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JIHLAVA 2018

Andrea Slováková • Programmer, Ji.hlava IDFF

“Constant discovery is essential, rather than copying or repeating trends”

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- We spoke to Andrea Slováková, programmer of experimental works and the VR and Game Zone at the Ji.hlava IDFF, to discuss what this year’s programme has in store

Andrea Slováková  • Programmer, Ji.hlava IDFF
(© Karel Cudlín/Nová beseda)

The Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival is dedicated to discovering and examining bold, unconventional and progressive documentary filmmaking in the Fascinations competition, providing an overview of domestic experimental oeuvres in Fascinations: Exprmntl.cz, and offering a retrospective on Europe’s tradition of experimentation in Conference Fascination.

Cineuropa talked to the programmer of experimental works and the festival’s VR and Game Zone, Andrea Slováková, about hybrid docs, the trends found in contemporary documentary experiments, and the new forms and media being used in documentary filmmaking. 

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Cineuropa: What kinds of experimental documentary films fit in with Ji.hlava’s programming policy?
Andrea Slováková:
 The vast majority of them operate on the principle of hybridity. The practices and conventions of documentary, fiction, animated and experimental films all come together and overlap. The key criterion is that they must stem from reality, and the reference to reality must be obvious and intentional. And they should experiment in a wise, unexpected and sophisticated way with either the means of expression or the medium, or examine the new possibilities provided by technology and push the boundaries of this technology.

How would you characterise the selection of experimental documentaries for the 22nd edition?
The films in the Fascinations global competition are seriously diverse. They range from lyrically contemplative or intimate testimonies to rigorous concepts and digital quests for as-yet unseen images… You can find clean-cut personal stories as well as socio-political essays that thematise cultural or social transformations. However, even these positions intertwine on some occasions. For example, Moving Sands by Madi Piller reflects the position and feelings of a migrant and simultaneously thematises his social situation.

Is Ji.hlava following any particular movements or trends in contemporary experimental film?
Constant discovery is essential, rather than copying or repeating trends. The selection does not stem from trends that have already had a name coined for them, but rather emphasises a film as a sovereign gesture of creation and communication and highlights the filmmaker’s imprint on it. Situations, observations, spectacles, sounds and silence, the inner rhythm, the narrative arc, imagery intended for the big screen, a fragile sensibility towards the world, characters, inner movements, the courage to set out a clear position, constructing audiovisual arguments in a sophisticated manner – all of this is crucial for the selection, and only then can we recognise strong trends within it.

The festival has certainly not overlooked the new medium of virtual reality.
Similarly to other new media, virtual reality [VR] began with simple types of content that were primarily intended to test out the technology and which emphasised the “wow” effect. However, that has changed significantly, as it has in the domain of 360° film and interactive “experience” installations. Some installations work with performative aspects, but the most important thing is the viewer’s ability to physically move within the world of a film and interfere with its events through a controller – that contributes to the immersion. That type of content has become more sophisticated over the last two years in terms of its narration, message, means of expression, visuals and sound. All of these complex aesthetic strategies mean that VR is finally looking for its own form of expression. It is no longer merely about transposing cinematic contents to a particular space. 

Progressive documentary projects also have an interdisciplinary nature, using documentary video art, for example; does Ji.hlava scout for those as well?
Of course. The boundary between film and moving picture in terms of art is permeable and is getting increasingly blurred. Some artists think about a form of presentation for their work from the very beginning, and they create it strictly for a black box or a white cube. Others do not think this way, and their work merely strives to find the most suitable way to reach the audience once it is finished. Fascinations also has an off-screen sidebar – we show video installations in the so-called Laboratory. Naturally, we talk to the creators about the form in which we will introduce their work. Sometimes, I see a video in a gallery and I can make out its narrative arc; I feel a burning desire to see the work from beginning to end, and I know from the power of the images that it would be best if it were shown on the big screen. On the other hand, an oeuvre may originate as a film, but its pace, development and composition might be rather cyclical, so it can be watched from the middle, or the ending can be seen first, and then the beginning. In that case, we suggest a video-installation form to a director. We discuss and we think it over. After all, the form that the presentation takes is part of the oeuvre. The director has the final word on the way it is presented; however, in my opinion, a clearly formulated curatorial approach is key when thinking about how to present these works. 

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