Ji.hlava looks at how regional filmmakers and theatre-goers must adapt to the new post-pandemic reality and the war
- The Czech gathering organised a panel discussion with film journalists from the Visegrad region in order to delve into the current state of documentary cinema and its near future
The Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival fosters platforms for networking and collaboration across Europe, but also those on a regional scale. As a well-respected documentary film gathering in the Central and Eastern Europe region, the festival has carved out a special place for professionals from the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia within its Visegrad Accelerator. This year’s edition focused on a selection of “documentary talents” from the V4, who met with sales agents and film-industry representatives to discuss their works in progress; a number of Visegrad-based projects in the Ji.hlava New Visions Forum and Market, which seek to help filmmakers establish new co-productions; and a discussion panel with journalists and critics from the aforementioned countries, who talked about the current situation of documentary filmmaking. The full title of the panel was “Visegrad Accelerator: Central Europe Through the Eyes of Film Journalists”.
Berlin-based film critic and film programmer Carmen Gray moderated the discussion between the head of the Polish section at Kino magazine, Cineuropa’s own Ola Salwa; Lóránt Stőhr, a film critic at the Hungarian weekly paper Élet és Irodalom; film critic Pavel Sladký, from Czech Radio; and freelance Slovakian film journalist and Cineuropa contributor Martin Kudláč. The discussion started off by weighing up the situation after the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected all four countries in much the same way as it has the rest of the world, while all four journalists offered a peek into the current state of documentary filmmaking in their respective countries. The Czech Republic and Slovakia shared the most similarities, as the countries have a deep tradition of collaboration and remain the closest co-production partners.
They also share similarities in terms of the theatre-going audience and their preferences for documentary portraits of famous people, which are the highest-grossing docs at the box office. Independent documentary films are finding their audience through alternative avenues, such as event screenings in cultural spaces or on VoD platforms, most notably DAFilms.com.
Salwa revealed that Polish filmmakers are open to collaborations with international partners, adding that the most popular documentary film at the moment is a portrait of a famous Polish actress, confirming that the same trend from the Czech Republic and Slovakia also prevails in Poland. Non-fiction books are the most popular genre in literature, said Salwa, which also translates into a demand for non-fiction films. She revealed that domestic filmmakers have to avoid certain topics, such as abortion, which are not supported by the Polish Film Institute, thus forcing filmmakers to “self-censor”.
After listening to the three other journalists, Stőhr said the situation in Hungary is the worst in the Visegrad region owing to the censorship applied since 2012, which forces domestic filmmakers to avoid focusing on thorny social issues. Stőhr said that documentary films about famous domestic personalities, such as sportsmen, can get more public funding, although the Hungarian journalist called them “PR films”. He noted that another avenue for documentary filmmakers would be television films made in collaboration with the public broadcaster. What Sladký and Kudláč confirmed is also a situation in their countries where the public broadcaster plays an important role for independent filmmakers. Salwa noted that Polish public television is “a partner that nobody wants” because of the current political situation.
The critics agreed that the pandemic slowed down production and reduced attendance levels in theatres, especially for documentary films, with the sole exception of the Czech documentary Caught in the Net [+see also:
film profile], which in fact topped the pandemic-era box office (see the news). They unanimously agreed that skyrocketing living costs and the war in Ukraine would further slow audiences’ return to the cinemas, although they noted that VoD platforms remain a viable choice for documentary production. With the political situation in Poland and Hungarian support for Russia, the Visegrad region appears to be in crisis and may never be the same as it was before. All of the participants agreed that this is a period of shrinking funds and diminished possibilities for documentary filmmakers, while film professionals and theatre-goers would need to adapt to this. “The future is female,” noted Kudláč, who said he has high hopes for the young generation of Slovak female filmmakers and producers, based on their current works in progress and international success during the pandemic.
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