All God’s Children (Toti copiii domnului, 2012)
All God’s Children (Toti copiii domnului, 2012)

By Brandon Konecny.

It has been suggested, sometimes by Moldovan film professionals themselves, that cinema does not currently exist in the Republic of Moldova, Europe’s poorest and perhaps least known country. At first blush, we might feel inclined to accept this assertion. After all, Moldova’s cinema was virtually nonexistent in the 1990s, and some have joked that the correct measure for the country’s cinematic output during that decade was not how many films it made in a year, but how many years it took to make a film (Horton 1999). However, observation of recent cinematic activity calls sweeping declarations of this sort into question. Today, while Moldova lacks the organized film industry of many of its European colleagues, it nonetheless possesses an active, albeit fledgling, community of filmmakers who are both forging a national cinema of their own and enlarging their country’s presence on the international film scene. The products of these efforts are already observable, with Moldovan filmmakers like Igor Cobileanski, Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu, Pavel Cuzuioc, and Anatol Durbală taking home prizes at various prestigious European film festivals. Yet, despite this increased visibility, works from this country continue to elude the ever-selective eye of film scholars and critics in the Anglophonic world. To date, no full-length study of Moldovan film exists in English, which has left a significant gap in the cinema scholarship on both the former Soviet nations and Eastern Europe in general. It is this article’s goal to fill this void.

In what follows, I will provide an overview of post-Soviet Moldovan cinema. To that end, I will first discuss the dynamics of Moldova’s film production before and after its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Second, I will turn my attention to the significant challenges occasioned by Moldova’s accession to independence and how these issues continue to affect filmmakers’ productivity today. Third, I will examine Moldovan films produced in the last ten years and discern a number of trends emerging in this body of cinematic works. Finally, I will conclude by considering the future directions of Moldovan cinema, both in the domain of cinema scholarship and film production. To be sure, this study is intended as only an introduction of some key works and figures, and I recognize that much more research on the topic remains to be done, especially regarding films made before 1991. Ultimately, it is my sincere hope that if this article achieves nothing else, it at least demonstrates that in spite of the significant challenges confronting Moldova, a small group of committed filmmakers have been able to produce a number of impressive works whose aesthetic ambition and thematic density are disproportionate to their home country’s geographic size and economic strength.

A Cinematic Dead Zone: The First Years of Independence

To understand why the recent upstart in Moldova’s artistic production merits attention, it is necessary to provide an historical sketch of its filmmaking climate before and after its independence. Before 1991, Moldova (then the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic) was among the most cinematically productive republics of the former Soviet Union, comparable to the Georgian SSR, Ukrainian SSR, and Armenian SSR (Perciun 2013). As in the rest of the Soviet Union, the state completely subsidized Moldova’s film industry, which allowed Moldova-Film, the state-run film studio, to produce a total of 160 feature films, 1,500 documentaries and educational shorts, and over 100 animated films between 1957 and 1992 (Rollberg 2016: 504). Telefilm-Chisinau was also productive, turning out over 300 documentaries, music videos, and telefilms. On a yearly basis, Moldova put out a respectable number of films given its small size, with an annual production volume of roughly 3 feature-length fiction films, 3 lower budget feature films for television, 4 short animated films, and several documentaries (Mihai Poiată, personal contact, 11 December 2016).[1] This form of subsidization, it must be said, came at a cost: the state could exert a great deal of control over the content of filmmakers’ work, be it through formal or informal means of censorship, and it would shelve films which did not comport with its sanctioned accounts of history or politics, as it did with Valeriu Gagiu’s Taste of Bread (Gustul piinii, 1966). Nevertheless, this financing system ensured a relatively consistent and sizable stream of domestic films.

After its independence in 1991, though, Moldova’s film industry collapsed along with the Soviet Union. Moscow ceased financing Moldova’s cinema, and with the crises of economic collapse, massive unemployment, and territorial separatism in Găgăuzia and Transnistria, the Moldovan government had little concern for the fate of its film industry. It soon suspended all state funding for film productions, bringing Moldova’s film industry practically to a halt (Mihai Poiată, personal contact, 10 August 2016). Studios like Moldova-Film were unable to replace outdated film equipment, and several leading professionals left the country to find work abroad (Rollberg 2016: 504). Many of those who remained in Moldova were either direly underemployed or sought work in television, which often presented the only avenue for regular employment in visual media (Leontina Vatamanu, personal contact, 14 September 2016). Other film professionals fell into obscurity. It was not uncommon to see respected Moldovan film workers taking marginal jobs outside the film industry, as director Valeriu Jereghi recounts: “It was a sad picture watching a video operator selling slippers in the street or an animation screenwriter, with awards received at Cannes, having the same fate” (Personal contact, 26 September 2016). Thus, the limits on filmmakers’ creativity no longer came from the state’s ideological mandates, but from the scarcity of stable financing.

This lack of resources led to a woeful decline in Moldova’s cinematic output, particularly in the early 1990s. Without state subsidies enjoyed under communism, many Soviet-era filmmakers and studios did not know how to locate viable sources of international financing. In consequence, longstanding institutions like Telefilm-Chisinau eventually ceased to exist (Mihai Poiată, personal contact, 11 December 2016). The small number of filmmakers who remained active were able to produce a paltry amount of short films, telefilms, and documentaries—for example, Vlad Druc’s In a Snug Beehive (1993), Ion Popescu’s Master Manole (Meşterul Manole, 1995), and Tudor Tătaru’s Uncle Ion in Space (Moș Ion în Cosmos, 1992) and The Barrel (Polobocul, 1993) (Larisa Ungureanu, personal contact, 16 December 2016).

In terms of feature films, there were few exceptions to the idleness that characterized these early years. In 1992, Mihai Mihaescu released his lyrical feature film Sin (Păcatul), which was fortunate enough to dodge many of the hardships of this period. Filming began two months before Moldova’s independence on August 27, 1991, and the project was able to get 20 percent of its budget from Moldova-Film before the institution lost much of its funding (Mihai Mihaescu, personal contact, 1 January 2017). That same year, Nikolai Gibu and Oleg Tulaev managed to release their final feature-length films (Am I Guilty… [Vinovata li ya…] and Whirlpool [Vîltoarea], respectively), both of which received financial support from foreign sources. In light of Moldova’s pre-independence production output, the fact that these were the only features made in the first few years of Moldova’s independence underscores the desperate artistic climate of period, one punctuated by false starts and occasional spasms of filmmaking activity.

The cinematic situation was no better in the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (or Transnistria), an internationally unrecognized breakaway region in eastern Moldova.[2] After declaring its independence from Moldova in 1990, Transnistria made nine local films over the decade, most of which were short patriotic films and documentaries. According to the Pridnestrovian State Television and Radio Company, eight of these films were made during the short but bloody war with Moldova in 1992 and had a pronounced ideological dimension. Ludmila Shulga’s documentary The Chronicle of an Undeclared War (Khronika neobyavlennoy voyny, 1992) is illustrative, for it contains provocative images of warfare—shots of bombed-out hulks of automobiles, exchanges of gunfire, and buildings dotted with bullet holes, for example—as a means of pathos. Following the war, the region did not produce any local films until Shulga’s Dollar on a Rainy Day (Dollar na cherny den) in 1997. After that, production did not recommence until 2000 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of PMR, personal contact, 6 August 2016).

In 1994, the Moldovan Parliament sought to stimulate the country’s cinema by creating the Moldovan National Center of Cinematography (CNC), with screenwriter and film professor Mihai Poiată as its Deputy Director. However, the creation of the CNC, as well as Parliament’s promise of governmental funding, turned out to be nothing more than empty assurances. The CNC was desperately underfunded and, consequently, unproductive, putting out only two films during its existence (Mihai Poiată, personal contact, 11 December 2016). The first film, Tudor Tătaru’s Dănilă Prepeleac (1995), was a 68-minute filmic adaptation of Ion Creangă’s classic short story by the same title. It was Moldova’s first major feature fiction film since its independence, but it remains largely unseen by international audiences.

Ricochet (Rikoshet, 1997)
Ricochet (Rikoshet, 1997)

Following Dănilă Prepeleac, Moldova’s cinema resumed its prior stasis. The few notable films from this period include Valeriu Gagiu’s remarkable short documentary Now He is Alone (Acum e singur, 1997), Igor Talpă’s Ricochet (Rikoshet, 1997), Ion Chistrugă’s documentary Moldova in Extreme Situations (Moldova în situaţii extremale, 1999), and Chuck Portz’s social problem film Bucharest Express (2001), an American production that was clandestinely shot in Chișinău and featured several local cast and crew members, most notably Anatol Durbală, Igor Cobileanski, and Igor Caras-Romanov.[3] It was not until 2001, though, that Moldovan cinema began to groggily awaken from its hibernation. Funded by the CNC and other private sources, Sergiu Prodan and Viorica Meșină’s Bed of Procust (Patul lui Procust) was Moldova’s most significant production since 1991. Based on Camil Petrescu’s novel, the film centers upon Fred (Petru Vutcărău), a conceited playboy who is prompted into intense moments of self-reflection after he learns of his friend’s suicide. The film’s creation was no easy feat. It had numerous funding problems, which resulted in a six-year production, and was shot in Romania rather than Moldova (Horton 2002, Lenuta Giukin, personal contact, 19 August 2016). While the film did well at international film festivals, to date it has not been distributed in the West.

Parliament liquidated the CNC in 2002 and replaced it with the Cinematography Department of the Ministry of Culture. The Cinematography Department lasted until 2004 and was even less productive than the CNC. It managed to produce only a single film during its existence: Valeriu Gagiu’s Jana (2004) (Mihai Poiată, personal contact, 11 December 2016). Set against the backdrop of Moldova’s painful transition from a subsidized socialist economy to market-based capitalism, the film focuses on Vlad (Ion Bechet) and his ruminations on life in Chișinău after his moneyed girlfriend Jana (Iulia Ceaplean) leaves him for a wealthier man.[4] In addition to the film’s romance plot, Gagiu’s film includes a series of incisive critiques of problems facing Moldova, such as organized crime and a dreadfully low national theater attendance. Ultimately, Jana was Gagiu’s last attempt before his death in 2010 to prove to young filmmakers that cinema was indeed possible in Moldova and to inspire them to follow his lead (Ion Bechet, personal contact, 29 July 2016). Considering the somewhat steady film production since 2006, it appears that many filmmakers have answered Gagiu’s clarion call to revive Moldovan cinema, though not without facing several obstacles.

Awakening to New Challenges: Moldova’s Cinematic Landscape in the New Millennium

Following the gradual resuscitation of feature film production in Moldova, younger filmmakers confronted an artistic landscape that was much different from that of their Soviet predecessors. These problems are legion and addressing some of these issues will illuminate why the recent uptick in filmmaking in Moldova in the past ten years is something of a small miracle.

Film Exhibition

In the wake of the collapse of Moldova’s film industry, distribution and exhibition outlets nearly disappeared. At this time, there are only nine full-time cinemas in Moldova. Four of these theaters are part of the privately-owned Patria chain, whose programming is commercially oriented and dominated almost entirely by foreign imports, usually from Hollywood and Russia. By contrast, the Odeon and Gaudeamus, both in Chișinău, screen arthouse films and regularly host festivals and similar events. These theaters, however, struggle to survive. In fact, at the time of this writing, the Chișinău City Council has decided to demolish the Gaudeamus in the coming months, making the Odeon the last bastion of art cinema in Moldova (Leontina Vatamanu, personal contact, 14 September 2016).

Dănilă Prepeleac (1995)
Dănilă Prepeleac (1995)

The remaining three cinemas are dotted throughout Transnistria. The state-run Republican Film Center, or Cinema Tiraspol, is located in Tiraspol, the de facto state’s capital city, and is the largest and most well-equipped cinema in the region. It draws a relatively sizeable amount of patrons, with 111,022 visitors in 2016, and has hosted at least thirteen film festivals and retrospectives in the last eight years, most of which were devoted to Russian films. The remaining two cinemas, Gorky Cinema in Bender and Enigma Cinema in Rîbnița, are privately-owned entities which screen films every week and occasionally host film festivals and retrospectives dedicated to European cinema (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of PMR, personal contact, 30 September 2016).

Găgăuzia, an autonomous region in the southern portion of Moldova, does not have any cinemas. There are, however, three cultural centers which have been adapted for film projections. It is difficult, though, to determine anything more about film activity in this region since Găgăuzia does not have a centralized registration system for filming permits and other related matters (Orest Dabija, personal contact, 28 September 2016).[5] Accordingly, the cinematic situation in Găgăuzia remains, much like the region itself, unexplored terrain worthy of further scholarly consideration.

Theater Attendance

In many ways, Moldovan spectators’ lack of interest in their own national cinema matches the country’s paucity of exhibition outlets. Before independence, many Moldovans regularly attended cinemas, even in the rural villages (Dumitru Marian, personal contact, 8 July 2016). Now, Moldova’s theater attendance is dreadfully low. In fact, in 2004 the country had the second-lowest theater attendance rate in the world (Kokker, Kemp & Williams 2004: 35). This is likely the result of a confluence of three factors. First, theaters, particularly those in the Patria chain, purchase foreign films from Russian distributors, which dub films in the Russian language. This provides little incentive for Moldova’s younger generation to frequent their local cinemas since many of those born after the dissolution of the Soviet Union do not speak Russian (Marian 2013).

Second, many younger Moldovans prefer to watch pirated copies of films on the internet rather than pay the relatively high ticket prices to see them at local cinemas. Outside Chișinău, it is not uncommon to encounter Moldovan youths who have never seen a film in an actual cinema (Pur și Simplu 2016). This points up a significant problem facing cinematic creation in Moldova: rampant piracy. Per the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), although Moldova is a signatory to several intellectual property treaties and has taken steps to harmonize its intellectual property laws with those of other European and industrialized countries, the government has lagged behind in its efforts to educate the public about the importance of honoring intellectual property rights. Currently, there are campaigns designed to instill respect for copyright laws among youths; but the effects of these efforts, if any, are not yet documented (Tiraga & Mogol 2015).

Third, several cinemas struggle to stay in business. After 1991, many cinemas were sold to new owners with hopes they would renovate these facilities and reopen them for film screenings, but few of these buyers have kept their promises (Pur și Simplu 2016). The Sputnik Cinema Theater in Florești offers a depressing example. Opened on the 42nd anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Sputnik Cinema Theater was sold in 2012 on the condition that it would reopen in two years. However, the buyer has failed honor his word. To date, the purchaser has allowed the building to fall into ruin, and it now sits abandoned and covered with graffiti (Pur și Simplu 2016). Other Soviet-era cinemas have suffered similar fates. The few cinemas that remain, such as Cinema Café in Călăraşi, can offer screenings on only an intermittent basis due to the lack of public interest. Others have had to diversify their businesses by hosting marketing presentations and lotteries (Marian 2013).

Film Festivals

Moldova is home to few film festivals. Since 2011, anim’est, an international animation festival held each year in Bucharest, Romania, has hosted a special edition in Chișinău, and it continues to attract a substantial audience (Marian 2013). There have been other smaller film events as well, such as Vitalie Perciun’s now-defunct Cinemaliga, which provided attendees the opportunity to receive onsite training in filmmaking as well as the chance to make a short film and have it screened on a noncompetitive basis at the Odeon (Vitalie Perciun, personal contact, 12 July 2016). But for the last sixteen years, CRONOGRAF International Documentary Film Festival has remained the one constant pillar in the country’s film scene. It is Moldova’s first international documentary film festival and stands as the best domestic opportunity for local cineastes to present their works to the public and international film professionals (Marian 2013).

Considering its modest beginnings, CRONOGRAF is one of Moldovan cinema’s most notable successes. It appeared in 2001 when Moldovan cinema was still in creative lull. At that time, filmmaker Leontina Vatamanu and her colleagues at Open World House Studio (OWH Studio) were young and in the early stages of their careers and wanted to create a platform “to encourage the production of documentary film in Moldova and to plug into the international film network” (Leontina Vatamanu, personal contact, 14 September 2016). Many people in their community, however, were skeptical about the sustainability of their project; and even with the film organizers’ grand aspirations, the festival’s first edition drew a small crowd of 20 attendees, not counting its organizers, and screened films almost exclusively from Moldova and Romania (Leontina Vatamanu, personal contact, 14 September 2016, Leontina Vatamanu, personal contact, 5 February 2017).

Since then, CRONOGRAF has grown into a popular documentary film festival in Central and Eastern Europe, with Irina-Margareta Nistor, a notable Romanian film critic, calling it part of the 3 “C” series: Chișinău-Cannes-Cluj (2012). Now in its fifteenth edition, the festival lasts seven days, extends to five screening locations, and shows films from all over the world, including Israel, Belarus, Brazil, and Scotland. Vatamanu and he colleagues at CRONOGRAF also organize a documentary film tour each summer, where they travel throughout Moldova in a caravan to screen films in public spaces (Leontina Vatamanu, personal contact, 6 February 2017). In this way, CRONOGRAF’s significant growth over the years has fed directly into the greater domestic and international exposure of Moldova’s filmmaking community.

Film Education and the Younger Generation of Filmmakers

Domestically, there is little opportunity for young film enthusiasts to receive professional film training, making nearby institutions like the Academy of Theater and Film in Bucharest, Romania, an attractive option. At the moment, the Multimedia Department at the Academy of Music, Theater, and Fine Arts in Chișinău provides the best, and only, avenue for students who wish to study filmmaking in their home country. Started by veteran filmmaker Vlad Druc, the department has offered courses on cinema and filmmaking on a regular basis thanks to consistent student interest and enrollment. It has produced several gifted graduates who constitute the younger generation of Moldovan filmmakers, including Lucia Lupu, Max T. Ciorbă, Iulia Puică, Ion Usatyi, Otilia Babără, Ruben Agadjanean, Mircea Bobînă, Natalia Şaufert, Ion Donică, and Mihai Bruma, to name only a few.

However, despite this promising roll call of graduates, the Academy’s film education leaves much to be desired. First, some of the Academy’s film faculty have not made films since the Soviet era and purportedly lack an appreciation for the demands of today’s filmmaking environment. Second, until recently the Academy did not have basic equipment necessary for any professional film production. Director Mihai Bruma says, “[In 2009], the multimedia department consisted of teachers, one computer, and an old DV camera. No lights, no sound, no lenses, no gear. Basically, learning film was like learning to be a F1 driver through your teacher’s stories” (Personal contact, 29 July 2016). Unlike similar institutions in other countries, the Academy does not have a theater in which students can watch films for classes (Mircea Bobînă, personal contact, 5 August 2016). Instead, students screen films in small classrooms. As director Natalia Şaufert recalls:

We used to have a computer that we had to watch films on. Imagine 30 people looking at one small monitor, and the computer was so slow that it would stop sometimes…[The professors] would even fall asleep during the lesson, when we had to watch a film or something. It is sad and funny, a good story for a film (Personal contact, 10 July 2016).

Third, and most significantly, the Academy does not provide any financial support for student projects, even for graduation films. Consequently, students have had to finance their work themselves, often from their personal funds. Bruma, for example, took on freelance jobs to finance his student projects: “Even while studying, I worked in postproduction on commercials as [a] graphic designer and [doing] 2D compositing. My diploma film cost me around $1,000—money strictly for production. No one was paid” (Personal contact, 29 July 2016). These challenges, in aggregate, make it difficult for students to both learn the profession and create polished student films that would be suitable for film festivals.

The Academy’s necessitous situation, though, has made its students keenly adaptable to an unhospitable filmmaking environment. Many of them have adopted a guerilla-style of filmmaking, whereby they use their own equipment for projects and volunteer their time to work on each other’s films (Ion Donică, personal contact, 2 August 2016). When not engaging in these underground productions, several of these young filmmakers take on jobs in television or do freelance cinematography (Max T. Ciorbă, personal contact, 8 July 2016).

Moldova’s Artistic Exodus

This lack of filmmaking opportunity has resulted in a relatively sizeable Moldovan artistic diaspora. In recent years, a number of Moldovan actors have had to look for work internationally and have appeared in films made in other countries, especially Romania. Examples include Valeriu Andriuță (Occident [2002] and Beyond the Hills [După dealuri, 2012]), Dorian Boguţă (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu [Moartea domnului Lăzărescu, 2005] and The Paper Will be Blue [Hîrtia va fi albastră, 2006]), and Ion Bechet (Portrait of the Fighter as a Young Man [Portretul luptatorului la tinerete, 2010]). Directors and other film professionals, too, have sought work abroad. Director Pavel Cuzuioc lives and works in Vienna, Austria; and director Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu currently resides in Berlin, Germany. Renowned cinematographer Oleg Mutu currently lives abroad and has shot several of the most important works of the Romanian New Wave, most notably The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Moartea domnului Lăzărescu, 2005) and the Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 săptămâni și 2 zile, 2007). Even celebrated Moldovan director Igor Cobileanski works mostly in Romania, and some of Moldova’s gifted young filmmakers, such as Otilia Babără and Mircea Bobînă, have left their country to pursue filmmaking elsewhere in Europe.

Several factors drive many of these film professionals to emigrate. Filmmaker and actor Vitalie Perciun, who now lives and works in London, England, claims the lack of resources and industrial backing makes film production forbiddingly difficult in Moldova. Even basic equipment, he says, is hard to come by on film sets in his home country: “When you’re just trying to preserve your gaffer tape and being really picky about that and being really frugal about gaffer tape, what [kind of industry] can you talk about?” (Personal contact, 12 July 2016). The absence of financial security also plays a key role in persuading many to immigrate to other European countries like Romania. At least in Bucharest, Ion Bechet states, “you are paid like a human being. In Moldova, actors and, generally speaking, artists are starving. That is the main reason why they leave the country” (Personal contact, 29 July 2016). For now, one can only hope the recent film legislation and availability of equipment will keep some of Moldova’s rising talents in their home country.

The Cinema Law

Valeriu Jereghi, Director of the CNC
Valeriu Jereghi, Director of the CNC

In view of all these issues, the Moldovan parliament enacted Law No. 116, or the Cinema Law, on July 3, 2014. Modeled after similar legislation in Romania and France, the Cinema Law establishes the National Center of Cinematography (CNC) as a public institution under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture (Dumitru Marian, personal contact, 8 July 2016). Unlike the short-lived institution by the same name in the 1990s, the current CNC, headed by director Valeriu Jereghi, will have greater resources and latitude to develop a modern approach to nourishing Moldovan film production. In fact, no governmental entity has had as many responsibilities in the area of cinema since the collapse of the Soviet Union (Ministry of Culture, personal contact, 11 July 2016).

The most important aspect of the Cinema Law is that it allows private film studios to apply for governmental funding for film productions. This is an especially welcome change from Moldova’s prior cinema legislation, under which only Moldova-Film could legally receive state financing for film projects, even though it produced on average one documentary a year (though it was not uncommon for Moldova-Film to produce no films at all during a year) (Marian 2013). It is unsurprising that many viewed this as unfair and anticompetitive. Now, the Cinema Law allows filmmakers and private film studios to enter their scripts into a competition to receive partial funding for their estimated film budget as determined by the CNC’s Competition Commission. If selected, a film project may receive funding for up to 50 percent of its estimated production costs. Moreover, the law will provide funding for filmmakers to participate in prestigious international film festivals and other similar events held abroad.

In addition to film financing, the CNC is charged with both preserving classic Moldovan films and keeping track of those involved in filmmaking in Moldova. To that end, the law creates two subdivisions of the CNC: the National Film Archive (NFA) and the Cinema Registry. The NFA will collect, preserve, and restore classic Moldovan films, which up to this point has been the province of Moldova-Film. The Cinema Registry is charged with documenting those involved in the production, distribution, and exhibition of films in the country, which will provide statistics on domestic filmmaking activity and will supply information for the project financing competitions. The Cinema Registry’s duties will also include issuing operating visas for films distributed in Moldova and certifying theaters and film projection equipment used for screenings in public places (Dumitru Marian, personal contact, 8 July 2016).

Especially significant is the CNC’s authority to promulgate its own regulations to further the Cinema Law’s objectives. Many film workers hope the CNC will, among other things, create regulations to combat piracy, require more films to be screened in their original language with Romanian subtitles, and improve the quality of film education at the Academy. Even with the CNC’s rule-making authority, though, the law still leaves some uncertainties. Take the fate of Moldova-Film’s film library, for example. As it currently stands, Moldova-Film studio will remain the physical archive of classic Moldovan films, even though the NFA is charged with facilitating the preservation of these works (Dumitru Marian, personal contact, 8 July 2016). This is potentially worrisome, because as Dumitru Marian points out, Moldova-Film’s facilities are in poor condition and lack temperature and humidity controls necessary to prevent its film library from molding (Pur și Simplu 2015). For that reason, it is urgent that the CNC develop new regulations to ensure the safe storage and restoration of these classic works.

In light of these uncertainties, many young Moldovan filmmakers exhibit a restrained enthusiasm for the Cinema Law, in part because they are skeptical whether it will be able to fulfill its promises. Their hesitance, of course, is understandable. But it is necessary to remember that this is the Moldovan Parliament’s first serious legislative effort to nurture a national cinema. 

Starting Again: Current Moldovan Cinema

Notwithstanding a litany of obstacles, Moldova has shown promising signs of a gradual cinematic awakening of sorts in recent years. In what follows, I will discuss feature fiction films and full-length documentaries that have been produced in the country in the past ten years, highlighting important filmmakers, stylistic trends, and so forth. It must be said that discussing these films in any orderly fashion entails a certain degree of difficulty. This is, at least in part, due to these films’ stylistic and generic diversity. Many of the films under consideration do not readily configure into tidy, well-delineated critical rubrics (Pavel Brăila’s experimental multi-screen films and Ion Usatyi’s essayistic film Cut [2014] offer extreme examples of modal and generic hybridity which defy convenient categorization). However, upon sustained observation one can discern the lineaments of what could be considered distinct trends in current Moldovan cinema, encompassing considerations of genre, film style, and thematic tendencies. To that end, I have placed these films under the following four categories: popular genre films, arthouse films, drabness films, and documentaries. To be sure, these categories are neither perfect nor exhaustive, but they nevertheless furnish a systematic means by which to discuss these films.

Popular Genre Films

In addition to the art-oriented and social problem films that have caught viewers’ attention at international film festivals, Moldova has a popular cinema of its own, consisting of romantic comedies, dramas, literary adaptations, thrillers, and historical films. Many of these films are co-productions which seem to adopt a common strategy: they attempt to broaden the international appeal of their plots by depicting a foreigner who travels to Moldova and learns about its intricate history and culture.

The romantic comedy Wedding in Bessarabia (Nuntă în Basarabia, 2009) is exemplary in this regard. A multi-co-production (Romania/Moldova/Luxemburg), the film poignantly dramatizes both the cultural proximities and dissimilarities between Romania and Moldova, ranging from their divergent histories to their slight linguistic differences. These conflicts find their expression in Vlad and Vica (Vlad Logigan and Victoria Bobu, respectively), two classical musicians who recently married in Romania. When Vica becomes pregnant, the couple decides to have a second wedding in Vica’s home country of Moldova in hopes that their relatives will provide them with money to start a family. Once there, Vlad and his Romanian family view the Moldovans as backwards and see their customs as a Soviet discoloration of Romanian culture. However, Vlad himself becomes the subject of cultural insults when some of Vica’s family members accuse Romania of betraying Bessarabia (part of modern-day Moldova) during the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which ceded the region to the Soviet Union. In keeping with the generic conventions of romantic comedy, though, all of the cultural differences are reconciled in the persistence of the couple.

Tony Hawks’s and Mikolaj Jaruszewicz’s comedy Playing the Moldovans at Tennis (Tenis cu moldovenii, 2012) is a co-production (United Kingdom/Moldova) that adopts a similar strategy. Based on Hawks’s popular book by the same title, the film concerns Tony, played by Hawks himself, who, in the late 1990s, makes a bet that he could beat every member of Moldova’s national football team in tennis. Seeing it as a good story for his next book, Tony travels from London to Moldova, where he recruits the laconic translator Iulian (played by Anatol Durbală) to help him locate the footballers he needs to beat and to learn about the unfamiliar cultural landscape of Moldova. Playing the Moldovans at Tennis remains one of most accessible films for viewers who are unfamiliar with Moldova’s history or culture, and all of its profits go toward funding the Tony Hawks Center for children with cerebral palsy in Chișinău.

Continuing this trend, Azerbaijani director Ilham Yaşaroğlu released his first feature-length comedy My Name is Intiqam 2: Moldova (2015). An Azerbaijan-Moldova co-production, the film follows the adventures of Intiqam (Mushviq Shahverdiyev), who travels from Azerbaijan to Moldova, both former Soviet Republics, to try his hand at politics. In addition to its comedic plot, the film makes efforts to showcase the modern dimensions of Chişinău, often through aerial shots of the busy cityscape, and depicts Moldovan and Azerbaijani characters communicating in Russian, once the lingua franca of the Soviet Union. In doing so, My Name is Intiqam 2 highlights the historical and cultural commonalities between the two countries, thus enlarging its appeal to audiences in Azerbaijan, Moldova, and the other former Soviet Republics. Since Moldova is one of the least visited countries in Europe, it seems likely that this brand of popular co-production will continue to provide a chance for wider exposure of the country’s cinema.

Moldova has also produced a few entirely indigenous popular genre feature films in the past years, such as Vasilache Alexandru’s historical drama Wolves and Gods (Lupii şi Zeii, 2009) and Ivan Naniev’s first feature film FĂT (2011). But unlike co-productions of the same genre, these films rarely concern a foreigner in an unfamiliar land. For example, Viorica Meșină’s The Colors (Culorile, 2013) is a domestic violence drama about a young woman (Irina Vacarciuc) who moves from her small village to study in Chişinău. There, she falls in love with Andrei (Ion Guzu), who becomes verbally abusive and monopolizes Ana’s time until she is no longer allowed to leave her apartment or even contact her own family. Another notable local film is Ivan Naniev’s The Hunter (Ohotnik, 2014), which was the first indigenous thriller film shot in Moldova (Bogdanova 2014). It consists of five different stories whose timelines converge around the acts of a professional hitman known simply as “the Hunter” (Pasha Parfeni). Thus, it will be interesting to observe what form popular genre films will take in the coming years to appeal to film festival attendees.

Art Films

Besides popular genre films, Moldova has produced a few arthouse films since its independence. Of the categories discussed here, however, Moldovan art cinema is by far the smallest. For whatever reason, Moldova has produced scarcely any works in this vein in recent years, and the vast majority of films which might fall under this banner are short films intended for the festival circuit. Nonetheless, two Moldovan arthouse filmmakers’ works are aesthetically ambitious and continue to attract critical attention at international film festivals.

Valeriu Jereghi is one of the few Moldovan directors who successfully transitioned from the Soviet-era model of filmmaking to that of the post-communist context, and he remains one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of Moldovan art cinema. His latest feature film, Arrivederci (2006), follows the day-to-day activities of two young children who live by themselves while their mother works abroad in Italy. The film shows the children’s activities in crisp black-and-white photography and documents their activities with responsive handheld shots. At several points in the film, Jereghi diverges from his documentary-style shots of these siblings’ everyday activities and, instead, fixates on a particular character’s action—the brother washing dishes outdoors, for example—in a manner which wrests it from the linear flow of storytelling and elevates it to a meditative moment divorced from spatiotemporal constraint. In doing so, Jereghi highlight’s the artistry lurking in the quotidian activities of those in the grips of poverty.

Director Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu is by far one of the most notable filmmakers of Moldova’s artistic diaspora. She graduated from the German Film and Television Academy Berlin and has two feature films to her name. Her first feature film, Panihida (2012), is a German-Moldovan co-production based on her experience during her grandmother’s funeral in Moldova (Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu, personal contact, 26 August 2016). It focuses on a young girl named Anişoara (skillfully played by Anişoara Morari) who, along with the members of her village, trek several miles through the sun-bathed countryside to deliver her great grandmother’s body to the cemetery. Scutelnicu captures this journey in gorgeous tableaux that imbue the Moldovan countryside with an airy, timeless quality, where the rolling hills and clear sky seem to point to eternity. She counterbalances this ethereal presentation of rural landscapes with stylistic devices commonly associated with the Italian neorealist tradition, such as handheld shots and the use of non-professional actors from the village depicted in the film. In this sense, Scutelnicu’s filmmaking style straddles romantic poeticism and documentary-like realism.

Scutelnicu returns to the same Moldovan village in her second feature film Anişoara (2016), a German production. In the film, Anişoara is older, presumably in her late teens, and has a difficult time balancing contrary forces in her life, namely finding a love interest, staying with her aging grandfather, and confronting the suffocating smallness of her rural village.[6] As in Panihida, Scutelnicu puts her talent for shooting tableaux of rural Moldova on display, which come to suggest the vast world beyond Anişoara’s reach if she remains in her village. Along with Cobileanski and Cuzuioc, Scutelnicu stands as one Moldova’s finest filmmakers, and one can only hope she continues to shoot films in her home country.

As mentioned, while the body of feature-length Moldovan art films is small, there are several short films which would fall within this category. For instance, Igor Sadovski’s Butterflies (Flutulus, 2016) deals with the intra-familial conflict between a husband and wife, all of which Sadovski captures with mellifluous sequence shots that glide through the film’s various settings. Notable, as well, is Valeriu Jereghi’s recent short film Milika (2016), in which he returns to another small village to document the activities of a young girl in vivacious color cinematography. But the hope for more local feature-length art films may come soon, arriving in the form of Eugen Damaschin. Recently, he began preparations for his feature film debut Beautiful Corruption, which will star Igor Babiac, one of Moldova’s most talented young actors, and will focus on the centrality of corruption in Moldovan culture and the destructive force it asserts against its population.

The Drabness Cycle

The Unsaved (2013)
The Unsaved (2013)

Moldova continues to face significant social and political problems since its independence. These issues are, unfortunately, as diverse as they are revolting, ranging from human trafficking, to rampant poverty, to mass unemployment. It is unsurprising, then, that this reality has captured the attention of several Moldovan filmmakers, who take these social ills as creative fodder for their works. Films of this ilk have a number of consistencies, such as realistic depictions of morally conflicted characters amid suffocating poverty as well as aesthetic tendencies redolent of the Romanian New Wave—for example, frontal tableaux, longtakes, naturalistic acting, muted color palettes, and minimalistic cinematography. Although neither these filmmakers nor film critics have referred to these films as constituting a distinct category, we might say that these films comprise a “drabness” film cycle. This decision to place them under a common banner seems justified in view of their striking similarities.

The first notable film of this cycle is Romanian director Adrien Popovici’s All God’s Children (Toti copiii domnului, 2012), a co-production between Romania and Moldova. The film takes up a number of grim social problems, such as human trafficking, poverty, orphaned children, and police corruption. At the center of this vortex of social ills is Pavalas (Emergian Cazac), a young boy who lives in an orphanage after his mother Irina (played by actress and playwright Inna Cebotari) was forced into prostitution in Italy. Eventually, Irina escapes from her pimp and returns to Moldova to retrieve Pavalas so she can sell him to some wealthy Westerns. However, Irina has to protect Pavalas from her vengeful pimp when he tracks her down and wants to sell the boy on the black market. All God’s Children signaled one of the most important moments in Moldova’s film history since Bed of Procust, as it was the country’s first Oscar submission for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards. Though the film has only recently received proper distribution, it stands as Moldova’s first significant intervention into the contemporary international film scene.

Certainly, the most well-established and feted director of contemporary Moldovan cinema is Igor Cobileanski. Like many of Moldova’s artistic diaspora, Cobileanski graduated from the Academy of Theater and Film in Bucharest and has made films in both Romania and his native Moldova. His first feature, The Unsaved (La limita de jos a cerului, 2013), concerns a 19-year-old named Viorel, played by Igor Babiac, who makes a living by delivering marijuana to apartment dwellers with his friend Goose (Sergiu Voloc). Viorel’s mother eventually goads him into getting a day job peeling potatoes in a local police station’s mess hall, a position he obtains thanks to the connections of his late father’s colleague (Igor Caras-Romanov). In his spare time, Viorel maintains a strange obsession with a local hairdresser and conspires to keep her current boyfriend imprisoned on drug charges so he may attempt to charm her. The Unsaved (2013) was Moldova’s second Oscar submission for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards and had a lively run on the international film festival circuit.

Cobileanski’s second feature, Eastern Business (Afacerea est, 2016), is a multi-co-production (Romania/Lithuania/Moldova) and marks his return to the tragicomic terrain of his earlier short films. As a road movie, the film focuses on two mismatched protagonists (Constantin Puşcaşu and Moldovan-born Ion Sapdaru) whose individual pursuits for financial gain serve as an allegory for contemporary Moldova, where its inhabitants’ poverty forces them to contend with the ethical conflict between moral-based duties to others and self-serving survivalism. It is in this sense that Cobileanski’s importance lies not only in his status as the most recognizable figure of contemporary Moldovan film, but also in his ability to encourage global audiences to both appreciate the aesthetic acuity of his films and to sympathize with one of Europe’s oft-forgotten nations.

The newest director in this category is actor, university professor, and television presenter Anatol Durbală, who impressed audiences and critics with his feature film debut What a Wonderful World (Ce lume minunată, 2014). The film explores the human rights violations that transpired after the postelection riots of 2009, when thousands of Moldovans took to the streets after allegedly rigged elections gave the Communist Party a majority of seats in Parliament. The film centers upon Petru (Igor Babiac), a student at Boston University who returns home to visit his family for Easter. After being mistaken for a looter, Petru is arrested and taken to the local police station, where he is brutally beaten and interrogated by the Major (Igor Caras-Romanov). What begins as an attempt to learn the factual details of Petru’s activities that night becomes a clash between two generations, one who speaks fondly of Soviet times and clings to an inexorable form of nationalism, the other who eagerly engages with global culture, studies abroad, and seeks closer ties with the rest of Europe. Though What a Wonderful World is only Anatol Durbală’s first film, numerous critics commented on his remarkable potential as a director and are eager to see what he will produce in the future.

Taken together, these films evince a strong stylistic and thematic overlap, especially considering their presentations of social problems facing Moldova, use of similar aesthetic strategies, and harsh condemnation of corrupt political elite. These film are of especial consequence in light of the momentum they have gained on the international film circuit, with several awards already to these filmmakers’ names. Thus, it would not be shocking if this category of films continues to expand in the coming years.

Documentary Films

Raisa (2015)
Raisa (2015)

Given Moldova’s penurious state and its government’s past reluctance to fund local filmmaking projects, documentaries have become an increasingly attractive mode of artistic expression for filmmakers. This is attributable to the modest cost of producing a documentary compared to the substantial budget necessary to make a fiction film of similar length. Full-length documentaries produced in Moldova in the last ten years are diverse in both their style and their subject matter, and their topics range from poverty, to emigration, to popular culture, to folk music.

The first documentarist who merits our attention is George Agadjanean, whose documentaries often focus on vulnerable and neglected populations in Moldova. In San Sanych (2006), for example, he follows an obstreperous boy who lives with his younger sister and alcoholic father. Having recently lost his mother, he misbehaves at school, occasionally lives on the streets of Chișinău in abandoned buildings, and asks passersby for spare change in order to survive. In this way, Agadjanean offers audiences a view of poverty in one of its most tragic forms: where it infects the lives of children. Agadjanean’s most recent full-length documentary, A Country of Fairytales (O țară basmelor, 2009), provides a comparison between the experiences of working-class families in Denmark, Romania, and Moldova. Agadjanean shows, among other things, that while Danish schools are furnished with the latest technology, Romanian and Moldovan schools are barely able to provide their students with textbooks and basic educational materials. The film ultimately highlights the harsh reality that Moldova and Romania, two of the poorest countries in Europe, somehow occupy the same continent as Denmark, where children are given more opportunities to learn and succeed.

Pavel Cuzuioc takes up similar topics in his oeuvre. One of his early documentaries, Three Women from Moldova (Trei Femei Din Moldova, 2006), is an Austria-Romania-Moldova co-production which depicts the lives of three women from different parts of Moldova. None of the women know each other, and at first their respective stories seem to have little in common. But as the film’s plot unfurls, Cuzuioc allows his audience to piece together the similarities between them through sustained observation and implication. This early film testifies to Cuzuioc’s talent for drawing out intensely personal reflections from his subjects while never presenting them in an undignified manner.

Since then, Cuzuioc has directed several other works, including documentaries and a fiction film. Interestingly, although he currently resides in Vienna, Cuzuioc continues to set many of his films in his home country; and for him this decision is intentional: “Physically I am not there, but Moldova is a big part of me, so I just have another permanent address abroad” (Personal contact, 20 July 2016). We see this on display in his Romanian documentary Digging for Life (Doina groparilor, 2010), which documents the activities of gravediggers who work at a large Moldovan cemetery, as well as in his short fiction film Raisa (2015), which relates the story of a young woman (Cristina Flutur) who travels to a stranger’s house in Chișinău to purchase a breast implant after her mastectomy. Most recently, he completed another full-length documentary, Secondo Me (2016), about three cloakroom attendants at three European opera houses. Taken together, Cuzuioc’s films concern the personal narratives of common people, many of whom carry on unnoticed by others in day-to-day life. But each of them—a normal woman from Chișinău, a gravedigger, a breast cancer survivor, a cloakroom attendant—have hidden commonalities with each other and possess a lifetime of thoughts and feelings which, as Cuzuioc seems to suggest, are every bit as interesting as any notable figure one finds in a school textbook. It is this pronounced concern for the individual that reaffirms Cuzuioc’s place among Moldova’s most insightful filmmakers.

Another figure in Moldovan filmmaking worth discussing is Sergiu Cumatrenco, Jr. He is perhaps best known as the co-owner and chief executive officer of Youbesc Creative Institute as well as the producer of several fiction films, such as What a Wonderful World and My Name is Intiqam 2: Moldova. However, Cumatrenco has also proven himself to be a talented filmmaker in Bee Moldovan (2010), which he co-directed with Valeriu Şova. The film documents the stories of five Moldovans who immigrated to France in search of work. These situations are common in Moldova, which currently has one of the highest migration rates in the world. Throughout the film, Cumatrenco and Şova intersperse interview footage of an old Moldovan beekeeper, who works on the Ukraine-Moldova border. He muses about the importance of bees and how, like Moldovan migrants, they work across the border in Ukraine pollinating flowers but always return home to their hive in Moldova. The film also contains impressive camerawork that captures its subjects in golden hues that resemble a beehive. Bee Moldovan thus offers an optimistic look on Moldova’s mass emigration and inspires a sense of unity among Moldovans who are far from their home country.

One of the most productive and innovative filmmakers of the Moldovan documentarists is Leontina Vatamanu. In one of her most memorable films, The Wired Prut (Sărmana de pe Prut, 2011), she examines the Moldovan government’s 2010 initiative to dismantle 360-kilometers of barbed-wire fences that were constructed in the wake of the Second World War to separate Moldova from Romania. She includes interviews with several villagers who live along the border, most of whom had never been to the river and feel a sense of isolation from their Romanian neighbors. Throughout the film, she explores recently-declassified KGB files which show that these measures were undertaken to deliberately disconnect Moldova from Romania and force its population to identify with Russia. In doing so, Vatamanu reveals to viewers one of her central preoccupations: the construction and persistence of identity as it passes through the hands of history.

Vatamanu continues to address similar concerns in her latest film, With Love, Ion and Doina (Te iubesc, Ion şi Doina, 2014). It explores the lives and careers of Doina and Ion Aldea Teodorovici, two Moldovan singer-songwriters whose work was distinctly Moldovan during a period in which the Soviet Union encouraged a Russified form of popular culture in the Soviet Republics. The film is skillfully shot and contains archival footage of Ion and Doina’s television performances and interviews. Throughout the film, Vatamanu includes footage of Ion’s and Doina’s son as he travels to his parents’ villages and rummages through the old recordings of his parents in attempt to better know them, even though they have since passed away. In many respects, Vatamanu’s greatest contribution to Moldovan documentary filmmaking is her ability to examine her country’s past and contextualize it within the present, all the while illuminating the personal dimension of history.

Max T. Ciorbă is one of Moldova’s newest documentary filmmakers. Although he is among the youngest of his country’s documentarists, Ciorbă has already developed a distinct approach to filmmaking. Central to his films is the interface between traditional folk music and contemporary popular musical genres, which appears in mature form in his first full-length documentary, 100 Risings (100 de Movile, 2016). The film documents the journey of Sha, a Swiss bass clarinetist, as he travels through Moldova and Romania to learn about the folk music housed within their borders. The film departs from the typical organizational scheme of a travelogue film, in which a protagonist moves through a series of locations in a sequential manner: it does not explicitly inform viewers whether Sha is traveling through Moldova or Romania, which allows both locations coalesce into a fluid landscape with a shared culture and history. Ciorbă claims he purposely omitted a clear travel itinerary to, in his words, “raise cultural borders” in order to reveal the commonality between Moldova and Romania (Personal contact, 8 July 2016). The film, in effect, offers remarkable insight into Eastern Europe’s two Romance countries and showcases the beauty of their folk music.

100 Risings (100 de Movile, 2016)
100 Risings (100 de Movile, 2016)

It is important to note that, while the foregoing documentarists are some of the most noteworthy and prolific artists active in Moldova today, this list is by no means comprehensive or definitive.There are several other documentaries deserving of attention, like Violeta Gorgos’s Variations on a Name (Variaţiuni pe un nume, 2015), Ion Donică’s Moments of Silence (Momente de tăcere, 2016), Dumitru Grosei’s Old Believers (Staroverii, 2002), Alina Ciutac’s I Went After the Sun (Eu am mers dupa soare, 2010), and Ion Chistrugă’s numerous documentaries about Moldovan history. Considering the quality of these films and the feasibility of this mode of filmmaking, documentary films might present one of the best opportunities for Moldovan directors to appear at film festivals and enter the international stage.

Conclusion: Where is Moldovan Cinema Heading?

Although still a nascent phenomenon, the foregoing discussion suggests that Moldova’s cinema is finally beginning to reemerge from its coma. Since 1991, Moldova has moved from producing hardly any films during the 1990s to possessing a consistent, although very modest, production output of roughly one or two features a year, owing largely to international co-productions, increased festival appearances, and the emergence of a new generation of filmmakers interested in creating a distinct and robust national cinema. However, this moderate progress of Moldova’s cinema, by itself, does not guarantee its uncontested existence. The longevity of the country’s cinema depends, in large part, on its international visibility, a task which leaves much work to be done in the realms of cinema scholarship and film production.

On the academic front, film scholars would do well to direct their attention to Moldova’s cinema, as further scholarly research would furnish a more comprehensive account of the cinemas of the former Soviet space, especially since Moldova remains the most neglected (and arguably most complex) country of its former Soviet peers. There are numerous areas in which scholars could intervene. For example, there are Moldovan films in the experimental and avant-garde vein, most notably from Pavel Brăila, whose works make intricate use of multi-screen formats and have appeared at several international exhibitions and festivals. Moldovan animation provides another opportunity for future research, as does the country’s cinema during the Soviet era. One hopes that the Cinema Law will make researching these topics an easier endeavor by subtitling important Moldovan films in various languages and making the NFA’s archive available to researchers. Fortunately, it appears that western film scholars have already begun to direct their attention to Moldovan film, with Lenuta Giukin presenting on Moldova cinema at international film conferences. Hence, there are reasons to expect more academic coverage of Moldovan cinema in the future.

Moldovan film professionals have a more arduous task, however. The future of Moldova’s cinema remains, like the country itself, uncertain. Given the lack of financing opportunities and the continuing exodus of filmmakers to Romania, Russia, and Western Europe, Moldova’s cinema is still in a particularly fragile state, subject to the vicissitudes of the country’s ever-shifting economic and political condition.

Granted, this realization has not escaped the attention of most young Moldovan film professionals. However, none of them have given themselves over to the despair one might expect and, instead, maintain a refreshing optimism about their country’s situation. In fact, one of the most striking characteristics about the new generation of Moldovan filmmakers is the sense of personal responsibility they feel to reignite their national cinema. When asked, for example, if she is hopeful about the future of film in Moldova, director Natalia Şaufert responded “Yes, I am a part of it. If Moldovan cinema will prosper, it will give me a chance. If I will prosper, I will give it a breath” (Personal contact, 10 July 2016). For Moldovans like Igor Babiac, some of this hopefulness springs from the success of their Romanian neighbor, which in the last 16 years has gone from a nation which did not produce any films in 2000 to one which has presently taken home more prizes at international film festivals than any other country (Pop 2014: 3). On the prospects of a Moldovan New Wave, Babiac remarked “it’s possible, possible like it was possible in Romania, like it was possible in other countries, which went from nothing to having a big new wave cinema. So why not Moldova, in like five years?” (Personal contact, 4 July 2016).

So why not Moldova? In answer to Babiac’s question, it seems that many of the younger generation of filmmakers have already begun working toward that goal, despite having little to no funding. Take Şaufert, for example, whose forthcoming feature film debut Resentment (Resentiment, 2017) relates the story of a woman’s personal struggles during the 1992 Transnistrian War. With a microscopic budget consisting primarily of contributions from family members, Indiegogo donations, and her own personal funds, Şaufert has already begun working on a final edit of her film. Everyone who worked on the production—half of whom are students at the Academy—volunteered his or her time, equipment, and labor without any promise of payment (Natalia Şaufert, personal contact, 22 May 2016). But, notwithstanding these challenges Şaufert’s film is on track for release in 2017. It is difficult not to be humbled by such intense commitment to artistic expression, where a small group of talented artists are fueled not by financial backing or available resources, but by a devotion that mirrors the kind one finds in religion. Yes, Moldova’s cinema is far from regaining its past productivity during Soviet times and, yes, the younger generation of Moldovan filmmakers will have substantial obstacles to overcome in order to elbow their way onto film critics’ cultural radars. But if the quality of these filmmakers’ future works matches their dedication to the seventh art, then maybe Moldovan cinema’s existence will no longer be subject to skepticism and debate, but only enthusiastic affirmation.

Brandon Konecny is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.


It is difficult to research any nation’s cinematic history and distill it into a coherent account. It is even more difficult, though, when basic information on the topic is virtually unknown outside a small group of people from a correspondingly small country. For that reason, I am profoundly grateful to Igor Babiac, Pavel Cuzuioc, Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu, Ion Bechet, Ruben Agadjanean, Ion Donică, Cornelia Palos, George Agadjanean, Eugenia Pogor, Tony Hawks, Vitalie Perciun, Sergiu Prodan, Veaceslav Cebotari, Valeriu Jereghi, Mihai Poiată, Rosalie Hornblower, Pavel Brăila, Ion Chistrugă, Bette Craig, Larisa Ungureanu, Natalia Şaufert, Max T. Ciorbă, Lenuta Giukin, and many more. I would like to especially thank the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Moldova, National Center of Cinematography of the Republic of Moldova, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, Rachel Branch Konecny, Leontina Vatamanu, Orest Dabija, Dumitru Grosei, Anatol Durbală, Dumitru Marian, Valentina Iusuphodjaev, and Sergiu Cumatrenco, Jr. This litany of names can only be an insufficient way to thank you for your time, effort, resources, and patience with my never-ending emails. Mulțumesc, prieteni.


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Falkowska, Janina and Lenuta Giukin. “Introduction.” Small Cinemas in Global Markets: Genres, Identities, Narratives. Lenuta Giukin, Janina Falkowska, and David Desser. 1st ed. Lexington: Lexington Books, 2014. xi.

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[1] With the available information at this time, it is hard, if not impossible, to pinpoint with exactitude Moldova’s yearly cinematic output or theater attendance during Soviet times.

[2] I include Transnistria within Moldova’s territorial boundaries since it has failed to attain international recognition as a sovereign state from any U.N. member state (Anderson 2015). I also justify including Transnistria cinema in the present study of Moldovan cinema as an instance of “regional cinema,” whereby filmmakers “focus on the fate of a small group of people living in a small regional area” (Falkowska and Giukin 2014). Since many films from this region center upon Transnistria’s history and identity, they appear to fit within this concept with nicety.

[3] Of the films from this period, Bucharest Express might have the strangest production history. Funded by American sources, the film took on the topic of human trafficking in Moldova, which unfortunately proliferated in the country after its independence. The film was largely shot in secret, mainly out of fear that the local mafia, which was extensively involved in the trafficking of Moldovan women, would disrupt production due to its subject matter. Eventually, the local mafia purportedly got word of the production, and Chuck Portz had to smuggle the 16 mm footage out of the country in a brief case and complete post-production work in the United States. The film premiered in Chișinău, but since then it has not been commercially released (Rosalie Hornblower, personal contact, 8 August 2016, Willits Sawyer, personal contact, 16 December 2016).

[4] Interestingly, the original drafts of the screenplay set the film in Transnistria, but for whatever reason, Valeriu Gagiu moved the action to Chișinău (Ion Bechet, personal contact, 29 July 2016).

[5] In terms of film production, Gagauzia established a small film studio in the 1990s (King 1999: 214). However, it is uncertain if the film studio still exists.

[6] Although the film concerns the same character and village as Panihida, Scutelnicu says Anişoara is a distinct work and not a sequel to Panihida (Personal contact, 26 August 2016).

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