25th Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival
Section Constellations presents films, that last year shone on world documentary skies. We introduce carefully selected titles from other film festivals.
This minimalistic documentary is based on simple, unsignalized confrontations of people with the camera lens. The director sets off with his hand-held camera across the Netherlands with the intention of exposing his compatriots to recording equipment with no explanation whatsoever. The resulting work can be interpreted as a sociological experiment, but it could be read as a further illustration of the effect observed in documentary film: people confronted with the camera stop behaving naturally and tend to strike poses. Most of all, it stands out as a brilliant example of work with “creative limitations”, formerly seen in the collaboration of Lars von Trier with Jørgen Leth."For me, it’s important to enquire about human nature but also the medium of film itself. I was curious about how people would behave and respond when you radically throw over all conventions of film and social behaviour." (Guido Hendrikx)
A man and a camera
Netherlands / 2021 / 63 min.
The documentary miniature by renowned director Sergei Loznitsa was made as a tribute to the art of opera and a polemic against social rituals and historical veracity. The edited film combines footages of opera performances from the 1950s and 1960s, political celebrations, and folk festivities. The nobility and grandiosity of the opera galas, reminiscent of the French imperial tradition, is deconstructed through a fictional montage logic where street folk culture triumphs over the rituals of the French bourgeoisie. There is one particular part towering above the political allegory and the treatise on theatricality: Maria Callas’s timeless performance of an aria from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville."In general, the role of theatre (and opera) in politics, including the contemporary one, is colossal. All political actions, including the civil disobedience movements, have theatrical features. After all, politics itself is a kind of stage performance." (Sergei Loznitsa)
A Night at the Opera
France / 2020 / 19 min.
A female student of the Film and Television Institute of India only known by her initial L. is writing letters to her ex-lover K. who has left her. Her quivering voice reading her letters introduces us to the inner world as well as the external circumstances of this young woman. As she – just like her peers – struggles with her desires, fears and questions related to her personal identity as well as the broader national one, the clashes between the protesters and the police are getting more and more heated in the streets. A captivating collage of reminiscences, fantasies, dreams and contemporary archive footage provides an intimate account of the turbulent present and an uncertain future of a country in the midst of political and social changes. "Nechtěla jsem natočit film informující o politické situaci, ale vykreslit osobnější, intimnější a tím pádem i lidštější pohled na velmi složitou situaci." (Payal Kapadia)
A Night of Knowing Nothing
India, France / 2021 / 97 min.
Central European Premiere
Aleph. Alpha. The transcending beginning of the alphabet, of life, of the universe. The breath, the air, the beginning of everything. Fictitious as well as real characters guide the viewer through continents, countries and stories all interconnected in the microcosmos of the Argentinian writer Jorge Luís Borges as re-imagined by Iva Radivojević. “The Girl Without Feelings” fascinates the viewer and lets them escape to various worlds and places from Buenos Aires through Algeria, India, and Nepal all the way to the Artic; to places interconnected by the anticipated meaning of mystical fragments of this inventive film; places filled with stories, songs and habits of Bedouins, artists, lesbians, and nuns.„It is but a dream. In a dream, everything is a sign. In this dream, everything starts with the letter alpha (aleph). The first letter of most alphabets. Alpha is the gateway to the entire universe.”
United States, Croatia, Qatar / 2021 / 91 min.
Beatrix is home alone. Most of the time. In a house that she does not own. A house in which she lives only temporarily. We don’t find out more about the film’s protagonist or the circumstances of her stay. It is specifically because of this limited amount of information available to the viewer that this situational film, which works with actors and an element of staging, ultimately becomes a distinctive existential study. Brief seconds reflecting the passage of time, the aimless lingering in a moment, come to the forefront. In addition, the camera permanently focused on the film’s lead protagonist, conveys to us the physical nature of her body captured in space as something both familiar and foreign. "Our intention was not to invent a story, but rather to create a character, whom we wanted to portray at a seemingly arbitrary point in her life." (Lilith Kraxner)
Lilith Kraxner, Milena Czernovsky
Austria / 2021 / 95 min.
East European Premiere
After the collection of Greek films Spaces #1 comes Spaces #2. The series of seven films by world-renowned filmmakers such as Denis Côté, Radu Jude, and Jia Zhangke is inspired by Georges Perec's book Espèces d'espaces and the lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. A condition for the creation of the series of short films was that the directors shoot them in their homes. The permitted exteriors were a terrace, garden, or balcony. Côté's post depicts a black-and-white emotional reality filled with watching porn videos and melodramas. The doses of affected emotions and orgasmic moments act as a drug that allows one to forget for a while the isolation and frustrating aimlessness of coronavirus timelessness."The best thing I have heard about myself was when a film critic from Toronto said, 'When you start watching a Denis Côté film, you never know what’s gonna happen.'" (Denis Côté)
Canada / 2020 / 4 min.
The protagonist of this down-to-earth maternal drama by Andrea Arnold is Luma, a black-and-white Holstein cow. Over several years, we are witnesses to her sad life on a British dairy farm. A ready recording from a close distance is an empathic representation of the thoughts and feelings of animals that have been reduced by humans to machines meant to bear calves and produce milk. A demanding cycle of brutal interventions into physical integrity is only rarely interrupted by lyrical moments of calmness. It is during those times that we can dream, together with cows looking up at the starry sky, about the world in which cruelty against living beings would not be so obvious as it is now.„I remember that as a child, I could watch the cows in the neighboring fields from my window. In England, it is quite common to have this kind of landscape across from you. That had the same effect on me as looking at a painting. I wanted to know what it would be like to enter into this painting and encounter its reality.“ (Andrea Arnold)
United Kingdom / 2021 / 94 min.
Delphine’s so far relatively short life has been so turbulent and dramatic that even trying to recount it is painful for the young woman of Cameroonian origin now living in Belgium. That is one of the reasons for the minimalist documentary not to use any illustrative shots and to centre all its attention on the main character. Repudiated by her own family and forced into prostitution by the circumstances, the protagonist saw emigration as the solution; even in Europe, however, she – like many other African women of her generation – remains trapped in the consequences of what is called the “Western sexual colonisation”. "In the film, I'm talking about sexual colonization and how Delphine is trying to be free from that by questioning the two systems and two societies." (Mbakam Rosine)
Belgium / 2021 / 90 min.
In his documentary and detective work, Christoph Cognet maps the artistic and photographic reflections of life in concentration camps as perceived by the prisoners themselves. Secretly taken documentary photographs are a unique testimony of events that have been fading from collective memory; at the same time, they represent a fascinating subject of visual anthropology research. The reconstruction of the past and present perceptions of former concentration camps such as Ravensbrück, Dachau or Auschwitz is a symphony of human fates and symbols of the darkest times in European history. Mass graves, gas chambers and the humanitarian tragedy seen through the lens of media archaeology. "Cognet, in recovering the original versions, ultimately aims to give the right recognition to those who risked their lives to obtain cameras and films to steal, to revive the gestures that accompanied the creation of a clandestine shot, to tell the story of each photo in the place where it was produced." (Claudio Panella)
From Where They Stood
France, Germany / 2021 / 110 min.
Like his previous films, Jafar Panahi shot Hidden under guerrilla conditions due to a government ban: just three people, two phones and one car. In it, the Iranian director, his daughter, and a theatre producer friend head to a remote Kurdish village where a talented singer is said to live. Panahi would like to record the young woman's singing for audition purposes, but her family doesn't want her to perform in public. This tribute to the female voice, stronger than tradition and religious prejudice, was originally written for the Paris Opera and was also included as part of the feature-length short story film Celles qui Chantent.
France / 2020 / 18 min.
Charlotte Gainsbourg's directorial debut presents a documentary portrait of her famous mother — British actress, model, and songstress Jane Birkin — living in France. The camera follows both mother and daughter through concert halls, places of strong sentimental value, and everyday responsibilities, all whilst using intimate conversations to reveal their family history, explore private recollections, and present a behind-the-scenes look at the artistic work of Charlotte's late father and Jane's late husband, Serge Gainsbourg. Topics such as motherhood, the cult of beauty, alcoholism, and living in the shadows of one's parents' success are thoroughly analysed by both women in a series of open and sensitive conversations.„Filming you with a camera is basically just an excuse to look at you.”
Jane by Charlotte
France / 2021 / 90 min.
The First World War converted many European countries into a muddy wasteland. Yet, poppies started to blossom at the fields with dead soldiers buried. The symbol of the Remembrance Day introduces the story of ninety-seven-year-old Sonja Vujanović as well. The native of the former Yugoslavia has been politically active from her youth; she was one of the first women to join the Serbian anti-Nazi resistance and she survived Auschwitz. Now she fears a new rise of fascism. Her memories of her extraordinary life story are inscribed in man-made landscapes and textures by long film shots. The film about the resistance of people, places, things and ideas bridges the past and present, personal and political, in an unorthodox way.
Landscapes of Resistance
Serbia, Germany, France / 2021 / 95 min.
East European Premiere
This film adaptation of Didier Eribon’s memoirs combines personal testimony with a sociological analysis of the history of the twentieth-century French working class. In the first part, the narrator shares the story of her family as they experience all of the economic and political changes from the position of laborers, who represent only a fraction of this broad social class. The second part is a reflection on the mechanisms that lead to a loss of the desire for economic equality and its replacement by the ideology of the far right. The contemplative voiceover is accompanied by illustrative archive footage, and excerpts from films and contemporary material, thanks to which history returns to the present day. „I wanted to make a film from where I am coming more than a film about where I am today.“ (Jean-Gabriel Périot)
Returning to Reims
France / 2021 / 83 min.
A former university mathematics professor isolates himself from civilization in his cabin situated in the midst of the huge forests in the U. S. state of Montana. He observes how humans interfere with nature and the destructive potential of modern technology on the environment. The gradual radicalization of this socially excluded eccentric leads to the birth of the eco-terrorist known as the Unabomber. This live action biographical film draws from diary entries and the philosophical manifests that Theodore Kaczynski wrote. With the help of montages consisting of visual metaphors and dream sequences combined with excerpts of classical and pop music, the film leads to contemplation about the violence of an individual against society as well as about the violence of society against nature.„My motive for doing what I’m going to do is simply personal revenge. I do not expect to accomplish anything by it.” (Theodor Kaczynski)
United States / 2021 / 120 min.
East European Premiere
The director spends entire days on his balcony, from where he films events on the sidewalk. He calls down to passers-by and tries to engage them in conversation – about their everyday worries, about religion, art and the meaning of life. All along, he is trying to find, from among them, the main protagonist for his film. In their rush, some of the strangers refuse to stop. Others are embarrassed in front of the camera, but in some people the camera awakens a desire to show off or to engage in philosophical monologues. The diverse lives and views of his subjects offer a look at the contemporary state of Polish society while the interviews provide the film’s protagonists with an almost therapeutic catharsis.„I’m pleased I had the courage to speak to you at all. I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope with the stress.“ (From the film.) The Polish Institute in Prague is the partner of the 25th Ji.hlava IDFF.
THE BALCONY MOVIE
Poland / 2021 / 100 min.
At the beginning of the film, the director learns from the producer that his next film should ideally be about crime and sex because these topics are far more interesting to their big bosses. Out of defiance, he decides to minimize costs and starts shooting a budget film in his own house with average Joes naturally coming and going, including: a pair of construction workers repairing a fence in the garden, a Colombian cleaning lady, a Pakistani neighbor, and a homeless man from Slovakia. As their actions are staged to a certain extent, a remarkable slow sitcom unfolds before our eyes, where the element of coexistence passes the most difficult test. "The Filmmaker’s House was born out of a growing frustration with the state of the documentary film industry and a personal determination to retain independence of mind in my filmmaking." (Marc Isaacs)
The Filmmaker's House
United Kingdom / 2020 / 75 min.
In their new film, the authors of the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo reconstruct the day-by-day liberation of twelve Thai junior football players and their coach who were stranded in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex in northern Thailand in June 2018 due to monsoon rains. The 14-day rescue operation involved members of the Thai and US special forces as well as Buddhist monks. But it was a foursome of determined divers from different parts of the world who earned special attention. Thanks to their previously unreleased footage, The Rescue is both a moving story of courage and a gripping claustrophobic thriller."The ingenuity involved in coming up with a solution to an impossible situation is the kind of story you dream of finding." (Jimmy Chin)
ELIZABETH CHAI VASARHELYI, Jimmy Chin
United States, Thailand / 2021 / 110 min.
East European Premiere
Hailing from Britain, he had spent much of his life in the deserted Caribbean islands, a no-man’s land where only animals roam. Paul Earling Johnson was born a sailor. The sea was his school, his home, and a refuge from the madness of the modern world. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean by himself before he started building ships. Although he’s the father of at least three children, family life has never fulfilled him. Today, he’s over eighty years old and has settled on the island of Carriacou, where he resides alone without any energy, but not without a thirst for adventure. This portrait of a seemingly uncouth man with big dreams unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality and who abandoned everyone he knew to find his own personal freedom flows in the calm rhythm of a ship swaying on the sea waves."I have met people who communicate and live with the sea. They are called 'sea gypsies'. There are no flags of their native countries on their vessels because their nationality, religion and home is the sea." (Lucia Kašová)
Slovakia / 2021 / 78 min.
The birth of her second child made Natalia Almada think about the future. From this contemplation spawned an audiovisual essay not too far off from Godfrey Reggio's films — both through its poetic nature and the questions it poses. Society is advancing at a rapid pace and shifting further and further way from nature and man. How far are we willing to go on like this? And how much are we willing to sacrifice before we lose humanity altogether? This immersive meditation on the price we pay for technological advancement serves as a letter written to the director’s son, who’s destined to come of age in a world surrounded by modern devices, which only contribute to our isolationism and distract us from the countless urgent planetary and humanitarian crises. "My hope is that the film slips into that experience is everybody is having and into deeper dialogues about that intimate relationship we have to technology and how it changes us in fundamental ways." (Natalia Almada)
United States, Mexico / 2021 / 81 min.
Distressing memories from school days are often associated with experiences of bullying. In Jay Rosenblatt’s playful, yet serious miniature presentation, the subconscious act of power becomes the object of an in-depth examination of feelings of guilt and responsibility. The filmmaker returns to his elementary school in Brooklyn after fifty years, to his classmates and class teacher, in order to diagnose the roots of his own tendencies to bully. Instructional school films, animated collages, and confrontations with his former accomplices help him unravel the web of guilt, anger, and frustration. The film uses rationalization and psychoanalytic reconstruction as a way to fragile documentary redemption."Yes, this is a particularly bullying moment in our collective lifetime. The making of this film, which took almost four years, has pretty much spanned the length of that nightmare administration." (Jay Rosenblatt)
When We Were Bullies
United States, Germany / 2021 / 35 min.