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Christoph Terhechte • Artistic director, DOK Leipzig

"Challenging films need more appreciation outside of the standard idea of festival categories"


- We chatted to Christoph Terhechte, artistic director of DOK Leipzig, which is taking place in a hybrid format from 26 October-1 November, about the changes made to the festival's programme concept

Christoph Terhechte  • Artistic director, DOK Leipzig
(© Susann Jehnichen)

We talked to Christoph Terhechte, the artistic director of DOK Leipzig, which is taking place this year in a hybrid format from 26 October-1 November, about the significant changes that have been made to the festival's programme concept.

Cineuropa: DOK Leipzig is happening both online and in cinemas in Leipzig. How did you set this up?
Christoph Terhechte:
I think the decision we made to have the festival in cinemas and at the same time not to invite guests from outside Leipzig was the right decision. When coming from most countries to Germany, you have to quarantine, so it simply wouldn't be feasible. In crafting this concept, it was important for us to connect the online and in-cinema aspects. So we came up with the idea of online screenings of films that happen in parallel with those in cinemas, and the Q&As after the films where visitors in cinemas and online audiences can participate together. Live Q&As will only be held for the films in the feature-length competition. The filmmakers will be present on the screen and will discuss the film with the audience.

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We've also decided to pay a fee to the filmmakers. It's not a screening fee, but rather an incentive for them to really participate in ways that would be meaningful to them. Normally, we would have invited them to Leipzig and they would have had a great time during the festival, so this is a kind of compensation. What's also important is that DOK Leipzig will not take any profits from the online screenings. These profits belong to the rightsholders, and so we decided that if we recoup the costs through the ticket sales for online screenings, any additional income will be divided among the rightsholders.

How are you positioning the online screenings?
We decided to treat them as premieres at a regular edition of the festival. This means that the 12 feature-length competition films will premiere online at exactly the same time as in the cinemas, and will be available as VoD only from the day after the premiere, for two weeks. The idea is to give it more of a festival feeling and limit the options, as we would during a real, live event: viewers have to pick which film to see in a particular time slot.

What are the main changes to this year's programme?
I felt that the programme in previous years had become too big, and we initially reduced the number of films from the more than 300 that we had in 2019 to around 200, but when COVID-19 struck, it had to go even lower, so we will screen some 130 feature-length and short films. We also decided not to have two separate competitions for newcomers and more experienced filmmakers, but to merge it into one. So this year, about two-thirds of the films in competition come from young, emerging filmmakers. I think that's a healthy ratio, and it already means having one programme less.

DOK Leipzig used to have the non-competitive section called International Programme, with 40 films. We got rid of that. We wanted to focus only on competitive sections. So we have introduced the Golden Section competition, where audience juries consisting of seven cinephiles from the city of Leipzig will see the films in cinemas. It's kind of an addition to our international juries, who will be seeing the competitions online, and the section consists of films that I would describe as more accessible, which have more of an emotional character.

There is one new section that we have introduced, and it will be the only non-competitive one: Camera Lucida. It consists of five films of special artistic value that defy definitions of documentary or animation and that are more experimental, more personal. This kind of cinema needs more appreciation and attention outside of the standard idea of festival categories.

How do you see the future of film festivals in these circumstances, which will clearly not go away any time soon?
The interesting thing for me is that we have learned so much, and we will learn even more during the festival, about how to combine online and physical elements. I'm sure we'll retain some of it in the future. It does make sense. Before the pandemic, we'd been discussing global warming, and the way that we, festival people, travel is sometimes almost obscene. And it is possible to participate in festivals online. You can't do it all the time, as it becomes annoying not to be able to really interact with people, but you can be more selective about where you will actually go, and then you will have more time, so you can take a train instead of a flight, and you stay five or seven days, rather than three. That's what I think many people will decide to do in the future.

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