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Leena Pasanen • Artistic director, DOK Leipzig

"I salute the young generation of filmmakers for their fearless attitude to push boundaries"


- We chatted to Leena Pasanen, artistic director of DOK Leipzig, who is leaving after five years to head the Biografilm Festival in Bologna

Leena Pasanen • Artistic director, DOK Leipzig
(© Susann Jehnichen)

We chatted to Leena Pasanen, artistic director of DOK Leipzig, who is leaving after five years to head the Biografilm Festival in Bologna.

Cineuropa: Can you tell us what DOK Leipzig has in store for audience and professionals this year?
Leena Pasanen:
We are pleased to open the festival with Marcus Vetter’s latest film, which makes especially clear how, by observing their subjects over a longer period, documentaries can contribute to a more nuanced perception of individual procedures. The Forum is great cinema that at the same time permits reflection upon political realities and entanglements.

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The diversity of the film selection is a special quality of our festival. But we’re not concentrating purely on the scale of the assortment. Instead, we aim to showcase a wide spectrum of artistic documentary films from around the world in all their facets.

I would like to highlight the symposium entitled "Who Owns the Truth? Aiming the camera at the political opponent". It will take place in German but is meant as a reaction on the recent debates around DOK Leipzig about the ‘right’ approach for documentaries whose protagonists don’t share the filmmakers' own value systems, which leads to the issue of how contested the truth really is. "Who Owns the Truth?" will also be the motto of this year's edition.

What are some important current trends in documentary filmmaking that you have spotted in recent years, both in filmmaking and in a more topical sense?
I salute the young generation of filmmakers for their fearless attitude to push boundaries. They have proved that talking heads can be fascinating and that fictional elements in a documentary can perfectly make sense. I’m also happy to see the success of shorter format. It is refreshing, after seeing too many too long films. Hopefully we are moving towards a situation in which the film can find its natural length instead of being forced into a certain format.

One of the big topics in the industry in the last few years is gender parity, and DOK Leipzig has been on the forefront of this development. What do you think festivals in general can do to improve it, besides quotas?
I can warmly recommend an anonymous selection round when possible. Our selection committee watches the films in the first round without knowing the details of the creative team. The focus in on the quality of the film, not on who made it, and at least in our case, this has already brought us close to 50-50 in our selection. The key thing is to get the number of submissions from female filmmakers up. The lowest ratio for DOK Leipzig was 30% from women, 70% from men. We are glad to see that, for the last two years, 45% of the submitted films were made by female filmmakers.

Looking back at your five years at DOK Leipzig and forward to Bologna, what has this experience been like for you, professionally and personally? What would you consider your legacy at Leipzig, and what do you hope to bring to Bologna?
Germany, and especially Saxony, is not necessarily the easiest place for a foreigner to live, but DOK Leipzig has definitely been a journey that I cherish. Having a background in broadcasting, I have learned a lot when it comes to the live connection between filmmakers and audiences. It also taught me a lot about the elements that either keep a film interesting for a regional audience, or make them truly travel.

I initiated free screenings at the main railway station in Leipzig, and it has been wonderful to see how loved and appreciated these screenings were. Business people coming home from Berlin and stopping to watch a film together with homeless people who live in front of the cinema, and discuss it together. We are all very proud of this. Hopefully it stays in the programming.

Bologna has a different profile and a different vibe, so content-wise it will be something else. But in Italy, I will use something I have learned: creating a network in Germany means personal visits, instead of emails and phone calls like I was used to in Finland and Denmark. Face-to-face meetings have truly kicked off some great collaborations.

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