Almost every major city and region in Croatia holds a film festival of some kind, Zadar recently getting into the act following the success of similar events in Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik and Pula. Many take place in summer, some at open-air locations. Our film experts put together their guide to the best film festivals in Croatia.
The best film festivals in Croatia
An international film festival and five-day party all in one, Motovun Film Festival is held in the beautiful Venetian town of Motovun, 270m above sea level. International and ex-Yu films are screened at a number of pop-up cinemas both indoors and out; screenings take place from early morning until around 2am. Directors from around the world compete for the prestigious Propeler Award, and interactive events involving film experts and staff take place around Motovun for those wishing for a little in-depth insight. Recent developments have seen the town council mark certain areas of this historic town as off-limits to partygoers at night, owing to enthusiastic drinking post-film, meaning the 18th festival should be, as was the 17th, a little more refined than in previous years. Parts of the festival will also take place at nearby town Buzet.
Arguably the one great social event of the autumn season, the Zagreb Film Festival is certainly one of the most informal and enjoyable celebrations of celluloid in this part of the world. It’s also one of the most popular cultural happenings in the country, putting bums on seats in a way that would drive most other festival organisers purple with envy. The deftly curated programme delivers a genuinely global selection of non-Hollywood production, focusing attention on films that wouldn’t normally get a run down at the local multiplex. Prizes are handed out to the best films on the final weekend, but the whole affair is treated with relaxed good humour rather than award-ceremony angst. It’s certainly not a formal affair and there‘s hardly any VIP segregation; you’ll probably see international directors drinking in the same café as the filmgoers themselves. The festival’s main venue is the venerable, Art Nouveau-styled Kino Europa, and it is here that festivalgoers come to enjoy pre-show drinks or hang around in search of an after-party. However, it is also a genuinely citywide affair, with retrospectives, themed seasons and documentary screenings taking place in all manner of venues across town. And with what seems like the entire population of Zagreb going out to watch films that they might not bother seeing if they were on general release, tickets sell out very quickly – so consult the programme carefully, make your choice and book in advance.
Under the unfortunate acronym of DUFF, October’s Dubrovnik Film Festival is the latest attempt to stage a major cinematic event in this historic city. Major Hollywood stars are regular visitors here in summer, but this recently inaugurated four-dayer has been set up for young local amateur filmmakers. Behind the project is the Association for Media Culture Promotion.
Running since 1953 and preceding even Cannes, Pula Film Festival holds the title of oldest running fim festival in the world and there certainly is plenty of history involved. Parts of the festival are held in Pula's ancient Roman amphitheatre, which transforms into perhaps the most atmospheric open-air cinema in Europe night and day for opening and award ceremonies plus several programmes. Programmes include the National, showcasing Croatian titles, and the European, which offers a variety of choice cinematic morsels from far and wide; others include the Student programme, evening concerts and an entertainment programme, allowing the audience to interact with well-known personages from the world of film.
If the Mediterranean Film Festival marks the start of the summer season, the Split Film Festival comes at the end. The SFF is one of the oldest film events in Croatia and is dedicated to more experimental works, with new video art, non-mainstream works by masters of full-length arthouse films. The only criterion is creativity. In previous years some of the most prominent filmmakers have been guests here, such as Jonas Mekas, Béla Tarr and Lars von Trier. All films are sorted by category and shown at independent cinemas around town, including the atmospheric Cinematheque, and all screenings are free of charge.
It’s been nine years since Split became one of the centres of contemporary film production in the Mediterranean. During that time, the MFF has been recognised as the must-go event of the pre-summer season. Categories range from documentaries to experimental films,with short and long features. All screenings in the garden of the Gallery of Fine Arts are free. Afternoons are reserved for the city’s smallest cinema, the old and colourful Cinematheque, another factor that has popularised this event. The revived open-air cinema in a small pine forest overlooking busy Bačvice beach is usually packed full for films in the main competition, with short features by young Croatian authors by way of intro. After credits fade, don’t leave Bačvice – theme parties with music ranging from film scores to 1980s nostalgia, to house and techno should keep you entertained, accompanied by affordable drinks.
Video Days – Lovely Days was set up in Bol on the island of Brač in 2012, to screen videos and films by specific artists. Those taking part are invited to present and then discuss the video or film in question, each entry taking about 90 minutes. Everything takes place in relaxed surroundings, encouraging an open-minded forum afterwards.
Foodies and culture fans will love this food festival with a difference: traditional local cuisines are celebrated over a four-day period, and sustainable, environmentally-friendly production is highly promoted. Food documentaries are projected at various locations, and workshops for kids are also on the programme; of course, there'll be a market where you can try and buy local produce throughout the festival.