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

“Central and Eastern European films are connected by political reflection much more than other movies are”


- Director of the Ji.hlava IDFF Marek Hovorka talks to Cineuropa about the special digital edition, and how the current situation is affecting domestic and international films

Marek Hovorka • Festival director, Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival
(© Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival)

Marek Hovorka has been leading the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival since its inception. He talked to Cineuropa about the special 24th edition (27 October-8 November), which has had to be transformed into a digital affair, given the current situation and the arrival of the second wave of the coronavirus. He talks about how the pandemic has affected the festival, and documentary film in general, while also spotlighting interesting works in this year’s line-up.

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Cineuropa: How did you manage to transform the festival into a virtual affair?
Marek Hovorka
: Since March, we’d known that there would be a possibility that the festival would have to be held online. And we knew that the online solution was a possibility for documentary film festivals, as CPH:DOX and Visions du Réel both took place in digital form this year. However, we do not perceive it as the primary distribution platform. When the decision was made that the festival would be digital, myriad questions arose that we needed to resolve, and that was the challenge that has kept us occupied for the last three weeks. Up until now, online festivals have unfolded through a process of making films available via the internet and providing either pre-recorded or live-streamed Q&A sessions with filmmakers. We decided to augment this model with an aspect that we believe online festivals were lacking: live broadcasting. We will be streaming information about films, interviews with guests, and the festival’s general atmosphere to our viewers from our studio in Jihlava.

Did the transformation have an impact on the programming structure or the number of titles?
I would like to thank all of the directors, producers, distributors, sales agents and institutes because we have transformed the whole festival. We are screening the same number of films as we would during a physical version.

Has the coronavirus crisis affected Czech documentaries?
The domestic films we will be introducing were shot and finished before the outbreak of the pandemic. We will see next year whether Czech documentaries will be impacted by the situation, although documentary productions are not as dependent on those conditions as big film crews on fiction projects. However, I know that many filmmakers are considering waiting for better times for their premieres. I would be cautious about this, though, because this experience is going to change us, as films frozen for three or four years may miss their mark. In general, all of the sections are brimming with high-quality films as well as a high quantity, as we will be screening 280 titles.

How is the Czech documentary scene looking in 2020?
The new generation of domestic documentary makers is approaching the task of shooting films in such a manner that the movies will appeal to a foreign audience. I believe this is directly linked to the new generation of producers who are thinking about film production differently. And this doesn’t solely include producers with Sundance aspirations, but also others who want to captivate arthouse film festivals. They are not seeking audience acclaim primarily, but rather they want to create intimate auteur films, and we can see a successful attempt to gear these movies towards international film festivals and introduce them in an international context. And Czech documentary films had been lacking this approach in recent years.

Speaking of international films, what kinds of documentaries has Ji.hlava programmed this year?
There are some wonderful films on the menu. I’m happy that we have managed to put together a line-up that reflects current trends in documentary and experimental cinema in each section. In the Opus Bonum section, we have the film One Says No by Dayong Zhao, an authentic and independent movie from China that portrays the current reality in that country. It is an image of the personal revolt that the film’s protagonist undertakes when he decides to barricade himself in his house and not yield to a construction lobby that wants to build a huge housing estate where his house is. It is a message conveyed from an everyday perspective, which is also the case in Ai Weiwei’s latest film, Coronation, capturing Wuhan in the time of the pandemic.

The films in First Lights, a competition section for feature debuts, share a similar topic of home, whether it is a movie shot by a Lebanese director in Syria or one shot by a French director in Madagascar. Those films stand out due to their brave formal approach and their personal way of tackling both the film and the theme. The Between the Seas section has two interesting films – one is Slovakian, by Tomáš Rafa, Refugees Are Welcomed Here, and the other one is Poland’s Last Knights of the Right Side by Michał Edelman, in the Between the Seas Student Film Competition – and they both tackle the phenomenon of extremist demonstrations. Central and Eastern European films are connected by political reflection much more than other movies are, including Antigone – How Dare We!, with Slavoj Žižek, which also expresses a statement: our Central European experience of the situation that the whole of global society is going through.

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