It was the 22nd Titanic International Film Festival that has just finished in Budapest – with a lot of fresh and challenging movies. But another fact makes this year’s festival special: it has a new program director, Allan Sørensen from Denmark. So we at Daily News Hungary were very curious of what he did until now, what he finds challenging in putting together this really exciting program, what his concept was and how he found this job.
DailyNewsHungary: How would you summarize this year’s Titanic Film Festival?
Allan Sørensen: The festival went quite well, and we were pleased to receive a number of talented directors from abroad, among them the French director Lucie Borleteau, whose film Fidelio – Alice utazása ended up being awarded as the best film in our competition section. In general, audiences seemed to appreciate this year’s programme, as we improved our audience figures significantly from last year. A number of screenings were sold out, for instance Citizenfour, Megmaradt Alice-nek (Still Alice), Snowpiercer, and Ex-Machina were in high demand, to name just a few. Whereas judging by the audience voting system Hétköznapi vámpírok (What We Do In the Shadows) was the most beloved film of the festival this year. Both Citizenfour and Hétköznapi vámpírok (What We Do In the Shadows) will be in Hungarian cinemas soon for all to enjoy.
DailyNewsHungary: You are now a program director of the Titanic International Film Festival of Hungary. Does your studies relate to the film industry? Do you make films eventually? How did you get in contact with the festival?
Allan Sørensen: I have had my master in english and danish in the University of Copenhagen. During my studies I attended a lot of film-related courses and I even wrote my master’s thesis on the western genre. I have always been interested about the film industry and I have always been in love with the cinema and it is really great to now have a job that is actually a natural continuation of all my studies and a flow in a sense that it all connects. It is great having the opportunity to put my hobby, my passion and my professional together.
DailyNewsHungary: Is this your first film-related job?
Allan Sørensen: Previously, after having finished my studies I used to work at the Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen, the Cinematheque. This is sort of a museum for film. A museum in a sense that the cinematheque screens films that are not neccessarily new but they are for example classics or historical films. So what you see on the screen is a living image – it is a museum in that sense; similar to Örökmozgó that we have in Budapest. There are displays on the wall instead of pictures. There were exhibitions, film series – I made a series of Hitchcock-films for example, so-called retrospectives and also wrote film reviews. I worked there for two years, basically that is were I have my professional experience from. That is what impressed our festival director here, Horváth György. So when I got in touch with him he was impressed by my CV and I was lucky to get the job. He was looking for someone and I was also looking for a job, and now I am pleased to work with him.
DailyNewsHungary: And how did you two meet? How did you get to know that he was looking for someone and how did he know that you were looking for a job?
Allan Sørensen: I did not know he was looking for someone. It was me looking for work. My girlfriend is hungarian so I was visiting Budapest and I visited Titanic Festival in 2013 and being a film-fan I watched a lot of movies on the festival. Half a year later, I was looking for work – we were travelling all around Europe and in the winter of 2013/2014 I approached Horváth György without knowing he was looking for someone. But it was a coincidence beause he was! I thought: why not try my luck? I did not expect to end up as the program director. He put me on a – let’s say – trial last year and gave me the chance to put the program together and he liked my work and gave me the job last summer. So actually, this is my second year of being the program director, but it feels like my first year in a sense.
DailyNewsHungary: Why is that?
Allan Sørensen: My „trial-period” was sort of a last minute-project, I put together last year’s program in a very short notice. This year it is different: now I had a whole year to select the films and put together the program. I started to make the lists of potential films and collecting ideas last summer. Then, of course, there are certain factors that I also cannot forget. The rights for example, the principles, policies and goals of the festival and also the budget so that I had to negotiate a lot. For example, we have a policy of not screening anything that has been publicly screened before in Hungary. Therefore, we could not select movies that has been screened on Cinefest in Miskolc before Titanic. Otherwise Titanic would become less exclusive. So the Cinefest meant the real starting point for me in putting together the program.
DailyNewsHungary: The industry is producing films continously. What was the deadline for you to finalize the program? By that I mean: what if at the time you consider the program to be complete, you watch a movie in the last minute that you feel like having to put into the program?
Allan Sørensen: I set the deadline one month before the festival starts. I had to because in this situation the cataloque needs to be printed, the films must get to Budapest, and so on. So if a film comes out a week before the festival it is simply not possible to put it into the program.
DailyNewsHungary: You mentioned that you started having ideas regarding the festival. What were these ideas?
Allan Sørensen: Titanic has existed for 22 years now, so there is a well-known structure: we have about 8-9 or 10 sections, music-documentaries for example that are always popular, we have the dark side which includes the genre-films: horror, thriller, action and so on. So these sections definitely have to stay because the audiences know them well and sort of connect with them and I do not want to remove them and start a revolution… I respect that Titanic has a beloved history and audience. It would not make any sense for me to push anyone away. On the other hand, it is also my job to make sure that the program is continously fresh, full of fresh ideas and offers something new. This year I wanted to focus on asian films. These films has been in the focus of Titanic previously but not in recent years. I could say we are bringing back the asian films and I want to follow this tendency in the future because I think the films from Asia are really absent here and it was one of my ideas to make Titanic a festival which also offers the opportunity for the audience to get to know these cultures and their films better. They cannot go to the cinema any time to watch these movies.
DailyNewsHungary: It seems like the asian film industry is getting more and more popular in Europe: they have been winning a bunch of prizes on Berlinale for years now, and they get invited to Hungary’s Titanic Film Festival…
Allan Sørensen: Yes, that is true and we have some of Berlinale’s winners in the program.
DailyNewsHungary: Do you think Titanic’s audience is a special audience?
Allan Sørensen: From a certain point of view, yes. But my goal is to reach as many people as possible with these films so while putting together the program I wanted everyone to find movies that match their preferences. For those who prefer going to see action movies or comedies – we also have actions and comedies. They are just maybe a little more challenging or alternative.
DailyNewsHungary: Challenging…? In what sense?
Allan Sørensen: In the sense of the story for example. You do not just sit down for two hours and eat your popcorn and leave your brain out the door. But I have nothing to say against that because sometimes I also go to the cinema and expect to just be entertained. In general, I would say most of our films at Titanic challenge people. We want them to be engaged and maybe show them something they do not see everyday. And that is the quality I think we can bring. So I think there is a special sort of core-audience but I would also like to reach people that are on the margins of this core. To summarize: I want everybody to find films they like but I do not expect everybody to like all the films we have in the program.
DailyNewsHungary: What is the hardest part of this job, putting together a program that fulfills this concept?
Allan Sørensen: I think what makes it hard is first of all the budget – which is limited. Fortunately, we have partners every year: cultural institutes, the French Institut is for example always very generous and we are pleased to work with them. We also have embassies, the Danish Embassy, the Polish Institute and this year we also made partnership with the New Zealand Embassy. We rely on good partners on funding other than the budget we have. We need to spend the money we have very wisely and we also have to negotiate a lot with distributors. Screening fees are sometimes ridiculously high. You have to be cheeky sometimes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. So this is a fun and a hard part in the same time. That is why I usually call it the game. The program is definitely a puzzle.
DailyNewsHungary: So you are really a go-for-it-guy.
Allan Sørensen: I think so. I go for it. I do not think that anything is impossible until it is impossible. That is my philosophy. Internationally, this festival is a small fish in the see, so I really do not have anything to lose. So I can be cheeky and try to go for the titles we really want. What is the worst that can happen? They say no. So? I go on.
DailyNewsHungary: Do you do this alone – making decisions about the budget and negotiating?
Allan Sørensen: We have a staff but the program is my responsibility in cooperation with the festival director. We visited festivals, for example I visited the London Film Festival in october scouting for movies. We had some of the films I saw in London in Titanic’s program. Horváth György also went to Berlinale and we had some titles from there, too. So I would say our scouting missions were quite successful, we put the puzzle together… together. It is a cooperation but the program is my responsibility.
DailyNewsHungary: If you see a lot of good movies – don’t you start thinking about making one?
Allan Sørensen: No, not really. I don’t think I have that talent. I think my talent rather lies in finding the good movies. I think it is something I’m good at and I enjoy a lot. I’m grateful to have this job!
by Noemi Gangel