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Bela Tarr swaps film making for running unique school

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Revered Hungarian director Bela Tarr's famously uncompromising approach to cinema will now be passed to future generations as he begins a new course for budding filmmakers in Sarajevo.
/ Source: Reuters

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Revered Hungarian director Bela Tarr's famously uncompromising approach to cinema will now be passed to future generations as he begins a new course for budding filmmakers in Sarajevo.

The 57-year-old retired from directing after the release in 2011 of "The Turin Horse", a bleak, black-and-white portrayal of a peasant and his daughter abandoned by man and God in their remote, windswept cottage.

Its long takes and sparse dialogue and narrative were trademarks of Tarr, who won over critics around the world and is perhaps most famous for his seven-hour epic "Satantango" based on a novel by compatriot Laszlo Krasznahorkai.

It will come as little surprise to hear Tarr speak not of commercial success in cinema, but artistic integrity at a time when independent filmmakers are struggling to raise money to make movies that have limited box office potential.

"Film is different - you cannot teach, you can do only one thing which is to develop young filmmakers -- give them freedom, tell them they can be brave, they can be themselves, do what they really want," Tarr said in an interview.

Last week classes began at his newly launched Film Factory at the Sarajevo University School for Science and Technology, offering a three-year programme which Tarr and his associates said would adopt a fresh approach to filmmaking.

"It started when I decided not to make any more movies," Tarr said of his idea to launch an international PhD-level film programme for mature directors.

"I had the feeling this was the next step in my life because I want to share what I know, and I want to protect young filmmakers, give them the protection to be free," he told Reuters in his offices in the Bosnian capital.


Accommodated in a building located in the old part of Sarajevo, his Film Factory is now home to 17 students who have come from as far as Japan and Mexico to explore the secrets of filmmaking.

"It's a unique attempt to really work artistically in film, and to bring film to the level of art again," said Fred Kelemen, a German cinematographer and director who runs a camera workshop at the school.

"I think it's very important because it's something that many film schools around the world do not do any more," he added before mentoring students in capturing light against a dark backdrop on camera.

Kelemen has worked with Tarr on several films, and has been branded by critics as the "maestro of black and white silence".

The programme includes a theoretical section based on analyzing films as well as practical workshops which will be run by independent cinema stars including Gus Van Sant, Jim Jarmusch and Tilda Swinton.

Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas, French director Thierry Garrel, Icelandic producer Fridrik Thor Fridriksson will also be among the lecturers, and possibly Aki Kaurismaki.

Students are expected to produce four films over the first two years and a feature in the final year.

"It looks like a menu," Tarr said of his programme. "In the end you have to cook your own food. The third part, when they are making their own movies, is where the real cooking is done, and that is my responsibility."

Most students said they applied for the school because of its unconventional approach to film and its roster of prominent figures from the film industry.

"After 110 years of cinema we are at the point where everything is undone," said Keja Ho Kramer from France, who has worked in the film business for the past 12 years.

"So to have an opportunity to rethink where the future is with all these amazing people is what interests me most."

Tarr is confident the course will achieve its goal of promoting freedom of art and expression, and produce some "good, strong movies.

"We are here, we have cameras, we have lights, we have fantasy, they have time, they are young, full of energy, full of hope - I do not see a problem. We just have to work, work, work, work."

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Paul Casciato)