flying could be found in this mix.
What to me is the most unique thing about the New Horizons, however, is its atmosphere: During New Horizons, Wroclaw’s city space comes alive. And guests are not separated from the viewers, thanks to numerous meetings and the general laid-back feeling. Last year, Carlos Reygadas preferred to stay away from the VIP section in the festival club (there’s one, comfortably situated near the river, in a majestic building of a former artillery arsenal). Sipping on his beer, he was approached by many viewers and always open to their questions. Most of the guests happily succumb to this mode—and therefore the festival gains not only happy and relaxed VIPs but also a platform, where ordinary cinema-lovers and most acclaimed artists build something together, where their inspirations, doubts, dreams and experiences can be freely exchanged and compared; it’s an inspired model.