Odessa has the feel of Cannes of bygone days…

The Odessa International Film Festival may well be a new kid in the block in terms of Eastern European film festivals - 2013 is just its fourth year – but it is fast getting the reputation as a savvy, sunny and smart film festival to attend, not just for its programming and events, but also for the city’s warm welcome and enthusiasm of the generally young audiences.

It might not have the years under its cinematic belt of the likes of the Moscow of Karlovy Vary or even Warsaw Film Festivals, but like the Transilvania International Film Festival in the Romanian town of Cluj; the Era New Horizons Festival in Wroclaw, Poland, and the well-established Sarajevo International Film Festival, Odessa is defined by a cool and passionate youthful audience who are keen on both their films and their late-night partying.

As one French sales agent commented on the flight from Kiev to the Ukrainian Black Sea city of Odessa (blessed with one of the most unique baggage reclaim systems ever…but enough of that), the city has a the leafy feel of Cannes of bygone days, accentuated by the fact that most people in the city favour shorts (or short skirts) and T-shirts. Apart – of course – from this critic, who stuck strictly to the Screen sartorial code of jacket and tie…well, no tie, but I was pretty much the only person in the city sporting a jacket.

The majority of the screenings at Odessa take place at the massive – and usual full – Festival Palace (in actual fact the Odessa Academic Theatre of Musical Comedy of M Vodyanogo) and at the nearby Festival Centre ‘Rodina’, though there has also been an outdoor screening of Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans at the Potemkin Steps, which also played host to an Emir Kusturica concert.

Emir Kusturica in concert

Emir Kusturica in concert

The Festival square itself is a charming and relaxing spot with a fountain (for occasional doses of much needed water, blown at your by the breeze) and trees (for shade), with bars on two sides. It also plays host to the press room and the video library….and if the festival does want some advice:

a.    have a press room with a few more facilities

b.    have a viewing library that isn’t in a tent on the square where noise and bright sunshine tend to hamper viewing…darker is usually better.

Of an evening the international guests and local young hipsters can be found at the atmospheric Bernardazzi Festival Lounge Club (a bar, music venue and garden), which though fairly central seemed impossible to find on my first night there, with my confident British guide getting hopefully – but rather confidently – lost. As usual with such festivals (especially when warning about scalping taxi drivers are many) securing a festival car is key. The city is fairly easy to walk and navigate during the day, but at night the lighting if poor, the pavements less-than-even and screeching boy racers make stepping out to cross the road a constant challenge.

But then the Odessa International Film Festival is an event on the up-and-up, and while barely walking in age terms it has already made a mark for itself on the international film festival calendar.

Odessa's opening night at the Opera House

Odessa’s opening night at the Opera House