Genre Film Festival (GEFF) 1963-1969: Missed Anniversary

written by Željko Luketić

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According to the information of the Croatian Audiovisual Centre, 54 film festivals will be held in Croatia in 2014. While in the early days of our country more festivals implied more opportunities to see a larger number of otherwise unavailable movies, if we take into account the number of citizens, purchasing power, alternative sources of movie projections and the local cultural policy, it is hard to notice and sometimes even understand the segmentation of the festival scene. The critics of domestic festivalisation, until recently a positive concept which made publishers and booksellers envious of movie and theatre workers, emphasize that the concept of big numbers is slightly approaching the connotations of mass tourism; maybe more is not necessarily better, maybe entertainment is not the only answer.


There were not many festivals in the former Yugoslavia fifty years ago. The anniversary of this small and short-term festival which was held every two years and has even been omitted from many superficial historical surveys, was in December last year. It should have been justly celebrated by a retrospective exhibition in Klovićevi Dvori Gallery, but the plan was cancelled due to financial reasons – the City of Zagreb abandoned the project in the middle of recession so the organizers decided to postpone the manifestation for one year, rather than do things halfway. It seems so GEFF-like to use the jargon of the experts of Yugoslav film modernism, with which the curator of the exhibition, Diana Nenadić from the Croatian Film Association also agrees. The last GEFF or the Genre Film Festival was held in 1970 although it was planned for 1969. However, nowadays the festival is considered to have been held from 1963 to 1969 so the 50th anniversary may be celebrated in December 2014, instead of 2013. It is mathematically confusing, but so GEFF-like since the GEFF held in 1970 was supposed to have taken place in 1969; film was anti-film, festival was not entertainment and the audience was not just watching the programme.


The GEFF was actually the product of the period when Zagreb was an urban and progressive centre and the Mecca of art. From our contemporary viewpoint, it seems as if it was a nostalgic illusion, but the facts prove otherwise. The New Tendencies movement, the Music Biennale Zagreb (MBZ) and the International Festival of Student Theatre and Multimedia (IFSK), were a visual, musical and conceptual inspiration to the team gathered around the GEFF, which started off as a meeting of film researchers in the organisation of Kinoklub Zagreb and on the initiative of Mihovil Pansini, an MD, an intellectual and an amateur film maker from Zagreb. In his words, the GEFF was not only a festival, but a state of mind, the meeting of the like-minded who decided to work together, which attracted movie enthusiasts, energetic amateurs and all those who were eager to discuss and, consequently, decided to break with the traditional categories of standard movie making and perception. The festival was also often called the festival of non-conventional film and was considered a rare example of experimental film in Europe. Later, the GEFF also featured what was regarded as the new film of the period.


Within 7 years 4 biennale GEFFs took place, with a clearly identified theme: Anti-film and New Tendencies in Cinema (1963), Research of Film and Research with Film (1965), Cybernetics and Aesthetics (1967) and Sexuality as a Possible Way to New Humanism (1970). The fifth festival, with the topic Unknown Human Energies and Unidentified Senses, planned for 1971, did not take place. Alongside being called unconventional and experimental, the film makers at the GEFF were often regarded as researchers: opposition to authorities was encouraged, as well as the free and democratic expression of opinions. The main ideologist and the author of the themes, Mihovil Pansini, used to disagree with the selectors of the festival and they continually repeated to the festival audience that they had not come to watch, but to participate in the festival and that its success depended exactly on them. At first there were not so many visitors, but later, especially when the topic of sexuality was addressed, people stood in line to enter the GEFF and the shown films were the main topic of the city’s intellectual circles, the media and the critics.


The basis of the concept of the anti-film was extremely radical, significantly reduced and opposite to the traditional rules of the profession. The categories exploratory and unconventional were clarified by Mihovil Pansini on several occasions in his manifestos, in which he classified the activities of such perception of film in three categories. The most important one is the free movie frame, completely free of the rules of the classical film, which also expressed the rebellion against the traditional forms but not in the way to destroy, but to expand them. The other category, Mansini mentions in one of the accompanying texts of the GEFF, is the research of film form, language and editing and, consequently, the research of social and human relations. Since the crucial works of anti-film were amateur and recorded with limited budget, they were mostly silent. So, the similar aesthetic of the silent film was thus to be avoided and the aim of the festival was to become a new cine-eye as defined by Dziga Vertov.


The GEFF and the anti-film movement had a significant influence on the Yugoslav Black Wave which is today considered the most successful film period of the former state. It is no wonder since the GEFF gathered people which later built a distinguished career in film making. Apart from Dušan Makavejev, the festival was also supported by Karpo Aćimović-Godina, Puriša Đorđević and Želimir Žilnik, but also authors who were more inclined towards a more moderate trend, like Zlatko Bourek, Nedeljko Dragić, Vatroslav Mimica, Dušan Vukotić and Lordan Zafranović. Famous local experimental authors also found their place here: Tomislav Gotovac was present at the festival from its beginning, as well as a diligent annalist Vladimir Petek, young Ladislav Galeta and Ivan Martinac, with artists from other fields of art, who were equally included in the GEFF idea of cooperation and complementary work: from Mihajlo Arsovski, who designed the visual identity of the festival, to painters Josip Vaništa, Aleksandar Srnec and Ivan Picelj, architect Vjenceslav Richter, who was a member of the jury in 1963 and, together with Mićo Popović and art critic Radoslav Putar, evaluated films from the salon of the selected ones.


Next to the competition programme, the festival also featured information sections which presented the news from the international film avant-garde, European modern film and alternative domestic film, with numerous accompanying events, panels and consultations. Announcement of the first GEFF festival in December 1963 stated that all film genres would be accepted (thus the name Genre Film Festival). However, the name does not refer to the contemporary theoretical definition of genre film, but to all films which, according to the propositions of the unica, do not belong to the category of documentary or feature film, but the third genre which includes experimental, avant-garde films and new tendencies films, those which are exploring new paths and new means. At the second festival held in 1965, film director Aleksandar Petrović, philosopher Danilo Pojović, film theoretician Dušan Stojanović and painter Josip Vaništa were in the jury. Next to doctor Pansini, as he used to sign himself on the accompanying materials, architect Richter was also present. The total amount of 76 films was shown, 14 of which in the salon of the rejected ones. The film Kariokineza by Zlatko Hajdler received most awards, but also provoked considerable controversy. The film tape was burned in the film projector during the projection. Pansini was, naturally, delighted. On the day of the awards ceremony, Vjenceslav Richter sent the following telegram: festival geff moša pijade workers’ university zagreb – compliments to kariokineza.


The third meeting of film researchers took place in 1967. The 1967 GEFF started with a retrospective of the new American film, which included the works of famous experimental authors Stan Brakhage, Robert Breer, Bruce Conner, Jonas Mekas and the Austrian author Peter Kubelka. In the feature competition Makavejev participated with Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator, Puriša Đorđević with films The Dream and The Morning, Vatroslav Mimica with Monday or Tuesday and Kaja, I’ll kill You, and Matjaž Klopčić with Paper Planes. Festival director Branko Lustig kept apologising in the festival newsletter for the delay of the copies, but despite that fact the 1967 GEFF successfully unified the professional and the amateur so the audience of the former state had the opportunity to see all important trends in the film industry of the time.


The 1969 GEFF, under the title Sexuality as a Possible Way to New Humanism, should have taken place in December 1969, but it was postponed for April 1970. The announced Retrospective of Sexual and Erotic Film sparked the imagination of the audience, but it also provoked political authorities so it was the last time the festival took place. The first editions of the festival newsletter were decorated with a montage of Aurora saying I wish I was a hermaphrodite so I could also be with women, while the poster done by Rene Hollos featuring a stylized image of a huge penis with the Greek inscription fallikos antropos was advertising the exhibition around the city. Later withdrawn upon the insistence of high political authorities, the poster also announced an uncompromising 1969 GEFF which, according to the then journal Filmski svet, grew from a small gathering of film lovers into a sensational event for which tickets were selling like hot potatoes. Projection of films by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey attracted the greatest interest, the guest of the festival, Carolle Schneemann, showed her Fuses, and the poetic performance by the artist Katalin Ladik from Novi Sad, who was given the title the biggest lady of the festival, was also very well visited.


The planned fifth gathering of film researchers never took place, just like the celebration of the anniversary in 2013, which was supposed to revive the specific GEFF energy and present its complete heritage. One of the planned actions was the simulation of the fifth meeting which was supposed to locate the energy and the senses in the works of the authors years after it was cancelled. It still remains to be seen in what form, when and if ever such meeting is to be held since the Genre Film Festival today seems as a utopia of some past era when progress, modernity and curiosity ruled.