by Victoria Cușnir

It’s a real challenge to talk about Moldova’s cinema. Even though it had its moments of glory during the Soviet period, even though Moldova Film studio generated real values in cinema, it all collapsed at the same time as the Empire. The heavy names of Moldovan film remained legends. A few new names seemed devoid of the prospect of a bright future, and film, the seventh art, had to close the curtain and turn off the lights.

The Moscow State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK), which trained highly skilled professionals, closed its doors to Moldovan students, whereas big names of Moldovan film went into dormancy because of the broken system.
A few years later, the “I.L. Caragiale” National University of Theatre and Cinematography, the film school in Bucharest, opened its doors to students from Bessarabia, but its graduates, who returned to the country after their studies, did not have the necessary conditions to make films. Eventually, a film school opened in Chișinău. Year after year, directors, scriptwriters, editors and DOPs graduated from there, but most of the first generations alumni were quickly engulfed by television, a machine that, together with the current poverty, devoured their dream of making films. Another pitfall was the weddings industry, baptisms and other parties: they got hired engaged them, and which required a completely different way of filming, editing, thinking, far removed from artistic expression. In other words, it killed the artist but filled the pockets. And the saddest thing is that there was a generation gap. The young generation had no access to see the
“greats” at work in the studios, the learn the craft.
Film remained everyone’s dream. Just a dream for established filmmakers, just a dream for applying to college, hoping to walk into a fairytale world.

After the fall of the Soviet empire Moldova Film released only three more fiction films: Procust’s Bed (2001), directed by Sergiu Prodan, Jana (2004), directed by Valeriu Gagiu, and Wolves and Gods (2009), directed by Alexandru Vasilache. Private studios emerged in the “wilderness”. Unable to produce feature-length fiction films, these studios became refuge places at least many found a place away from wedding shoots or the pace imposed by TV, a gateway to producing music videos, increasingly complex and film-like social spots that gathered awarness and appreciation. And the most important achievement of these studios was the creation of documentaries, which also gave the feeling that in Moldova the word cinema has not lost its meaning for good.
In 2014, after several years of insistence, the Cinema Law was revised, making it possible to create the National Cinema Centre (CNC) in 2017.

Although the yearly budget is a susitence one, the CNC prefer to divide it between as many projects submitted by young filmmakers as possible, in order to help these young filmmakers, eager to make a name for themselves.
When Moldovan productions began to be partially subsidised by the state, we also had films that matched the feable investment – i.e. of rather dubious quality. I am referring to most fiction films. What’s more, it happened that some projects were not even completed. Therefore public scepticism towards Moldovan film increased. So, in its early years, the CNC did nothing more than support a kind of creative laboratory, a laboratory that would have belonged, in fact, to university.
Returning to the generation gap and the failure of young people to learn the craft, one solution would be co-productions involving international teams, that need to be somehow attracted to film sets in Moldova. Virgiliu Mărgineanu, president of the Union of Filmmakers and director of one of the first private studios, OWH, believes this is absolutely necessary: “Moldova is a country where production costs are lower than elsewhere in Europe, but that should not be the reason. The most important thing that had to be achieved was the ‘cash rabate’ law. And in the end this law came in force. Now every foreign film producer who comes to film here knows that thanks to this law, at the end of the day, the state returns around 25-30%, an offer that should not be ignored. Another reason would be that the necessary technical staff can be hired locally in Moldova. Which is again quite ok from a financial point of view, because this way a foreign producer only comes with his core staff. Here again, some of the technical equipment can be hired, although the law is quite good for those who want to bring their own filming equipment.”

Virgiliu Mărgineanu, President of the Union of Filmmakers, Director OWH Studio

“Actually, the cash rabate law is very friendly to producers with small budgets. Plus, it will work quickly here,”  assures Valentina Iusuphodjaev, director of the CNC, who also tells us that the law on co-productions has been revised.

Sergiu Cumatrenco Jr. is absolutely convinced that Moldovan specialists would be competitive in the post-production segment. “It would be desirable for Moldova to also become a film set, but for a successful start, it is possible to collaborate remotely on post-production.”

Sergiu Cumatrenco JR – Producer & Ion Borș – Director

Another favourable element for local film producers is that “given the reduced financial capacities, now the participation quota for a local producer has been lowered to 5%. The previously required 10% were more of a challenge than a possibility. But the budget for co-productions has been increased; and this will put these international collaborations on track,” says the CNC director.

Valentina Iusuphodjaev, President of CNC

There is a certain error rate in very start, still, this year things are promising. At least for now. Because filmmakers’ interest in film remains just as keen. This year just 46 scripts were submitted to the competition, which is quite a high number for Moldova.

“The good thing is that this year we have several co-productions financed by the CNC, which not only gives visibility to the film world, but also a chance to fantastic experiences, especially when it comes to Cristi Puiu. Another advantage of these co-productions is the right to be broadcast in Moldova without too many logistical difficulties. Next year looks promising for films,” says Valentina Iusuphodjaev.

This year the CNC fund will support two Moldovan-Romanian co-productions involving Cristi Puiu and Marian Crișan from Romania, and two other Moldovan-German co-productions, one of which is directed by Olga Lucovnicova, who won the European Film Academy Award in the “Best European Short” category with her short film Nanu Tudor.

The technical conditions for production studios in Moldova are quite good. “In general, in Moldova we have all the technical equipment needed to shoot a quality film. And professional people can be found at home. The biggest handicap is the lack of a film fund. But now we seem to have all the necessary people in charge people, able to achieve the desired change. But we still need political will. There’s still a lot to be put right in the legal framework and everyone is still looking suspiciously at each other, waiting for the necessary changes to know how we move forward, so that we don’t find at some point that our actions remain outside the legal framework.” Sergiu Cumatrenco Jr, one of the core producers of Carbon, which had its world premiere this autumn at San Sebastian and is also Moldova’s entry in this year’s Oscars Foreign Film category, assures us. He continues: “The Moldovan film industry, if we may use the term industry in relation to our realities, is based on three pillars: education, distribution and archive. I admit, we are bad at all three. But there is the alternative school. Many self-taught specialists have matured, some have also taken paid courses to become internationally certified. As of this year we have a centre of excellence at Mediacor that lays the foundation for three new specialties in multimedia, and that automatically means a change for the better. And if things change in education, we will also learn to distribute our films. And again, I’m learning on the job, at our film Carbon. We have requests from our fellow citizens abroad and in this sense, “driving” the film through festival circuit is not enough. We’re still learning how to be present, for example, online, secure, so that anyone from anywhere can access the film. This would count as an achievement.”

The change for the better is obvious. At the premiere of Carbon, the 1800-seats auditorium was packed, and the applause lasted for minutes. It’s also a hit cinemas. Similarly, this autumn saw the release of another feature film directed by Valeriu Jereghi:
They are working intensively not only on documentaries, but also on fiction productions of either short or feature films. Animated films are also in the works. Adjustments to legislation are still needed, but just like slowly fermenting vinegar, optimism is not put to rest. Moldova, with its lively and curious nature, is a place for future original new films.

* The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the position of the Romanian Cultural Institute, but exclusively the opinions of the author.