The Slovenia Times

Ljubljana film fest turning 30, staying focused on quality art film


LIFFe, a hugely popular festival that has also spread to Maribor, Celje and Novo Mesto, began in 1990 at Ljubljana's Cankarjev Dom arts centre as what was known as the international days of author film or Film Art Fest. There were 13 films screened the first year and some 4,000 visitors.

The first director of the festival was Jelka Stergel, today the head of the Slovenian Film Festival, while the programme director was the founder to the Slovenian cinematheque, the late Silvan Furlan. The two sought to complement the commercial cinema network with a distribution and theatre network that would also showcase international art cinema.

Stergel led the festival until its 18th edition, when Popek became the face of the festival, which became known as LiFFe in 1997.

Popek, who used to be the editor of Slovenia's foremost film magazine Ekran, has segmented the history of the festival into three fairly distinct decades.

"The first decade was a period of assertion and of creating a structure and identity, the second a time of an unexpected popularity leap with audiences and of a programme expansion, and the third a settling-down period, a period of adaptation to new technological standards and manners of following media content, ranging from streaming to increasingly popular TV series."

The number of screenings reached a record 314 three years ago. After 2002, LiFFe has been recoding around 40,000 visitors each year, while it even saw 52,000 in 2004. The total number of visitors is expected to reach one million this year.

The basic concept of LiFFe has changed little throughout the years. The competition section, named Perspectives, usually features up-and-coming filmmakers, while the festival regularly brings some of the best seen at large festivals during the year and the latest by big director names in the categories Kings and Queens, and Avantpremieres.

However, Popek has told the STA his key motive was acquainting Slovenian viewers with "less known films, by lesser known authors from less known cinema traditions", also in view of the fact that many of these films do not make it into regular distribution.

While such films are usually found in LiFFe's Panorama and Extravaganza sections, Popek highlighted for this year dystopian, futuristic South American films, for instance Bacurau by Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles, and Soy Toxico by Pablo Pares.

Other films mentioned by Popek include Werner Herzog's Family Romance, and György Palfi's His Master's Voice, while the programme director also pointed out the festival would again feature at least ten films that foreground female characters.

The 30th LIFFe will honour the recently deceased Agnes Varda with a retrospective. Another retrospective will be dedicated to US filmmaker Abel Ferrara, who will be among the guests and whose auto-biopic Tommaso will also lift the curtain on the festival.

As usual, the festival will feature a special section for children and a category dedicated to shorts. Cuban cinema will be in the spotlight in the Focus section.

Slovenia cinema will also be decently represented, including with Gregor Božič's acclaimed debut Stories from the Chestnut Woods, which premiered at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival and won eleven Vesnas (the Slovenian equivalent of the Oscar).


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