Marek Hovorka • Director, Ji.hlava IDFF
“Many of the films in the programme try to capture the authentic joy of life”
- Director of the Ji.hlava IDFF Marek Hovorka talks to Cineuropa about this year’s edition, changes to the festival and new discoveries in documentary filmmaking
The Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival is the largest festival of independent documentary films in the Central and Eastern Europe region. The 22nd edition offers 327 diverse films from all corners of the world, and the gathering’s director, Marek Hovorka, talked to Cineuropa about the latest discoveries he has made and recent changes to the festival.
Cineuropa: What do you consider to be the central themes of the 22nd edition of Ji.hlava?
Marek Hovorka: We are not a festival that likes to operate predominantly with a thematic definition; I would rather try to read between the lines. One of the focal points of global documentary filmmaking is traditionally politics, an area that is spotlighted in this year’s programme by Werner Herzog’s Meeting Gorbachev [+see also:
film profile] and Putin’s Witnesses [+see also:
interview: Vitaly Mansky
film profile] by Vitaly Mansky, for example. Other political movies include the portrait of Uruguay’s “poorest president in the world”, El Pepe, a Supreme Life [+see also:
interview: Emir Kusturica
film profile] by Emir Kusturica, and Pope Francis: A Man of His Word [+see also:
film profile] by Wim Wenders. Nevertheless, I can make out another theme in the works of debuting filmmakers, and that is loneliness. New technologies are putting us in a position where we have many opportunities – but the majority are not true opportunities. Undoubtedly, there are many films in the programme that try to capture the sheer variety of beautiful moments and situations, and the authentic joy of life.
You introduced several changes for the 20th-anniversary edition. Have you cooked up any new ones for this year’s edition?
The main novelty this year is the expansion of two of the festival’s platforms. The first is the Inspiration Forum, which will offer discussions and meetings with 80 leading figures from outside the film world. This forum is a platform for those looking for new topics and perspectives for future documentary films. For instance, I am looking forward to hearing from Mexican innovator Emiliana Rodriguez Morales, who is fighting drug cartels and greedy bankers by changing the educational system. The other major change is the six-day Ji.hlava for Kids programme, which offers film screenings, theatre performances and concerts for the youngest festival visitors, as well as workshops aimed to foster film and media education.
Is there a particular formalistic feature that has had a bearing on this year’s selection?
The digitalisation of cinema does not only affect the question of who can shoot a film today, but also how it is circulated. It is the distribution that has evolved and is having an impact retroactively on the form that films take. In the past, the sole possibility of introducing movies was a theatrical release, which standardised the running time between 70 and 90 minutes, whereas today, films are much longer than they should be. There is an inexhaustible supply of high-quality medium-length films because the internet and festival distribution no longer ignore them. More movies that last several hours are being created as well. Indeed, we will introduce the longest documentary in the history of the film festival, clocking in at almost 12 hours – it is a fascinating look at the transformation of the Chinese independent music scene. Also, after quite some time, a four-hour-long film will once again screen in the Czech competition, and this movie is a result of the presence of a film crew in a Czech prison over a period of two years.
You said, “The true struggle of cinema happens in documentaries, which open up new possibilities, topics and perspectives.” Can you name some examples?
Of course, it is hard to single out a couple of films from the line-up of more than 300 that we will screen, 140 as a world or European premiere. That is a huge and fertile ground ripe for exploration. I was personally most impressed by works from South America – Ji.hlava’s competition programme offers a strong batch of titles from Peru, Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela. Hybrid approaches start to intertwine here: there’s the black-and-white film Expectant [+see also:
film profile] by Farid Rodríguez Rivero; a family chronicle called El Paraiso, compiled from VHS tapes and encapsulating the influence of Chavez’s politics on ordinary life in Venezuela; a contemplation on the colonisation of Colombia, Double Me [+see also:
film profile] by Felipe Rugeles, shot where reality and dreams collide; and one of the most free-spirited films at this edition, the Venezuelan title Owner’s Portrait, which fights for people’s freedom through the open-mindedness of cats. This year’s real discovery is Azerbaijani director Hilal Baydar, who has so far been shooting films only for himself, and Ji.hlava will be the first festival to introduce his unique works to an audience. Each of the movies we are screening is so different from the others, and that is our intention – we do not want to be a place establishing a mainstream canon.
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