SVIBOR - The Society of Serbian Knightly Fighting pays Kustendorf a visit.

The Küstendorf International Film and Music Festival takes place every January in the fairy tale town of Drvengrad, up high on a Serbian mountain, presided over by the charismatic, visionary Emir Kusturica.

A fixture on our Coolest Film Festivals in the World list, we have a blast every time we attend the funky, strange fest. This year, Greg Hamilton is blogging his adventures daily from Serbia over Küstendorf’s run, January 21-26.

I made the wise decision to take a breather from The Damned Yard revels last night. One can only soak up so many lost hours before the cortex collapses.

As my reward, I woke up with the sun shining through flakes of snow. A fresh coat of the cold stuff had blanketed Küstendorf the night before and was continuing into the new day. This morning found me at the indoor pool and spa adjoining the main building. Not a soul in sight except for the staff that was cleaning up from the previous night. The cold comfort of the still pool was another highlight of this trip. Backstroking away, I watched winter descend though the roomy windows of the spa – only the sound of moving water could be heard.

I was reminded of Konchalovsky’s deep appreciation for silent and reflective moments.


The great artificial moon over Küstendorf.

Another reason for getting to bed at a decent time was the prospect of seeing Emir Kusterica’s film, Arizona Dream, on the big screen at 11 a.m. The idea of watching Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway, Jerry Lewis, Lilli Taylor and Vincent Gallo in a Kusterica creation, cira 1993, is mind-blowing on its own. The film and details around the production are something else entirely. One of the great stories to come out of Arizona Dream was the connection it created between Emir Kusterica and producer Claudie Ossard (Amelie and City of Lost Children). Following the screening, Emir was joined by Ossard for a workshop, where the wild anecdotes rolled forth and the importance of the producer’s support for a director’s vision and process was most evident.

As the afternoon wore on, the remnants of jet lag continued to haunt me and I took another break to prepare for the last dose of student films and one last evening of merriment at The Damned Yard. Unfortunately, this meant missing Oscar-winning Nikita Mikhalkov’s new film, Sunstroke, and the master class that followed, which I no doubt will live to regret.

This final evening of the student filmmaking competition saw Küstendorf debuts from The Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic and Serbia, with two of the four creations standing out from the rest. Over the last four days we witnessed 17 different voices tell their individual stories. From Iceland to Egypt, the student filmmakers did an admirable job of presenting fresh, beautiful and challenging material. While some films succeeded more than others, they all had their merits and serve as a testament to the creative and technical brilliance that exists amongst today’s new visual authors.


Dinner with student filmmakers at the Visconti restaurant.

Director Isabel Lamberti (Flaming Red) expounded on the significance of bringing her film to Küstendorf: “When I got the email that I was selected, it was great. I think I smiled for five minutes straight. We’re all starting our careers, so coming here makes you feel like you really did something right.” Cinematographer Jakob Beurle (The Silence Behind the Sound), saw it was a unique opportunity: “It’s not often that a cinematographer can come to the festival, but here I was invited to join the director.” For Director Florian Pochlatko (Erdbeerland), it was a great chance to celebrate cinema with like-minded colleagues: “It’s a great experience. It’s completely crazy, but in a good way.”

The day wrapped with a rousing concert by Hajduks, a Romanian instrumental group that brought the audience to it’s feet over and over. Accordions, violins and a hammered dulcimer cranked out the Serbian groove with all the energy of a rock concert. Heads bobbed and the audience howled for more. I managed to muster the energy to join the mob at the front of the stage and danced with my new friends until my legs went numb.

“I think this is one of the most awesome festivals that exists,” exclaimed animator Jasmine Elsen (Half Babka) as she caught her breath after the show.


Accordians amuck with the Romanian group, Hajduks.

But it didn’t end there. As the crowd moved up the wooden steps to The Damned Yard for yet another late night of music, drinks and dancing—yours truly was in for a surprise. As with previous evenings, the energy spun from DJ Dunja Kusturica, as she crushed up music of all flavors. As the night wore on, the beats took a harder edge, and I found it necessary to ditch my glasses and throw my hair around. The international language of head banging found a kindred soul that night, and a six-foot Serbian princess joined me in my hair blizzard moment. The crowds parted and the music shifted to something more traditionally danceable. One thing led to another, and I was tangoing with this beautiful woman through a haze of cigarette smoke and beer-slick floors with my eyes wide open.

Pure cinema. MM