Reviews by Willard Manus
SEEFEST, the South East European Film Festival, has in recent years become one of Los Angeles' most audience-friendly annual movie events. Much smaller in size than its AFI and L.A. Film Fest counterparts, SEEFEST eschews all manifestations of Hollywood glitz and glamour. There are no gala events, media hoopla, red-carpet screenings or celebrity awards. SEEFEST concentrates on its mission--to present the finest new films from the Balkans (with an emphasis on issues of borders and human rights) in intimate venues which allow for close contact between audience and filmmakers.
This year's SEEFEST took place at the Goethe Institut and UCLA's James Bridges Theatre over a five-day period. Seventeen shorts and features were offered (plus a Kiosk Program of experimental films, and a business panel). Films from Croatia, Turkey, Italy, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Bulgaria (among other countries) were screened. There was only one American connection: Forgotten Voices, a 52-minute documentary by LA-based Jennifer Rawlings, who journeyed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2006 and, with no one to help her, used a single camera to interview women who had survived the horrific Bosnian War of the 1990s. Rawlings, who is also a stand-up comic(!), can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
A festival personal favorite was DIVORCE ALBANIAN STYLE, a documentary by the Bulgarian director Adela Peeva, whose previous film, Whose Song Is It Anyway?, zeroed in on the history of a folk song that just about every country in the Balkans claimed as its own. This time around, the courageous and gifted Peeva went to Albania and chronicled the saga of three couples who had suffered grievously under the communist regime of Enver Hodja. The dictator, "the last Stalinist in Europe," as he was known, decided arbitrarily that all foreigners married to Albanians were enemies of the state, spies who needed to be punished. Not only were the wives arrested but their husbands as well. After trumped-up, mock trials these completely innocent people were sent to concentration camps from which only a few survived.
Peeva not only interviewed some of the survivors (and/or their children) but trained her camera on two of the men who were complicit in Hodja's evil policy--a former high-up in the Albanian secret police and a state prosecutor (who, she reveals, was an ex-carpenter without a law degree). Both men smugly and chillingly defend their past actions, expressing nary a single regret, showing not a hint of humanity. In fact, one of them--living on a comfortable state pension, by the way--angrily threatens Peeva with retaliation when she confronts him with documents that confirm his participation in the frame-up.