(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog; the views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Romanian documentary films I'd like to see

 A Gypsy Elvis impersonator!  Winter traditions that predate the Romans!  Life after the collapse of Communism.  Gypsy life in America. What more could you want!

2008 ASTRA Film Festival Poster
I discovered the website for the ASTRA Film Festival, an annual event of the National Center for the Romanian Documentary Film.  They are affiliated with the UCLA Film and Television Archive in Los Angeles.  These short documentaries give a powerful glimpse into Romanian life and culture.

That would be so cool to have a showing in San Antonio.

I'd love to see these:

American Gypsy: A stranger in Everybody’s Land
Jasmine Dellal, 
USA, 1999, 80 min
There are one million Gypsies in America, who most people know nothing about. They continue to live according to traditions that remain mysterious to outsiders. This is at least in part because a central aspect of Gypsy culture is the limiting of contact with non-Gypsies. The film tells the story of one Romani family in the American Northwest that has defied the wall of silence surrounding their people.
The Curse of the Hedgehog
Dumitru Budrala

Romania, 2004, 103 min
The film follows the life of an extended Roma family for a whole year. They belong to the “Baiesi “ group of Roma, who live in extreme poverty. The filmmaker accompanied them on the way from their dwelling place in the mountain to the lowland villages, where they try to trade handmade goods for food or money.
These winter tours are survival trips for them, as they have no other income whatsoever. However, the film is more than the story of their struggle to survive. During the 100 minutes, we come to understand why they refuse to work the land, and how they relate to the Romania shepherds, and to the rich Baesi from their village they call “businessmen”, who make large fortunes from selling fake rings abroad.
We discover how mythological thinking is activated in their everyday life, along with their Christian Orthodox religiousness. By watching this film, we achieve a better understanding of the absurdities and the pain that fill the lives of these people living on the edge of society, and we come to admire the wit, and the humour, which help them to come through.

ASTRA Film Festival 2008

Zina – The Story of a Village in The Carpathian Mountains
Dumitru Budrala

Romania, 2004, 60 min

Documents mention Jina for the first time in 1396. Today, the village has 4,350 inhabitants. The heart of the village is situated at 1000 meters altitude, with a spectacular view of the Southern Carpathians to the south, and towards the Transylvanian Plateau and the Western Carpathians to the north.
The film follows the tradition of the documentaries made in Romania in the 1930s by researchers studying the traditional rural life, under the coordination of the famous sociologist Dimitrie Gusti. The film reveals historical facts, and talks about myths and legends. It shows ancient rituals, and feasts of the present time. It introduces to the viewer a strong and proud community, keepers of an extraordinary cultural heritage. How did the village Jina come to own more mountains than any other village in the area, and to occupy 330 square meters, which is the equivalent of the surface of Bucharest?

TAM -We Are Staying
Schiltz Anne, Charlotte Grégoire

Luxemburg, 2006, 54 min
Two filmmakers spend time getting to know Ruth and Natalia, two young Romanian women who grew up together in the Transylvanian village of Malancrav.  One of them is a Gypsy, the other is a Saxon; one left the village, the other chose to stay. The only thing they seem to share is their friendship.
The film explores the relationship of the two women and questions our understanding of social and ethnic belonging, migration, money, rural life and the search for one’s roots.

Leaving Transylvania
Dieter Auner

Ireland, 2006, 52 min
After the collapse of communism in Romania, thousands of ethnic Germans migrated from Transylvania to Germany. The exodus continued year after year. The young Saxons, or ethnic Germans, were eager to leave Romania dreaming of a prosperous future in the West.
For the elder, however, migration was a traumatic experience. Leaving Transylvania documents this dramatic situation seen trough the eyes of an elderly couple from a village called Arbegen / Agârbiciu. Hans and Maria Kenzel, aged 70, are two of the very few who decided to stay. The Kenzels look after the local church fortress, ring the bells and wind up the clocks. Dusting off pews in the huge empty church seems to be their only link to the old times.
They have two options: to leave everything behind them or to stay.

The Last Peasants - Temptation
Angus Macqueen

UK, 2003, 49 min
Angus Macqueen’s three-part series follows the human stories of three Romanian families torn apart by the realities of migration. The remote village of Budesti in Northern Romania is a world of of the past, filled with horses and carts, and medieval beliefs. But the young villagers see no romance in their existence.
Their eyes are turned to the modern world of the West. In Budesti, every family has an illegal immigrant abroad. After exploring in Journeys the realities facing the immigrants, Temptation observes the clash of cultures, and the expectations of different generations in rural Romania.
Observational, up-close, and touching, the film looks at the changes imposed on the local community by the collapse of Communism and the new relationship with Western Europe. 

Fabrizio Scapin

France/Italia, 2000, 57 min
Christmas time in a village in Maramures, Northern Romania: a time for family reunions. Those who have left the village come home for the winter vacation, particularly as old rituals and traditional celebrations go on ceaselessly from Christmas to New Year's Eve in the rural area. These people pride themselves on having preserved their identity; they have the self-consciousness of being the descendants of the free Dacians, as neither the Roman legions nor other intruders succeeded to conquer their territory. This does not prevent them from looking for a better life elsewhere.

Transylvanian Winter
Dumitru Budrala

Romania, 1995, 35 min
The film was shot in the Carpathian pastoral communities of Southern Transilvania. The winter rituals take place between December 20th and January 7th. Every New Year, at every symbolic renewal of the annual cycle, people celebrate. On occasions like this ancient Greeks and Romans used to sacrifice animals, organise games and banquets and give each other gifts.
The rituals and the ancient songs of the Carpathian communities show a certain resemblance with those of the ancient world.

ASTRA Film Festival 2007

The Brassy Band
Poverty is the first thing to cross your mind when thinking of a Gipsy village. And it really is the first thing to strike you when entering a Gipsy village. However, despite the poverty and the hard life, Gipsies have the sense of music and rhythm like nobody else. Music is part of their daily life, and they need music just like they need air. The film explores the fascinating hidden world of the Gypsies.

The Potter From Binis
A portrait film about a potter from Banat, Ionică Stepan, aged 80, who keeps alive the tradition of six generations of potters. His grandfather used to travel across the Austro-Hungarian Empire to sell his pottery or exchange it for grains. According to tradition, a man could not marry before mastering the art of pottery. The film observes what has remained of the potters’ tradition by introducing  a remarkable character to the viewer.

Viva Constanta!
România, 2006, 49 min
A Gypsy Elvis impersonator!  What more could you want!  Tudor Lakatos is a school teacher. He is in his 40s, he’s a Gypsy, and he wants to be famous. He also found a way to reach fame. He is an imitator of Elvis Presley. The lyrics of the great hits once played by the “king of rock-and-roll” have been translated into Romany, and Tudor Lakatos gets ready for the tour to Constanţa. His Romany-Rock  repertoire is the key to fame.

Independence is a former one-person apartments building in Sibiu, transformed into a block of flats. The very narrow apartments make life not very comfortable here. Răzvan is a child living in the Independence building, whose mother left to Western Europe for work. A sensitive portrait of a child who tries to live a normal life, but who sometimes is overwhelmed by the feeling of missing his mother.  


  1. While I do appreciate your blog,I can not help myself from wondering if you are really unaware of the confusion you are creating with each post.The blog is intended to show the others (mostly Americans)what you have discovered about Romania and Romanians during your trip there,yet it is mostly about Gypsies from Romania and not about Romanians and their country.It is like I would title a blog"Discovering(what I don"t know) about USA",and post mostly articles talking about the Amish community in Pennsylvania,implying somehow that they are representative for what the entire USA is all about.Gypsies in Romania are less than 5% of the population,so about 5% of your blog should be about them.Since around 80% of this blog is about the Gypsies,maybe would be appropriate for you to consider changing the title into...Discovering (what I don"t know)about Gypsies from Romania!Best regards from Romania!

  2. Another cool film: The winner of the BBC World Service Trust: "Under the Sign of the Earth" focuses on a community of Lipovans - a Russian minority - in Targu Frumos, north east Romania, and was judged best documentary about an ethnic community.

    It was a student project on documentary film making about social inclusion issues. "From the outset the team were keen to make a film about the Lipovan community, and spent a day in the region looking for people who would make compelling 'characters'" said Butler. "The project gave them the opportunity to spend time with this minority group, and learn more about their history and current situation."
    "Filming on scheduled days [there] happened to be an important religious celebration, followed by a meal, a very relevant event [in] Lipovan tradition ... but the good luck is the reward for the committed people, isn't?"

  3. Another documentary film: Gypsy Caravan. Called "The Buena Vista Social Club for Gypsy music. It captures the spirit of an amazing musical culture and the heart of the musicians and singers who express it." About the movie: 'I originally named this film after a Romani proverb about how to cope when life doesn't deal you a straight hand ("You cannot walk straight when the road bends"). So the film title began as "When the Road Bends... tales of a Gypsy Caravan." However, brevity and the marketplace have prevailed so that it is being released simply as "Gypsy Caravan.""

  4. Thanks for all the info! I can't wait to check these out!

  5. re: clau2002: my next posting responds to many of your comments.

  6. I agree with clau2002. Your blog is not representative for Romania. In Romania, roma is a ethnic minority and not the majority. It is very offending. WHY PEOPLE FROM ABROAD THINKS OF ROMANIA AS A ROMA COMMUNITY. We have different traditions, totally different..

  7. Do you have contact only with Gipsy community there?