Screen’s chief critic catches up with the latest local cinema from two European territories with the aid of two very different events: Romania’s Transilvania International Film Festival and the Madrid de Cine screenings in Spain

I was hoping for some sort of reference — albeit a small one — to vampires when I attended the Transilvania International Film Festival. Not that Cluj [pictured] in Romania wasn’t a thoroughly delightful destination, and I know it is an unforgiveable cliché — but friends and colleagues had cracked so many jokes beforehand I had thought there might be the smallest of links to our pointy-toothed friends.

Still, I got over that and embraced the fact I was attending one of the friendliest, smartest and most enjoyable film festivals on the calendar, and one that emphasises the word ‘festival’; something lost by other bigger events. And I was ripe for embracing all that TIFF (yes, another TIFF — watch out Toronto and Tokyo) had to offer.

The impressive City Plaza Hotel is just a brief walk to the main square in Cluj where pretty much all of the main festival activities take place, from guest drinks every late afternoon through to the daily outdoor screenings. Nearby were a plethora of restaurants, outdoor bars and festival meetings points — there is, oddly, a Mediterranean feel to the place despite its landlocked location.

Even the faded and empty Continental Hotel on the edge of the square was being used for a costume exhibition that seemed to fit perfectly into the crumbling main entrance hall of the hotel, with its musty smell and peeling, once-grand ceiling.

These short-and-sweet events astutely blend mainstream films with niche material

An early highpoint of the festival was the annual outdoor screening at the historical Banffy Castle about half-an-hour out of Cluj that is in the process of being renovated. The building provided the perfect backdrop for a screening of the rarely seen 1942 Italian wartime propaganda film Odessa In Flames, directed by Carmine Gallone, about valiant Romanians fighting off the Soviet hordes, all with an opera singer sub-plot (and plenty of warbling by Maria Cebotari) worked into the storyline.

It is to the festival’s credit that it shrewdly programmes a selection of the best of new world cinema along with retrospectives, national cinema focuses (this year Belgium) and a look at the latest films from a still-emerging local film industry.

Spain relief

After a brief stint back in Blighty — enough time to sample the mixed pleasures of Green Lantern, Zookeeper, Super 8, Albatross and Bombay Beach; be filmed rambling on about Sophia Loren, Gene Kelly, Rita Hayworth and Kirk Douglas; and burn my head watching tennis at Eastbourne — I popped over to Madrid for the annual Madrid de Cine Spanish Film Screenings.

Based out of the Melia Madrid Princesa hotel, the annual event is a great way to catch up on recent Spanish cinema — arthouse and commercial films — and acts both as a sales arena for buyers and a junket location for international film journalists. Having attended in recent years as both a buyer and a film reviewer, it’s an event I always recommend to others though admittedly the temperature and attractions of Madrid are a factor.

Like the annual Paris Screenings and the German Films event, these short-and-sweet occasions — they take place over three or four days — are perfect introductions to the latest national cinema, astutely blending mainstream films with niche material, offering buyers a great catch-up on films they may have missed, or simply never had the time to view.

That Madrid in June is a hot and heady environment is incidental. There may be no screenings in ancient buildings at the Madrid de Cine, but the busy schedule did include dinner and a flamenco show at El Corral de la Moreria and a closing night fiesta at the Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez.

Of course, there is no denying that — for example — seeing the latest of Romanian films in Cluj with a young and enthusiastic audience is a great way to gauge response to a new film (though I always have a healthy mistrust of over-enthusiastic audiences, which are often made up of the director’s friends and family in my cynical view). Equally, in Madrid it is nice not to fight to get into a screening and just judge a film from your own response.

But that is why festivals and markets around the world are fun and challenging in their own way. So as we always say in Transilvania and Spain: vive la différence!