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“This year really shows the power of documentary filmmaking”

Industry Report: Documentary

Marek Hovorka • Director, Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

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The head honcho of Ji.hlava talks to Cineuropa about continuing with the hybrid festival, line-up highlights, and ethics in documentary programming and filmmaking

Marek Hovorka • Director, Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival
(© Radek Lavicka)

Marek Hovorka, the director of the largest Czech documentary gathering, the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival (25-30 October), talked to Cineuropa about the upcoming edition (see the news). He touched on why his team has decided to continue with a hybrid festival, why new technical awards have been added to the competition, and the exceptionally rich domestic competition this year.

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Cineuropa: The Ji.hlava IDFF is one of the festivals that have decided to remain hybrid. Why did you decide to make it the “new normal”?
Marek Hovorka
: We will see how it works this year, but last year, we had around 35,000 streams for two weeks after the festival. Last year, we managed to get roughly half of the festival visitors to continue streaming the films, and I must say that from a curator's point of view, it's a great joy. These viewers actually become stronger partners and more demanding audiences, so we welcome the opportunity to continue the festival online.

We would like to work more this year with the fact that this is a method to encourage new viewers in general – not only the festival audience, but all people who are interested in the world around them. In addition to films on demand, we will be streaming a large part of the industry programme and two discussions from the Inspiration Forum during the festival, and a large chunk of the Inspiration Forum will be available on demand during Ji.hlava online.

What are the changes for the upcoming edition?
We are continuing with the concept that we started last year, which means that Opus Bonum includes all of the previous competitions, including debut films and Eastern European films. And we decided to streamline the competition in order to focus on attaining a higher quality, on one hand. On the other, we do not want to limit ourselves to one main prize, but to add technical awards, since the other professions beyond director and producer are almost invisible.

The same is true of Czech Joy – that is, the national competition – as it also awards prizes for other professionals in addition to the main prize. And now, as far as the programme is concerned, I have to say that we are excited about how strong the competition is this year and about how many of these films display the freedom with which filmmakers can work.

What are the titles you are particularly excited about?
We are happy to introduce the film by this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Annie Ernaux, which she made with her son David Ernaux-Briot, The Super 8 Years [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Annie Ernaux and David Erna…
film profile
]
, which they made out of family archives. In the main competition, we have The End Is Not What I Thought It Would Be by Andrea Kleine, one of the few films we have covering the topic of COVID-19. On the other hand, we have Cisco Kid by Emily Kaye Allen, about a protagonist who decides to live as an outsider. We also have A Silent Gaze by Hsin-Yao Huang, a three-hour saga mapping the changes in the Taiwanese countryside, and Yoyogi by Estonian director Max Golomidov, which makes use of surreal realism. One especially powerful film is The Investigator by Slovak director Viktor Portel, but all of the films are worth checking out. This year really shows the power of documentary filmmaking.

The section with Czech documentaries is very diverse this year.
After many years, we have really loaded the national section with new films: there are more than 20 titles in the national competition. The last time we had such a strong line-up of domestic films was maybe ten years ago. I believe it also demonstrates a generational transformation, greater confidence and deeper experience. The diversity is really interesting. Our ambition is not to unify the space of documentary filmmaking; on the contrary, we want to show its richness and variety, both thematic and formal.

The festival is reflecting the richness of forms by introducing the VR award for the first time, and you have also included a gaming documentary in the programme.
We have always been interested in different aspects of documentary, incorporating photography and theatre into the festival programme. In addition to cinematic documentary experiments, we are focusing on off-screen works. That means classical VRs, installations and, as you mentioned, the gaming industry. We find it fascinating to discover where various aspects of documentary can appear. That is why we wanted to support Ondřej Moravec’s project The Darkening [see the news], which is included in the VR competition but also in the national competition, because we believe that there will be more documentary formats in the future.

What about the industry programme?
This year's Ji.hlava has a strong ethical thread, which we are reflecting in the industry programme and, more directly, in the section for festival programmers, called Festival Identity. We would like to focus on Ukrainian filmmakers’ plea to film festivals not to feature Russian films or movies by Russian filmmakers. I believe it is necessary to discuss this topic and share different perspectives on it. The topic has a more general angle since it relates to how festivals are supposed to approach different film industries that are in some kind of political dispute with each other – for example, Armenia and Azerbaijan right now, or Israel and Palestine back in the day – in order for these gatherings not to become tools for propaganda.

The topic has been revitalised by the recent controversy around Ulrich Seidl’s Sparta [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
and the Der Spiegel article that sparked a discussion. This is not the sole case. It happens that protagonists of documentary films are not satisfied with the shooting process itself or how they are portrayed in those films, and the question of abuse of power comes into focus. And I think it is necessary to have an open discussion about these issues, including the Seidl case. We will also have a group of programmers sharing their experience. In parallel with these discussions, we will have the first ethical conference at Ji.hlava, which will be focused on power dynamics on set or within a film crew. As part of the industry programme, we will also be addressing the topic of support for Ukrainian filmmakers. We will be tackling questions with an ethical dimension as well – more precisely, shooting the war in your own country.

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