23rd Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival
Bold allegorical, radically poetic, and unusual documentaries produced at the fringes of the official structures of the post-war Soviet regime in Ukraine.
Although Ukraine has no experimental cinema that might correspond to the avant-garde movements in Western Europe, America, and East Asia during the second half of the 20th century, experimentation with various forms of visual representation, media, and styles and genres took place in several forms at different places: On the margins of official art, at film schools, and outside the state-controlled system, directors created radically poetic films, hybrid works combining allegory, a distinctive visual language, staging, performance, and documentary observation. Some of the radically poetic films (whose creators were later called the Ukrainian School of Poetic Film) showed the clear infl uence of that legend of poetic filmmaking, Sergei Parajanov, who taught at the Ukrainian film school. Another influential figure was Feliks Sobolev, known for his visually stunning popular science films. Ukrainian visual collages were often characterized by an ironic subtext, especially in how they worked with the techniques associated with “official” documentary film, for instance enthusiastic voiceovers in the style of communist propaganda films. Among amateur filmmakers from this era, we see attempts at a more distinctive visual language, and so our retrospective also includes an example of a home movie that makes use of elements not usually found in such works (close-ups, motifs unrelated to family and shared experiences). The places of spontaneous experimentation and the documentation of performative interventions in public were first of all universities such as the Polytechnic Institute in Kharkiv or Medical Institute in Lviv. Some of the works created at film school were considered subversive, and some were rejected or even banned. (The best known example is the cult music film The End of Holidays.) Until recently, many of the films in this retrospective were unknown even at home, and some remain so today. Only two of them have ever been screened outside of Ukraine.
This retrospective selection is part of the Ji.hlava IDFF’s long-term focus on the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. At previous Conference Fascinations screenings, filmgoers – among them renowned international distributors, representatives from experimental film festivals, and gallerists – could learn about the Czech experimental scene (2015), underground and experimental film from the communist era in Eastern Europe (2016), experimental Balkan production from the same era (2017), and experimental and underground film from the Baltic countries under communism (2018).
For generous help we would like to thank Oleksandr Teliuk and Oleksandr Dovzhenko and National Cinematheque of Ukraine.