Sep 12, 2014

The Moving Icon: Episode 3 – Byzanfest Wrap

Byzanfest is the world’s first Orthodox Christian web short-film festival. Festival Founder and host of THE MOVING ICON, Chris Vlahonasios, offers a brief review of each film and talks with some of the filmmakers.

Watch the entire Byzanfest 2014 program

To listen to this podcast, click the show’s logo:

Podcast Transcript #3:
In today’s episode I will be talking about the recent Byzanfest, the world’s first Orthodox Christian short-film festival that was entirely online. I will discuss each film, giving a short review, but not revealing too much, spoiling it for those who have yet to watch them.

In its first year, 12 films were selected to screen on the Orthodox Filmmakers & Artists YouTube Channel. Viewers had one week, known as Screening Week, to view each film, interact and pick their Audience Favourite. The Channel received thousands upon thousands of views from around the world giving filmmakers the chance to be seen and appreciated. But the films can still be viewed even now and will remain on the OFA YouTube Channel indefinitely.

The aim of the Festival was to promote films with Orthodox themes, culture and values. Although not all films contained a direct Orthodox spiritual message, but what they all had in common was the filmmaker maintained an Orthodox phronema when making the film.

The Award Nights of the first annual Byzanfest occurred on the 22nd February 2014. It just so happen to coincide with Melbourne’s White Night, the world’s largest multimedia and arts event, which attracted over half a million people, making it quite appropriate to host the Awards on this same night. The winners for 2014 were:

Audience Favourite was won by Holy Fire & Pascha
Best Screenplay & Best Film went to Power of Dogs
Best Direct was won by Bevreti
And finally, Best Youth Film went to The Last Stonegrinder. You can also view each filmmakers’ acceptance speech on the OFA YouTube Channel.

As part of the judging panel it was extremely difficulty to choose a winner as the quality of submissions surpassed all expectations. Each exhibited skill and a unique style making them all intriguing to watch. The films were a true reflection of the Orthodox filmmaker, demonstrating creativity that was both organic and insightful, just like the Faith.

The first film to kick off the program was the Australian, Dance for Two – a tribute to classic Greek cinema from the 1960s. Having screened at several Greek film festivals around the world, this fun and energetic film by Nondas Poulos takes the audience on a nostalgic musical journey. Starting off as a black-and-white dance-off we soon burst into a vibrant world of colour, sound and movement. A stylish, joyful and memorizing experience. Well directed and perfectly choreographed, watching Dance for Two makes you forget about your cares and want to dance.

The Desperate Wife Hunter was one of the most off-beat films in the program. Set in the head of a young man, we get to learn what criteria makes up this man’s idea of a perfect wife. This film was effective at drawing a reaction with its odd-ball and at times creepy sense of humour. A simple film with a lot of kookiness and hammy acting making it fun to watch.

I now come to the winner of Best Director, Bevreti – a heavenly experience about a nunnery in Georgia of the same name. If one feature stands out it has to be the cinematography. Masterfully shot, the relationship between Orthodoxy, the seasons and the monastery’s buildings are interwoven to reveal the spiritual essence in all of God’s Creation. Using panning and tracking shots, the filmmaker was able to capture the beauty of the monastery and its nuns. There’s a lush vibrancy and a deep understanding the mystery of the Faith. You will be transformed by this place and transfixed by the beauty of candle-lit naves and swaying chandeliers.

From the sublime to the warm-hearted, a man opens up in A Husband’s Love. The film’s effectiveness rests in its simplicity and honesty. A highly emotional film A Husband’s Love explores the private lives of two soul-mates, still together after all of life’s hardships. I found the filmmakers’ vox-pop style insightful and engaging. The essence of this story is about true love which is a great theme considering the film was made during Pascha, also capturing the joy of this great feast.

The documentary, Holy Fire & Pascha, was the winner of Audience Favourite. It tells a personal account of the trials and struggles of witnessing the Holy Fire. Although there are many films about this subject, I think what made this film unique was the fact that just like the experience itself, each story is as different as the individual thereby providing a fresh perspective. This film brought this annual miracle to life in a fascinating way allowing the viewer to experience, even for a brief moment, this remarkable spiritual event. However, I would like to leave Justin Daniel to say a few words about his film…

Perhaps one of the most unusual films was SUPERGIRL, an experimental piece dealing with suicide and hope. The main character, Josh, has lost his family in a tragic fire and his will to live. Yet, in the background a mysterious girl using the power of prayer is there beside him. SUPERGIRL explores the perimeters of fear and its ability to destroy those who’s Faith is only skin deep. Interesting use of lighting and dream-like sets makes this a surreal viewing experience.

The only web series in the Festival was ‘Coffee with Sister Vassa, the Christmas episode’, is the work of an Orthodox nun living in Vienna, Austria. Her weekly show explores various aspects of the Orthodox Faith through kooky humour and plenty of caffeine. Sister Vassa’s style removes any preconceptions one might have of a theological-based show, instead being entertained by her warm personality and off-beat comedy.

The Key and the Frame is a drama composed of characters from a yet-to-be-produced trilogy film project by the filmmaker, Derek Power. The film reveals the deep, psychological undercurrents of each character giving the audience an insight into their faults and fears. The Key and the Frame is a film that says a lot about people who struggle to truly understand who they really are.

We then had the shortest documentary in the program, The Last Stonegrinder. In less than 5 minutes, the film efficiently and effectively tells the unfortunately reality of the last stonemason who grinds stone by hand in Romania. The film beautifully captures the elements of this artist’s world. We see how the work, tools and environment have shaped this old man’s personality and sense of being. The cinematography is just as beautiful as Bevreti, revealing the awe of a lonely world where a man seems to face the end of an era, and even his death, in good faith.

Moving onto the winner of Best Screenplay and Best Film, Power of Dogs is an example of great Orthodox filmmaking. I was inspired by the multi-layered story and fantastic acting by the lead role. For much of the film very little is said but volumes are spoken about Orthodoxy through gestures and composition.
However, I would like Joachim Vesely to say a few words to give us some greater insight into his film:

I thank Joachim for his film and hopefully inspiring many other Orthodox filmmakers to follow his example of visual storytelling.

The experimental Prometheus by Californian film student Enus Arau retells the ancient Greek tale with a slight Christian edge. Set in the present, Enus’ Prometheus portrays man’s desire to control Creation giving rise to our modern electrified world, yet he is unable to handle this power. Repenting, he returns the light back to the Heavens, restoring order. I thought this version added more layers to the original story, making it more relevant to our current state of being.

The final film to screen was Lucky Girls, a documentary about the Theotokos Orthodox Girls’ Orphanage in Kolkata, India. This was a powerful and awaking film, taking us to a world where gender condemns you. Abandoned and forgotten, we see how this orphanage and the dedicated people, including Sister Nectaria, give these girls a sense of purpose and most importantly love. A poignant and touching film from start to finish.

So after this viewing, what does this reveal about the state and outlook for global Orthodox filmmaking?
Judging from what I’ve seen, and the trend in the last few years, I think Orthodox filmmaking is on the clasp of a very exciting emergence. All these filmmakers were able to blend their Orthodoxy into their work, producing original and beautiful films. The emotional impact of each film varied greatly from the heart-felt A Husband’s Love to the multi-layered Power of Dogs.

Due to the mystical nature of our Faith, which has been contemplated for centuries, gives us a dynamic and all-compassing approach to understanding the world and how to express it. Through professional cinematography in films like Bevreti, The Last Stongrinder and Power of Dogs, the filmmakers were able to capture an essence that cannot be explained, but needs to be experienced.

If such Orthodox creativity is encouraged, hopefully it will bleed into the general multimedia sphere giving us a voice and greater influence.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch Byzanfest 2014, all films can still be viewed and will remain online via the Orthodox Filmmakers and Artists YouTube Channel.


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