With SPF 50 in tow, I headed down to Cyprus this weekend for the ninth-annual Cyprus Film Days.

Its a small event geared to local audiences but this was the first year to up the game by offering an international competition of nine films. (Check out a festival video here.)

The festival admits its not on the ‘circuit’ yet, but I admired the organisers’ ambition and the passion of the local audiences. Filmgoers provided some of the most heated Q+As I’ve heard in a while. For the challenging opening night film, Knifer, Greek director Yiannis Economidis engaged in about 45 mins of official Q+A before agreeing to chat more informally in the cinema lobby.

There were the inevitable technical issues (wrong aspect ratio during a screening of Jacques Tati’s wondrous Mon Oncle, delayed subtitles on Romanian drama Floating Things) but regardless the local audiences seemed very happy having the chance to screen some non-Hollywood fare.

The festival is held in two cities on the island — Limassol at the coast, and the inland capital Nicosia. That is certainly a bonus for locals, but for international guests trying to navigate between the two cities (an hour apart) wasn’t ideal.

At least the opening night car ride introduced me to a pair of Bulgarian filmmakers, the Chouchkov Brothers, with a strong first feature in competition, Tilt, and a lot of ambition for the future. At the opening night party (relaxed local beer and fried cheese at an art gallery/dive bar space), I spoke to producer Borislav Chouchkov and director Victor Chouchkov Jr about their smart plans for building a sustainable business — including ownership of RED cameras and editing facilities and work in commercials. Look out for Boris at EFP’s Producers on the Move at Cannes this year.

The full story on Cyprus Film Days’ ninth edition and first competition winners will follow on Screen this weekend.