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

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– Ji.hlava boss speaks to Cineuropa about the continuation of the hybrid festival, programming highlights and ethics in documentary programming and filmmaking

(© Radek Lavicka)

Marek Hovorka, the director of the largest Czech gathering of documentaries, the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival (October 25-30), spoke to Cineuropa about the upcoming edition (read the news). He explained why his team decided to continue with a hybrid festival, why new technical prizes were added to the competition and the exceptionally rich national competition this year.

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Cineeuropa: The Ji.hlava IDFF is one of festivals that have decided to stay hybrid. Why did you decide to do this there “new standardAl”?
Marek Hovorka
: We’ll see how it works this year, but last year we had about 35,000 streams for two weeks after the festival. Last year we managed to get about half of the visitors to the festival to continue showing the films, and I have to say that from a curator’s point of view, that’s a great joy. These viewers actually become stronger partners and more demanding audiences, so we welcome the opportunity to continue the festival online.

We would like to work more this year with the fact that it is a method to encourage new spectators in general – not only the festival public, but all people who are interested in the world around them. In addition to the on-demand films, we will be showing much of the industry program and two Inspiration Forum talks during the festival, and much of the Inspiration Forum will be available on demand during Ji.hlava online.

What are the changes for the next edition?
We are continuing the concept we started last year, which means that Opus Bonum includes all previous competitions, including first films and Eastern European films. And we decided to streamline the competition in order to focus on achieving superior quality, on the one hand. On the other hand, we don’t want to limit ourselves to a main prize, but to add technical prizes, because the other professions beyond the director and the producer are almost invisible.

The same goes for Czech Joy, i.e. the national competition, as it also awards prizes to other professionals in addition to the main prize. And now, when it comes to the program, I must say that we are delighted with the strength of the competition this year and the number of these films that display the freedom with which the filmmakers can work.

What titles are you notably excited?
We are pleased to present the film of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature winner Annie Ernauxwhat she did with her son David Ernaux-Briot, Super 8 year olds [+see also:
film review
interview: Annie Ernaux and David Erna…
film profile
]
, which they compiled from family archives. In the main competition, we have The end IIt’s not what I thought it would be by Andrea Kleine, one of the few films we have on the subject of COVID-19. On the other hand, we have Cisco Kid by Emily Kaye Allen, about a protagonist who decides to live as a foreigner. We also have A silent gaze by Hsin Yao Huanga three-hour saga mapping the changes in the Taiwanese countryside, and Yo-yogi by the Estonian director Max Golomidov, which uses surreal realism. A particularly powerful film is The inspector by the Slovak director Victor Portel, but all films are worth seeing. This year really shows the power of documentary cinema.

Czech documentaries section is very varied this year.
After many years, we really loaded the national section with new films: there are more than 20 titles in national competition. The last time we had such a selection of national films was maybe ten years ago. I believe it also demonstrates generational transformation, greater confidence and deeper experience. The diversity is really interesting. Our ambition is not to unify the space of documentary cinema; on the contrary, we want to show its richness and variety, both thematic and formal.

The festival is reflecting the richness of forms by introducing the VR prize for the first time, and you also included a documentary on the games on the program.
We have always been interested in different aspects of documentary, integrating photography and theater into the festival programme. In addition to cinematic documentary experiments, we focus on off-camera works. This means classic VR, installations and, as you mentioned, the gaming industry. We find it fascinating to discover where different aspects of documentary can appear. That’s why we wanted to support Ondrej Moravecthe project darkening [see the news]which is included in the VR competition but also in the national competition, as we believe there will be more documentary formats in the future.

What about the industry program?
This year’s Ji.hlava has a strong ethical thread, which we reflect in the industry program and, more directly, in the section for festival programmers, called Festival Identity. We would like to focus on the appeal of Ukrainian filmmakers to film festivals not to show Russian films or films by Russian filmmakers. I think it is necessary to discuss this topic and share different perspectives about it. The subject has a more general angle since it concerns how festivals are supposed to approach different film industries which are in a kind of political conflict with each other – for example, Armenia and Azerbaijan at the moment, or Israel and Palestine at the time – so that these gatherings do not become propaganda tools.

The subject has been revitalized by the recent controversy around Ulrich Seidlit is Sparta [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
and the The Spiegel article that sparked a discussion. This is not the only case. Sometimes the protagonists of documentary films are not satisfied with the filming process itself or the way they are portrayed in these films, and the question of abuse of power arises. And I think it is necessary to have an open discussion on these issues, including the Seidl case. We will also have a group of programmers sharing their experience. In parallel with these exchanges, we will have the first ethical conference at Ji.hlava, which will focus on the dynamics of power on set or within a film crew. As part of the industry program, we will also address the topic of support for Ukrainian filmmakers. We will also address questions with an ethical dimension – more specifically, filming war in your own country.

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