Cowboys wins audience award, Hush also wins multiple prizes.

The 60th Pula Film Festival – the country’s national film festival — comes to a close today celebrating a particularly strong year for Croatian film. Co-production Circles and Croatian national production A Stranger [pictured] each won a slew of top prizes.

Croatian filmmaking is having something of a boom time at the moment, both in terms of number of productions and their international appeal – both Circles and A Stranger played in Berlin’s Forum, and Dual and The Priest’s Children were buzzy titles in Karlovy Vary earlier this month.

Pula presented a record 24 titles in its competitions for national films and minority co-productions. The healthy levels of production are in part due to support from the Croatian Audiovisual Centre, but also seeing local broadcasters backing films for the first time in 9 years — such as festival opening comedy Handymen (Majstori) by Dalibor Matanic.

Of course, Croatia enters the EU this month as a full member, and the country already benefits from MEDIA and Eurimages support.

Showing the range of Croatian work from audience pleasing comedies to more arthouse films is important to festival artistic director Zlatko Vidackovic. He also wants to show them in context. “There are three levels of films — national films, then we added European films in 2001 then in 2010 added minority co-productions, so films are shown in this context,” Vidackovic said.

In the National Competition, A Stranger won best screenplay and best director for Bobo Jelcic and best film presented to producer Zdenka Gold. The jury said: “The film A Stranger by Bobo Jelčić has a number of strong points, excellent screenplay, inspired directing, functional cinematography and an excellent cast without exceptions.”

Jelcic receives $5,300 (HRK 30,000) with the Grand Golden Arena award for best film at the festival. The film also won the FEDEORA prize for the main national section and the Croatian Film Critics’ Association prize (their minority co-production prize went to Circles.)

The jury gave the Golden Arena for best minority co-production to Circles directed by Srdan Golubovic and produced by Jelena Mitrovic; Golubovic also won best director and Leon Lucev won best actor for his role of Haris.

The Breza award for best debutant in the National Competition went to Tihana Lazovic for her role in Hush. Hush also received special awards for best sound, best make-up, best music, and best editing,

Best costume design went to Emina Kusan for The Mysterious Boy, and best art direction went to Mario Ivezic for A Stranger. Erol Kupcevic was named best cinematographer for A Stranger.

Best supporting actor went to Niksa Butijer for The Priest’s Children, and best lead actor went to Bogdan Diklic for A Stranger. Best supporting actress went to Lana Baric for Hush and best lead actress went to Nada Durevska for A Stranger.

The Golden Gate of Pula Audience Award was handed to Cowboys by Tomislav Mrsic, which was produced by Kabinet. It had an average score of 4.79 out of 5. The second and third films in the audience vote were The Mysterious Boy and The Priest’s Children.

In the international programme, best film went to Antoinette Beumer’s Jackie, best actress went to Jirina Bohdalova in Oldies But Goodies, and best director went to Bernardo Bertolucci for Io e te, The young cinephiles jury also chose Jackie as its top film.

Among the buzz titles for critics was the low-budget drama Vis-à-vis made by 30-year-old director Nevio Marasovic, hailed as an exciting new voice in Croatian cinema – a wunderkind who made his first feature at age 16 before studying at the Zagreb Academy of Dramatic Art. Vis-a-Vis, starring Rakan Rushaidat, Janko Popovic Volaric and Kreso Mikic, is about a director and his actor working on a script while isolated on a Croatian island in the winter, while facing their own personal demons. 

The director said in a statement: “The film is the fruit of my intensive, hectic and impulsive cooperation with actors Janko Popovid Volaric and Rakan Rushaidat. The final product is a mixture of true events, fiction, improvisation, screenplay, arguments, love, intuition, and deep analysis of characters and their motivations duringt he shooting process.”

This year, the Pula Film festival benefited from the digitization of the Kino Valli as well as its projector in the stunning 2,000-year-old Arena. The festival again worked with RealD in partnership with Cinestar Croatia for the 3D screenings in the famed Arena for Man of Steel as well as black comedy Simon Magnus.

The festival attracts more than 78,000 spectators each year.

The full list of winners can be found here.