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Slovenian Cinema retrospective at the Lincoln Center

Slovenian Cinema and the weeklong retrospective, At the Crossroads: Slovenian Cinema – where more than a dozen classic and contemporary films that chart one of Europe’s most surprising and distinctive national cinemas will be presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in collaboration with the Slovenian Film Fund at the Walter Reade Theater July 16-22, 2008.

On hand to introduce screenings throughout the series – and available for interviews – are Slovenian director Marko Nabersnik, whose film Rooster’s Breakfast, was an enormous commercial success last year as well as the recipient of national awards for best director, actor and screenplay. Also on hand will be author, film writer, and Slovenian scholar Joseph Valencic. Valencic, based in Cleveland, home to the largest contingent of Slovenia-Americans, has produced documentaries on the history and culture of Slovenia and Slovenian-American immigrants. He has also worked on productions with leading Slovenian film directors. Both speak fluent English! I can also arrange phoners with many of the Slovenia filmmakers. And, of course, Richard Peña, Program Director of the Film Society is available as well.

Slovenia is a country in southern Central Europe bordering Italy to the west, the Adriatic Sea to the southwest, Croatia to the south and east, Hungary to the northeast, and Austria to the north. At various points in Slovenia's history, the country has been part of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Republic of Venice, the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy, the Austrian Empire (later known as Austria-Hungary), the State of Slovenias, Croats and Serbs, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenias between the two World Wars, and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1945 until gaining independence in 1991. Yet through it all, the Slovenian people have retained their cultural identity and this series gives a strong representation of that identity.

However, it was not just with independence in 1991 that Slovenian film was born. Slovenia Cinema has a history over 100 years long. Film first appeared in the capital Ljubljana as early as 1896. Karel Grossmann is recognized as making the first true Slovenian Film in 1904. Since Grossmann’s early foray into filmmaking, there have been over 150 Slovenia feature films, plus a few hundred documentaries and short films. Slovenian Cinema is currently producing between four and six to eight feature films each year. (Another interesting Slovenian film fact is the Ljubljana Gay and Lesbian Film Festival which has run since 1984 is the oldest gay and lesbian film festival in Europe).

In the context of a divided 20th-century Europe, Slovenian film aesthetics clearly reflect the country's borderline characteristics. Whilst the influence of social realism was present in Slovenian film from an early stage, film aesthetics in Slovenia have oscillated over the years between entertainment and politics, art and industry, aesthetics and ideology.

Triglav Films, Slovenia’s first major film studio, founded in 1947, thrived during the period of the socialist republic and within a few years was producing both popular domestic comedies such as Vesna and international hits including Valley of Peace, for which African-American John Kitzmiller received the Best Actor prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival (becoming the first person of African descent to pick up a major festival prize). Many of the new currents in ‘60s European cinema arrived early in Slovenia, and works such as Dance in the Rain and Paper Planes helped introduce a modernist sensibility into Yugoslav cinema. Following independence, many feared that an audience as small as Slovenia’s could not sustain a national cinema. Despite rough years, critical and commercial successes including Spare Parts, (from Damjan Kozole, the most prolific and traveled contemporary Slovenian director), Outsider, Sweet Dreams and Nabersnik’s Rooster’s Breakfast have shown the viability of the country’s filmmaking.

Slovenian films have also become an increasingly familiar presence at international film festivals. As a result, at a time in which most discussions of international cinema focus on the negative impact of globalization, Slovenia has become an uplifting and inspiring success story for the cinemas of other small nations.

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