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Astra Film Festival

Astra Film Festival 2008 - Films

  • Balkan Champion

    The 1990s were troubled years in Romania's recent history, a period of confusion and anxiety. The status quo of the communist regime was gone. Before, Ceausescu had been everybody's enemy, and this situation had created a certain solidarity between people. It was rather easy to distinguish between friends and enemies. With the dictator's physical disappearance, people felt free to express all their frustrations. And most often they did it in a violent way. The background was favourable for conflicts of all sorts, including ethnic conflicts. The film reveals this period through first-hand experience. The main character is the author's father, and his involvement in the events that followed the Revolution has provoked crucial changes in the life of his family. As a distinguished member of the Hungarian ethnic minority, he firmly expressed his position against the communist Secret Service (Securitate). In early 1990, it was an act of political suicide, and even put his life in danger. After sixteen years and after running for Parliament for five times, this champion of correctitude and intransigence does not find his place in the new system. ...

  • Bar de zi and Other Stories

    Regular people living in a regular neighbourhood. Through a series of portraits, the film traces the daily history of the Downhill City of Sibiu. Without spectacular plots and without romantic-like subjects, just samples of regular life. Thriving or failing people, who live with or without regrets... A puzzle that shapes up a specific world. ...

  • Cabal In Kabul

    Dan Alexe's film captures in an unconventional manner, life in Afghanistan after the Talibans. A freelancer journalist, the author lived in Kabul for a long period of time, and learned the Persian language. Among many other stories he heard in all these years, one of them was about the last two jews living in Kabul. The two hate each other, and consequently divided the synagogue betwen the two of them. Isaac Levy sells amulets and casts spells on soldiers and on barren women. Zabulon Simantov produces alcoholic drinks for the black market, and sells the product to Isaac's customers. The two last jews live in constant conflict. The author creates an intimate film, full of humor and humanity. ...

  • Calcutta Calling

    Business Process Outsourcing is the fastest growing industry in the world. In India, over 350,000 people are currently working in call centers. Vikeeh Uppal, or "Ethan Reed," is one of them. He works in a busy calling center selling cell phones and fire extinguishers to customers in America and Great Britain, although he has never been out of Calcutta, Vikhee, alias Ethan, works hard to be a top seller. He gets tutoring in English language, learns pronunciation from commercials and movies, and watches English soccer games to get a better understanding of the people he calls every day. In the meantime, he is determined to keep to Indian values and customs, although he is intensly exposed to Western culture and consumerism. ...

  • Chimney - Sweep

    They know all the buildings in the city by their roofs. They can find their way to the chimney doors hidden in the attics. On the street, they cannot pass unnoticed, as people turn their heads to look at the top hats they wear as a sign of their trade. Chimney sweeps are proud of their work. It is a risky activity which requires fearlessness of heights, and which demands skills that very few possess. This film follows the daily routine of the chimney sweeps, as well as the superstitions related to their image as luck-bringers. Although they might seem out of time, there still is plenty of need for their profession. ...

  • First Contact

    In the early 30s the last remaining large populations in the world came into contact with Western civilization. First Contact tells the story of the 'discovery' of the New Guinea highlands by Australian gold prospectors, and in particularly Michael Leahy and his brothers.The first part of the film First Contact provides the backround to the story. They include a brief description to the highlands and the highlanders, a very brief history of the European presence in Papua New Guinea and an account of Leahy's early life. The fil is about the events of 1933, when Leahy led a series of prospecting expedition into the highlands and initiated the first contacts between highlanders and Europeans. The account is based on his diaries and later writings and on interviews with people still alive who witnessed the events-highlanders, white Australians, and their carriers from costal group. The last part of the film describes the forces that would irrevocably alter highland culture. ...

  • Gratian

    The people in Izbuc, a village in the Romanian Carpathian mountains, think tahat their fellow villager Gratian Florea is a werewolf. According to amn old custom, whwn a child is born, the midwifes call upon the spirits, to make the chilf hard working, beautiful, loveable or wise. it is said that whwn Gratian was born, the ombilical cors broke only after the midwifw called for the werewolf. This crucial moment was to influence his whole life. His family and rhe whole village rejected him. at 73, Gratian lives in a shack outside the village, without water and heating. Every Saturday Gratian goes into the village to beg fot the food he needs for the following week. The saying goes that those who refused to give him something will have their sheep eaten by wolves after a few days. In his solitude, Gratian works with astronomical numbers. He says that his thoughts about belief, moral values, and eternal life will help him discover infinity. Hes sees himself as a traveler into the universe, who at a certain time will surprass the wordly exsitence and the essence of his soul will become equal to God. ...

  • Holy Men and Fools

    The story of two Hindu sadhus, Uma and Vasisth Giri, one of Swedish woman, the other a 29 year old Indian. Together they go on a pilgrimage of self-discovery into the high Himalayas to the source of the River Ganges, searching out the saints and mystics of Hinduism. They meet a sadhu who has nit spoken a word for 12 years. They spend days living in the caves and huts of reclusive ascetics. After 27 years searching Uma finally discovers the spiritual master she has always been searching for. ...

  • Howrah Howrah

    An excellent observational documentary film shot in Howrah, the central station of Calcutta, one of the largest in Asia. More than an important hub for the transportation of cargo and people, the station is a world in itself. In a ceaseless chaotic movement directed by the megaphoned announcements, people come and go, drag their luggage, and crowd into trains. For others, the station is their home, where they attend a makeshift school and get health care from a mobile medical team. A vagrant dies and his body lies unnoticed on a platform. Out of the colorful tide, the film picks out meaningful details of daily routine and extreme contrasts, from which a condensed representation of the Indian metropolis emerges. ...

  • Letter to the Dead

    The approach of the year 2000 caused a whirlwind of concern in a small village in Papua New Guinea. Rumors about a possible computer catastrophe had reached this remote island, and even there the people worried about the security of their money made from selling palm oil that they keep in bank accounts. Moreover, there is a religious dispute going on, as representatives of several Christian missions try to attract the villagers to their church. While quarreling about the pros and cons, they pay less attention to the rituals that honor the dead. According to traditional belief, the dead help their living relatives, who in their turn must celebrate them by holding special ceremonies. As not much help has come from the dead ancestors lately, people tend to believe that they moved away because they felt neglected. Maybe they moved to a rich country, possibly the one from whence the filmmakers came, or perhaps they left for fear that the white people would put them to work. In exploring the reactions of the villagers caught between tradition and modernity, the film addresses the current issue of identity vs. globalization. ...

  • On The Road

    Every autumn, shepards from Transylavania set off with their flocks in search of green grass. They follow an ancient route wich takes them hundreds of miles away from home. During his journey, the master of the flock is murdered in a forest. His youngest son mist take over one thousand sheep, five donkeys, seven dogs and four hired sheperds. sleeping in the open, marching through villages and fields, fighiting bad wheater and truck drivers'prejudice, he learns to be a master. ...

  • One Voice, one Vote

    Documentary or animation? Apparently, we are dealing with two completely different genres. We can ultimately accept a "docu-fiction" genre, but how should it be possible to mix documentary and animation and still obtain an organic final product? Well, the filmmakers have found an original method to propose us an "animated documentary"! ...

  • Our Street

    "Our Stret" is in Poland, in the city Lodz, which is far from what it used to be during the communist regime. It is a place where Old Europe meets New Europe. Right under the windows of the apartment inhabited by a Polish family of workers, who have lived there for five generations, a French investor built the Manufaktura, the largest shopping and entertainment centre in Central Europe. The centre has been built on the ruins of an industrial site, where all the members of the Furmanczyk family used to work in the times when Lodz was considered „the promised land", one of the most prosperous European cities. The film documents the life of the Furmanczyks for three years, covering the period of Poland's adhering to the EU and the opening of the centre. There is every-day struggle and few moments of happiness in a world of confusing economic changes. ...

  • Pretty Dyana

    The story is about Kosovo refugees. They live in improvised shelters in a Belgrade suburb. They are Gypsies. At this point, we all expect to see the tragedy of these people’s miserable lives. Instead, we are drawn into a bizarre setting, where we soon learn that spare parts of old Citroen cars can be used for virtually anything. They are shown building vehicles with a SF appearance, even using the car battery as a private power plant. It is not an eccentric hobby, it is a way to survive. The film follows them throughout Belgrade in search of abandoned 2 CV and Dyana Citroens. We see them negotiating with owners of wrecked cars. We also find them interacting with police, who are not exactly fans of their recycled vehicles. The filmmaker introduces his characters with humor and empathy, revealing their ingenuity and adaptive skills. ...

  • Singing Pictures: Women Painters of Naya

    For generations, Patua (Chitrakar) communities of West Bengal, India have been painters and singers of stories depicted in scrolls. Scrolls cover a variety of themes: mythological and religious, social and especially women's issues, contemporary local and world news. The more recent themes are communal (Hindu Muslim) harmony, Joy Bangla (the birth of Bangladesh as a country), the battle of Kargil (Kashmir conflicts) and the 9/11 events in New York. In the past singers used to wander from village to village, receiving rice, vegetables and coins for their recital. They would unroll a scroll, a frame at a time, and sing their own compositions. But competition from other media eroded this way of life and now the Patuas are trying to adapt to changing conditions. In response of this cultural crisis and as a means to make extra money, recently a group of women from Naya village near Calcutta form a scroll painters' collaborative. The film follows their daily lives as they paint, sing, cook, tend to their children and meet with the cooperative. ...

  • The Angelmakers

    Nagyrev seems to be just another forgotten place in rural Hungary. But if you take a closer look at the history of the village, you come across the ghosts of the past. In the 1920s, after a series of mysterious sudden deaths among the men in the village, an investigation of the authorities revealed they had been poisoned with arsenic. The modus operandi was quite simple, the "murder weapon" was ordinary flypaper, and the killers were their own wives. After many years of silence, the characters talk to the camera about the tormenting past events in the village life as well as about their present expectations and the actions they take to escape a boring routine. Their stories reveal how common gender confrontations can sometimes lead to extreme behaviour. ...

  • The Belovs

    A dusty country road, much vodka, or tea, Russian steam baths, cattle, dogs running about. The filmmaker takes us into the life of the Belov family. Anna Feodorovna is twice a widow, still regrets not having married her first love. Her brother, Mikhail, spends his days drinking, cursing his sister, and presenting his philosophical and political solutions to the world’s misery. There are also two more brothers, who, from time to time, come to visit Anna and Mikhail. “You shouldn’t film us.” says one of the Belovs. “We’re common people, living where the river begins.” Yet, Kossakovski did film them. He tells, in his unique style, a touching and sincere story about the life, joys and sorrows of a peasant family living in a Russian province. The Belovs is considered to be one of the masterpieces of post soviet Russian documentary cinema. It was produced by the St. Petersburg Documentary Film Studio, and Kossakowski regards himself as a disciple of the famous generation of St. Petersburg documentarists of the 1960s. This film has been shown in the most prestigeous film festivals all over the world, and it is a must see film in the curricula of most film academies in Europe. ...

  • The Curse Of The Hedgehog

    The film follows the life of an extended Roma family for a whrole year. They belong to the "Baiesi "group of Roma, who live in extreme poverty. The filmmaker accompanied them on the way from their dwelling place in the mountain to the lowland villages, where they try to trade handmade goods for food or money. These winter tours are survival trips for them, as they have no other income whatsoever. However, the film is more than the story of their struggle to survive. During the 100 minutes, we come to understand why they refuse to work the land, and how they relate to the Romania shepherds, and to the rich Baesi from their village they call "businessmen", who make large fortunes from selling fake rings abroad. We discover how mythological thinking is activated in their everyday life, along with their Christian Orthodox religiousness. By watching this film, we achieve a better understanding of the absurdities and the pain that fill the lives of these people living on the edge of society, and we come to admire the wit, and the humour, which help them to come through. ...

  • The Day I Will Never Forget

    The film explores the practice of female circumcision within different Kenyan and Somali communities. The practice is part of female initiation ceremonies and varies from relatively minor surgery to the complete removal of the clitoris, and the sewing up of the vagina. To Western culture this is mutilation. For the locals, it is an ancient tradition that should by no means be abandoned. The world, however, is changing and new generations begin to question tradition and rebel against circumcision. Meanwhile, the older women in the community praise circumcision as a way to purity and health. A female doctor attempts to achieve a compromise and open people's minds to accepting safer and less painful medical procedures. The film follows the stories of young girls who are caught between loyalty to their parents, the desire to rebel against old customs, and the fear that in doing so they will be rejected by their community. An extreme situation is that of a young girl who takes her own parents to court to stop them from having her circumcised. This event has historic implications for the entire cultural group. The confrontation between tradition and change is not yet over. ...

  • The Fat to Bed, the Slim to the Ball

    A fat woman's life in a highly intolerant society is not a bed of roses. Indeed, a young fat woman will more likely end up in bed with a man rather than at a fancy restaurant. Yet, overweight women strive to find happiness, constantly struggling with obstacles they encounter almost every day. The film was inspired by a website, www.XL-pozytywnie.pl, aimed at raising public awareness on the issue of the increasing number of overweight persons in Poland. The site offers advise on various subjects such as fashion, sports, mental health, and sex. The author of the website, Marta, has fought her own personal battle. The film offers an intimate insight of the difficulties she experienced as a teenager, and of her fight to acquire self-confidence ...

  • The Great Communist Bank Robery

    In 1959 there was robbery at the Romanian National Bank in Bucharest. The robbers were six formerly high-ranked members of the communist party. They were arrested and then forced to play themselves in a propaganda film meant to reconstruct the crime and the investigations that followed it. At the end of the trial (also filmed), the defendants were sentenced to death and executed. Three weeks later, the film "Reconstruction" was released. The author of this documentary carefully researched this incredible story and found terrible testimonies related to the events that happened more than forty years ago. ...

  • The Land is Waiting

    The film explores the life of an extremely poor family, living in a village in northeast Romania. The parents have made incredible efforts to send all ten of their children to school. Five of them have even made it to the university in the city. The film focuses on Mihai, one of their sons. After less than one year of study, Mihai had to give up Theological School. He chose to return to the village and help his family work the tiny plot of land they own. We follow him as he copes with the hardships of everyday rural life. Because he plans to return to the university next year, he uses every spare moment to study for his exams. He talks about his short experience in the city, and about the marginalization of the students of rural origin. Daily routine is interrupted by the occasional conflicts with his overworked mother. However, there are also the little joys of the household, such as when a calf is born or the goslings hatch. The filmmaker maintains an objective yet intimate approach, of the destiny of a young man who is caught between two worlds. ...

  • The Last Peasants: Part 3 - A Good Wife

    Angus Macqueen's three-part series follows the human stories of three Romanian families torn apart by the realities of migration. The remote village of Budesti in Northern Romania is a world of of the past, filled with horses and carts, and medieval beliefs. But the young villagers see no romance in their existence. Their eyes are turned to the modern world of the West. In Budesti, every family has an illegal immigrant abroad. After exploring in Journeys the realities facing the immigrants, Temptation observes the clash of cultures, and the expectations of different generations in rural Romania. Finally, A Good Wife focuses on the impact of migration on the local community. Observational, up-close, and touching, the film looks at the changes imposed on the local community by the collapse of Communism and the new relationship with Western Europe. At the same time, The Last Peasants depicts the agony of the peasant culture that has survived two World Wars and half a century of communism, but is threatened with extinction after just a decade of democracy. ...

  • The Last Yugoslavian Footbal Team

    The Film follows some of the football players of Yugoslavia's dream team of the 80s, exploring how political and ethnic conflicts can turn the sports arena into a battlefield for political and ethnic disputes. Once idolized as national heroes, they were cheered by fans all over the country. Since the 90s, the separation of the ex-Yugoslavian republics has divided them into different national teams. Now, the former team-mates and friends are pitted against each other, and the same crowd that a few years ago used to revere them, now boo the Croatians playing in Belgrade and jeer the Serbs playing in Zagreb. The camaraderie that once united them during their glory days has not survived. In spite of their desire to continue their old friendships, they cannot resist the competitive pressure put on them by a sport that celebrates individual, physical dominance over the spirit of the game. ...

  • Them and Me

    THEM and ME shows the hidden parts of anthropological fieldwork. How does an anthropologist gain the trust of the people whom he is observing? How does one become integrated into their society? Is it possible to remain distant and objective without inflicting one's own values on the community being observed? Through his lens, he provides the viewer with a glimpse into the lifestyle and behaviors of the aboriginal people he is studying, and further widens that angle of understanding through the use of interviews with community members and his running commentary, which describe his thoughts and reactions to what he witnesses. This film, through its use of community interviews combined with the filmmaker's oral journal, provides one anthropologist's unique and interesting approach to anthropological field work and filmmaking. ...

  • Today I Was Young and Pretty

    Most of the gypsy population of Clejani, a village located some 50 km away from Bucharest, traditionally consists of musicians going back for many generations. The film shows how musicians relate to daily life and the way their perception of reality influences their music. Firm belief in superstitions, the unavoidable blows of fate, communication with the dead, become the sources of inspiration and expression, of joy and sorrow. Alexandra Guleas unconventional documentary takes us on a musical journey to the origins of romanian gypsy music. ...

  • Viva Constanța!

    Tudor Lakatos is a school teacher. He is in his 40s, he's a Gypsy, and he wants to be famous. He also found a way to reach fame. He is an imitator of Elvis Presley. The lyrics of the great hits once played by the "king of rock-and-roll" have been translated into Romany, and Tudor Lakatos gets ready for the tour to Constanta. His Romany-Rock repertoire is the key to fame. ...