Motovun Film Festival kicked off Saturday night by giving each attendee a lighter and a sparkler for a group photo.

Motovun opening

Not many other film festivals would flaunt health and safety rules by giving their audience firepower like that, but then again not many film festivals are like the Motovun Film Festival. 

The festival takes place in a tiny medieval mountain village in Croatia, or as they like to say, ‘277 meters above reality.’ Cars aren’t usually allowed at the top of the mountain, so the fact that they haul in equipment (sometimes by tractor) to erect two gorgeous outdoor screens is smoothing of a minor miracle.

A local population of about 500 people and 100 stray cats suddenly can grow to 20,000 as people camp locally to binge on films, beer, loud music (oh, and truffles. lots of truffles, even on the pizza).

When the festival started in August 1999, films hadn’t been shown in Motovun in 20 years. A special spirit took over — outdoor screenings, dancing in the rain, people sleeping in their cars to wake up and watch movies again.

One of those couples sleeping in their car that year blagged a hotel room for the last night, and so legend goes, conceived their first son that evening. That son, Tit Emanuel, is now a film-loving teenager (and occasional actor) and welcomed the crowds on Saturday. He proclaimed, “The Motovun Film Festival has come of age.”

Much has been made about the ‘adulthood’ milestone of the festival turning 18. But this is growing old (purposefully) disgracefully — the film selections and festival plans are always pushing the envelope and far from staid. This year, an Elvis impersonator will encourage attendees to get special festival rings and ‘get married’ to each other (not legally binding, wise due the amount of beer on offer) on Motovun Wedding Night.

There is a programme celebrating 20 years of Dogme 95, a documentary series looking at religious extremism, and a sidebar about The Brutal French with films such as Leos Carax’s Pola X and Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day.

Even the festival’s opening film, the warmly received dark comedy The Brand New Testament by Jaco Van Dormael, had scenes of Catherine Deneuve starting a romantic relationship with a gorilla. The audience loved it even more than the fireworks.