OFF Camera 2024 poster

OFF Camera 2024

OFF Camera is probably the most popular film festival in Poland. There are a lot of adverts in the media, especially on Polish television (even on sports channels) – so I had a sense of what to expect. It looks completely mainstream – they invite any possible film-related semi-celebrity they can get ahold of. They have huge marketing you simply can’t miss. You might not know what it’s about but you have a notion of its existence. They collaborate with many popular brands and places. It looks inaccessible and feels higher class. Of all the film festivals in Poland, this one seems the most exclusive.

So imagine my surprise when I found out it’s an independent film festival. For a million years I wouldn’t say so. Independent festivals are rough on the edges and have maybe enough money to invite one random director. They don’t have the resources to look expensive and even less to promote themselves. They put it all into films and hope it’s a success.

Well, apparently OFF Camera does it all the other way around. I won’t speculate whether it used to be better, I wasn’t there. But this year was something of a joke.

So it is a Film Festival?

My idea of a film festival is watching films. I am not interested in joining any other events unless there is nothing to watch at the time and I have a slot. And sadly, this looked like the least important part of OFF Camera.

There were only four cinema halls in three different spots in central Cracow1. They weren’t too far apart but it was a 10-minute walk at least. This said, the films weren’t anyhow correlated to other screenings so often you had to stick around with up to two choices. I don’t exactly understand this since the majority of the films were 90 minutes long.

That created another issue that blows my mind. I don’t think I was at a festival that allows you to enter after the film starts. Sure, sometimes there are open tickets etc but the volunteers usually allow entering while the adverts run and there is crowd management going on so nobody goes around when the film starts running.

Guess what. Not here. People were often coming 10 minutes after the film started and nobody cared. And then they didn’t even bother to sit quietly. They started looking at seats, choosing, and using a phone as a flashlight.

The worst is that this doesn’t change much throughout the screening. Too many people just check the bloody Instagram during the film or talk. Some just come and sit right in the middle! to be bothered with some “important business”, text and then leave. And am I the only one to choose a seat close to the exit when there’s a possibility of leaving? I guess.

I have some sort of acceptance for such behaviour when I’m in multiplex cinemas. But not at festivals. Especially when it’s constant and in abundance. This is sacred for me. And such behaviour shows zero respect.

Anyway, I felt this was not a festival for cinephiles at any level. It was too much for random show-offs. Ugh.

6 white, waving flags with OFF Camera logo and brand name, a person in front of them

It’s All About the Money

The money issue was prominent. They charged 10 zł (2€) for the paper program. I am not buying the “ecology” reason. On any other festival, this is something expected to be free or at least free with a pass. But hey, a physical plastic pass is also too expensive, only given to people who’d ordered before a certain date. (Smaller festivals give paper passes if they can’t afford plastic!)

Look, I am a collector. I want a physical pass. I’d be furious if I only found out at the festival that this does not apply to me. This should be optional not imposed.

Secondly, I am disappointed in how the partner restaurants and such are dealt with. Usually, if you buy a pass or a ticket, you’re getting a percentage off your order. Here, you also need a Mastercard for this. And look, sure, it’s a titular partner but I don’t care which card type my bank sends me. I simply don’t need that in my life. You don’t have control over this if you don’t ask specifically. Yet here, having a VISA makes you a second sort. I would understand giving some perks but not all of them.

The Propaganda

But hey, the red carpet is there for all the random people that I don’t know but they’re celebrities. Moreover, they show that propaganda before every single screening. I understand sponsors and partners, no problem. OFF Camera makes a daily 6-minute segment on how awesome the festival is.

Being fed with this propaganda is ridiculous. I wish it’d been more telling about events, about today’s films, recommendations or anything of substance. But not repeatedly “It’s the best festival in the world!”. Press X to doubt, okay?

Just for the record: I don’t have anything against the people invited. They’re paid to be here, they’re paid to say all these things (or they do it for their brand to be shown somewhere).

The Mediocrity

I usually don’t judge the festival by the films because it’s a taste thing and there are only so many films each year you can access. Yet I couldn’t enjoy so repetitive subjects and such mediocre choices. These weren’t bad films. But they were dull and simple, with no fresh take nor artistic expression. I found myself craving any sort of stimulant and cherishing films that I’d usually call just fine.

My understanding is that most of the contest films are supposed to be debuts or second films. The premise is great, empowering early works of new names. But let’s be honest – if you finally have a chance to make a film, you’re going to make it personal. You’re going to make it a problem that is important to you. And there’s a high chance it shall concern your parents.

And if it was like this in the contest section – I wouldn’t mind. But half of the films I’ve seen had some Freudian drama as a main subject and almost 3/4 was also exploring it. And eventually, I grew weary of another societal problem without any interesting expression.

And sadly, there was nothing else to choose from. The other subject was war and I tried to avoid it at all cost. I’m still processing stuff and I didn’t want to be triggered. Still, the fact that it was either this or that kind of choice is sad. It becomes annoying and you start questioning the festival choices whatsoever.

Fifteen film posters on black background from Letterboxd site.
Letterboxd list with ratings

Truly, the last thing I wanted was to be bitter. But I simply couldn’t find anything valuable in this experience. I felt out of place even though I go to plenty of different festivals. I felt I didn’t belong, even though I love films. And I wasn’t alone with such opinions.

I am glad that it was an invite and not one I had to cover all the costs. I’d probably be way more disappointed if I needed to pay for accommodation and had nothing better to do than stick around the festival. Instead, I had a lovely Cracow visit with a couple of friends and a nice museum. So I’ll stick to that.

  1. there were also three outside screens for evening shows but I never enjoy catching a cold at a festival so I skipped them ↩︎

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