“Bound by Film” was the slogan of the 2018 Küstendorf International Film and Music Festival (January 16-21, 2018). We are all bound by our passions, by love, by finding meaning in the world—and in this particular context, by the universal language of cinema. Emir Kusturica, founder of the Serbia-based event, proudly calls it the “no billboard” festival. One whiffs a refreshing air of authenticity the minute one arrives in KIFMF’s idyllic headquarters of Drvengrad, a traditional town in the Mokra Gora region—whose name means “wooden village”—that was originally built for Kusturica’s film Life Is a Miracle. 

There are parties, but they’re not sponsored by Internet or alcohol companies. People come here to KIF not to be seen, or with the hope of brushing up against a famous actor or director, but simply to participate. The festival, Kusturica says, is his way of “giving back to the up-and-coming moviemaker.” He stresses the importance of young moviemakers having access to a space that truly cares about their passion. Accordingly, KIFMF’s Student Competition, which screened a selection of excellent shorts, encapsulates its torch-passing spirit of film education and mentorship. 

KIFMF kicked off with a beautiful dance performance by Sanja Radulović and dancer Dusan Muric. Accompanied by Kusturica’s band, The No Smoking Orchestra, and world-renowned guitarist Gary Lucas, the remaining frames of the lost 1918 silent film Bound by Film gave audiences at the packed Damned Yard Theatre a first taste of the theme of KIFMF’s 11th edition—the act of turning reality into fiction. 

During a tribute to Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino and a screening of Ruben Östlund’s The Square, both moviemakers were in attendance, and expressed how inspiring it was to be surrounded by Küstendorf ’s enchanting film and music community. Festival-goers came prepared to immerse themselves in film from all over the world, make new friends, and dance the night away. Whether you’re wandering cobblestone streets named after Federico Fellini or Bruce Lee, or taking in the crisp air of the Balkan Mountains, Küstendorf offered a wealth of opportunities to quietly engage with the surrounding environment in between its carefully curated screenings. 

There’s something to be said for visiting a place where you wish you could personally say goodbye to everyone you’ve met when it’s finally time to leave. Like an indelible film whose imagery is forever seared in your mind, pieces of Küstendorf are destined to remain with those who visit. MM

Küstendorf International Film and Music Festival 2018 ran from January 16-21, 2018. For more information, visit their website here. Featured image photograph courtesy of Küstendorf International Film and Music Festival.

This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Spring 2018 issue.