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Nenad Puhovski • Director, ZagrebDox

“We are doing ZagrebDox primarily for the audience”


- We chatted to the founder and director of ZagrebDox, Nenad Puhovski, to get the low-down on the imminent 15th edition of the documentary gathering

Nenad Puhovski  • Director, ZagrebDox

As ZagrebDox, the leading Balkan documentary event, gears up to unspool its 15th edition, set to run from 24 February-3 March, Cineuropa met its founder and director, Nenad Puhovski, to discuss the creation of the festival, the criteria used to select films for the competitions and the importance of the industry section for documentaries.

Cineuropa: What led to you founding ZagrebDox, and what would you say has been the most important aspect of the festival during the last 15 years?
Nenad Puhovski:
 When I started making amateur films, writing about them and, later, attending the film academy, the only way to watch a movie was to go to the cinema, as VHS hadn’t even been invented! I can still remember the Disney-produced and “mondo” documentaries being screened in cinemas around that time, but I soon realised that today’s younger audience in Croatia – and I believe that also goes for the wider region in general – never had this experience. For most of them, the only access they had to documentaries were either some local TV reportages, or the travel and historical documentaries produced by the BBC and other international broadcasters. After attending various film festivals in the region, I fell in love with the human atmosphere, the passionate discussions and Q&As, and the late-night special screenings that they had. So ZagrebDox was born in order to offer the audience this experience and to allow them to watch, on the big screen, the best international and regional creative documentaries and those that deal with important issues – both from this region and from abroad.

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What can the audience expect for this year’s edition? 
At this edition, we will be following a similar path to the one we have followed before, bearing in mind the changes that are occuring in distribution, including the rise of SVoD platforms and the increasing number of film festivals that are demanding premieres. Frankly, I don’t believe in these limitations. For me, a film festival should be an “agora” for people who love (documentary) films and who like to share this feeling with other like-minded people.

How does the fact that you also run a production company for documentaries fit in with running a festival?
My production experience has just given me additional insight into the film industry, but also more of a tolerant attitude towards films that sometimes I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to watch myself, but which the audience should know about and see.

ZagrebDox has both international and regional competitive selections; what is the concept behind these two different sections?
For the competition sections, there is only one criterion: quality. Particularly for the regional selection, we understand that sometimes the budget and, consequently, the “production value” of some of the films are not comparable with those of the big international co-productions, and we always bear that in mind.

The industry section, ZagrebDox Pro, is expanding and has a more international profile now; could you enlighten us further?
First of all, I’d like to proudly point out that ZagrebDox is one of the few festivals that had a programme for film professionals right from the very beginning. However, when it comes to film and television, I don’t think that “industry” is the best word to describe audiovisual entrepreneurship in Croatia, since this would be more suitable for bigger markets, like those in Germany or France. On the other hand, we have noticed that the industry sections, workshops, pitching panels and so on have, to a certain extent, become a new, self-sufficient, parallel industry. We are certainly trying to avoid this by creating an intense, but still relaxing, atmosphere that can be effective without generating unrealistic expectations. This is probably also our main advantage, as our “competition score” is very high, since almost half of the projects (close to 45%) that were developed during ZagrebDox Pro have made it and have become actual films.

The festival is taking place in a multiplex; what are the advantages and drawbacks of this decision?
When you say multiplex, people usually think of dozens of cinemas with hundreds of seats. Of course, this is not the case here. The Kaptol Boutique Cinema, the mini-multiplex that we are “taking over” for ZagrebDox, has five cinemas that seat between 50 and 250 people, which is ideal for documentaries. Also, since we have a very diverse audience, some of whom come to the festival directly from their place of work or are retired, and the festival runs during the winter, it is very important for everything to be under one roof, with public transport and parking just around the corner. As I said, we are doing ZagrebDox primarily for the audience. The best argument that we have, at least partially, succeeded in this are the numbers: in 14 years, we have had some 290,000 visitors pass through our doors in a city with a population of 680,000.

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