Austrian filmmakers including Michael Haneke, Ulrich Seidl and Barbara Albert have thrown their weight behind plans to hold a three-day alternative festival event ahead of next year's Diagonale - Festival of Austrian Cinema (March 13-21, 2004) in Graz.
The move to launch a new festival is a response to Secretary of State for the Arts Franz Morak's controversial policy on the Diagonale (ScreenDaily.com, September 2003). This envisages the Diagonale being re-positioned with a CineMart-style co-production market for films from South East Europe and Austria.
"All the important films will be at our event", explained producer Alexander Dumreicher-Ivanceanu who will be acting as coordinator for the rival event. "We will have the new films from Ulrich Seidl, Ruth Mader, Barbara Albert, Michael Haneke, Edgar Honetschlaeger, to name a few. We will in effect be the Diagonale even if they forbid us to use the name".
Speaking to ScreenDaily.com at this week's Viennale, Dumreicher-Ivanceeanu said that this new found solidarity within the Austrian film community was "a strong signal for the independence of Austrian cinema. At our event, you'll have directors like Haneke and Albert selling tickets and tearing the stubs in the cinemas, and there have been people making donations and offering to help in running the event."
The staff of the former Diagonale festival under Christine Dollhofer and Konstantin Wulff have refused to collaborate with the new management of Miroljub Vuckovic and Tillmann Fuchs and indicated that they will offer their services to the organisers of the alternative event.
Dumreicher-Ivanceanu revealed that there are "good signals" from Graz that the alternative festival will get financial support from the local authorities since the Social Democrats, Communists and Greens who have the majority on Graz's city council are in favour of the filmmakers' venture alternative plan. Arts Officer Christian Buchmann has argued that the new Diagonale should be given a chance to prove its worth.
The mood among the filmmakers regarding the Diagonale was crystal clear at a roundtable discussion in Vienna on Monday evening. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Virgil Widrich (Copy Shop) noted that Secretary of State Morak "will need films which he can't have because we won't give them to him". Michael Haneke suggested that "the Diagonale is the preliminary fight - the main fight will be over the Austrian Film Institute where one hears that a restructuring would focus on supporting films for the German market. That's the most idotic thing I've ever heard."
Meanwhile, the Diagonale's artistic director Vuckovic reiterated to ScreenDaily.com his readiness to work with - and not against - the Austrian filmmaking community: "I am very positive and I don't think all possibilities have been used. There is a real scope for communication, but I think one should take stock of the situation to have a clear view of the future. Since I was involved in setting up a network in South Eastern Europe, I thought that with the Diagonale one could create more possibilities for co-operation and for filmmakers to meet and get to know one another."
Vuckovic has regularly been seeking a dialogue with local filmmakers over the past weeks to present his case and will be having a meeting with representatives of the Association of Austrian Film Producers (AAFP) tomorrow (Wednesday, October 29) .
Two weeks ago, the producers struck a conciliatory note by issuing a statement saying that they would be interested in offering to have "a discussion free of prejudice" with the new Diagonale management on such points as more transparency in the festival's budget; a reduction of the festival's length to six days; and a clear separation of the showcase of Austrian films from the South East European focus.
The producers stressed, though, that they would always want to act in the interests of their directors as to whether their films go to the Diagonale or not: "Festivals are, on the one hand, a presentation platform for artists and, according to the approach, also a sales platform for producers. We will only decide on a participation with one another and not against each other".