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.

After a delirious 3am bedtime the previous night, I awoke at 9 a.m. to a knocking on my door.

Making myself decent—and expecting housekeeping—I cracked the wooden slab only to discover a small cluster of warmly dressed young boys with their twenty-something chaperone—all of whom appeared to be touring the grounds. I heard a collective intake of air.

One of the boys near the back piped up. “Are you….PINK FLOYD?”


Serbian blues phenom, Ana Popovic, performs with her band at the Noam Chomsky amphitheater.

As much I wanted to go the surreal route and start singing “How I Wish You Were Here,” I informed them that I was indeed way to young for such a distinction. Their bearded attendant followed up with “Are you famous director?” Again…the temptation to impersonate was suppressed. Not wanting to go away empty-handed, the man pressed, “Do you know where Emir Kusturica is?”

Finally, I decided go for it. While looking around at nothing in particular, I whispered, “Emir…is EVERYWHERE.” and closed the door.

Welcome to the latest absurdist moment in the fairy-tale land that is Küstendorf.

Day Three

I met up this morning with some of my new student filmmaker friends for a breakfast of eggs, smoked pork, figs and coffee. The open buffet here at the Visconti Restaurant is a mysterious ballet of regional delicacies. Some agree…others…you take your chances. Thankfully, there are plenty of delicious discoveries to be had.

On the heels of digestion, we pushed onward into the morning screening of Andrei Konchalovsky’s 1974 coming-of-age film A Lover’s Romance. While the 35mm print looked at times like it had been used as a tread on a Soviet tank, the brilliance of the director’s vision shown through. His mastery of love’s maze and fearless destruction of the fourth wall make this yet another must-see for those unfamiliar with his work.


Where the streets have directorial names.

Next up, a new offering from Kazakhstan…Adlikhan Yerzhanov’s The Owners. A late addition to the Cannes Special Screenings lineup, this darkly stylized drama is no picnic. It’s a slice of social commentary and surreality that is hard to watch, but effective in its explorations.

As the afternoon rolled on the pangs of exhaustion started to take their toll. Reporting at a film festival is an exercise in pacing yourself. At the start, I was all optimism and energy. I would see and hear everything.  But 72 hours later…and with only 16 hours of sleep, it’s a different story. Time for a quick rest and writing break before the student film competition….and my first missed screening.

During the short recess, I had the pleasure of meeting festival director Emir Kusturica. He has the presence of a looming bear with a wisdom and openness that makes you want to give him a big hug. I hope to speak with him more when he has time…which he probably won’t.

Another lesson you learn quickly at this fest….never show up with five minutes to spare. By the time I gathered myself and hustled to the student program, I was greeted with a sea of filled seats. Fortunately, a member of the Italian press with whom I had eaten lunch earlier had managed to secure a spot in back of the film judges which is usually off-limits for the press. He saw my plight and beckoned me over. I had a perfect view and was ready for the first round of competition.

Featuring entries from France, Romania, Slovakia and Croatia, the first round was a mix. Two of the films got my attention, but in the interest of keeping an open mind and not alienating anyone right away, I’m holding those cards to my vest. That said, it was wonderful to see the enthusiasm and support the audience gave to all the filmmakers in competition.


The regional food buffet at the Visconti Restaurant.

As with every evening this week, a special musical offering packed out the Noam Chomsky amphitheater at midnight. Tonight it was Serbian blues phenom Ana Popovic and her band. Born in Belgrade, Ana has since relocated to Memphis, Tennessee and has been lighting up the blues scene all over the world.  This evening was no different, as a standing-room only audience marveled at her guitar mastery. What a way to cap another day at Küstendorf.

Tomorrow….Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev begins at 10 a.m. MM

Stay tuned for more blog entries from the Küstendorf International Film and Music Festival. Visit the festival’s official website here.

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