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.
The film opens up the topic of safety in public American high schools in response to the country’s frequent school shootings committed by armed students. While sports games, homecoming, and prom remain traditional high school rituals as always, a new set rituals have become commonplace: school lockdown drills, bag checks when entering the school, and even firearm training for teachers. The film approaches the deep, systemic problem of mass murders caused by racial and economic inequality among adolescents in American society, while also exploring the unimaginable fear for many European viewers that you can actually get shot in math class. “We’re doing everything we can to harden the infrastructure to keep people from getting in, but what keeps me up at night is that the wolf is in the henhouse. The threat always comes from inside.“ Bulletproof, (15:30–15:50)
United States / 2020 / 83 min.
This observational film provides a detailed insight into the daily work of the administration of Boston City Hall in Massachusetts and the activities of the city’s mayor Marty Walsh. Representatives' meetings, meetings with citizens, and fieldwork by individual employees reflect the difficulties that affect not only Boston but the entire United States. The issues of racial inequality, homelessness, poverty trafficking, and climate change are reflected in the specific steps of the city administration. The complex picture of an important social institution illustrates the difficulties faced by local democratically minded authorities during the Trump era. „I made City Hall to illustrate why government is necessary for people to successfully live together.“ F. Wiseman
United States / 2020 / 275 min.
The Argentine Ministry of Justice encouraged research resulting in a thousand-page report on crimes against humanity committed during the military dictatorship in 1976–1983. The generally not very well-known content of the report can be heard from the mouth of the director who reads it in his car parked in front of twenty-five, mostly still functioning companies that used to denounce trade unionists and left-wing workers in exchange for their own profit. Illustratively brings evidence of thousands of missing people, hundreds of murders and countless cases of torture caused and links between dictatorship and capitalism. „The ruling paradigm in Argentine justice focused within the State itself, and not outside of it.“ J. Perel
Argentina / 2020 / 68 min.
A genre hybrid film by Vincent Boy Kars is a docu-dramatic experiment – the main character, Leyla, is supposed to play key scenes from her life. The acted parts of the film explore Leyla’s relationships with her parents and boyfriend – played by hired actors – and the art of dance she has been studying. More emphasis, however, is placed on the parts between the scenes when Boy Kars and Leyla discuss her life and the ways to present it. Not only does Leyla relive her memories but she also has re-enact them again and again, always in another way, following the director’s instructions. The documentary highlights the constructive nature of documentary films and begs the question how drama helps us understand our own lives. “To me, this film is about developing your own way of filming. Sometimes I seem to create a new genre. I combine interesting elements of fiction and documentary, trying to develop an approach where acting and being come together.” V. Boy Kars
Vincent Boy Kars
Netherlands / 2020 / 90 min.
Central European Premiere
Somewhere between North and South America, capitalism and communism, and the Soviet Union and the United States lies Cuba — regarded as a historical, geographical, and cultural intersection of various utopian visions. Although these visions have yet to be fulfilled, the people of Havana, whom Hubert Sauper chose as his guide, still cleave to them and continue to believe the stories of their ancestors. This spontaneous and melancholic travel essay confronts the unadorned reality of the impoverished island state and explores the myths its people live by. And despite the country’s long history of foreign influence, oppression, and political upheavals, these myths have ensured that the people of Cuba never lose their inner freedom. “In Epicentro, I tried to reflect on these amazing and opposing terms, ‘utopia’ and ‘dystopia’, and thereby focused on Cuban society as a case study.” H. Sauper Q&A with the director of Epicentro Hubert Sauper:
France, United States, Austria / 2020 / 107 min.
This autobiographical film shot in the form of a diary captures the everyday life and woes of an old man with many successes under his belt and a richly lived past, but whose zest for life is slowly beginning to fade away. Jørgen Leth survived a devastating earthquake in Haiti, but his legs have not served him well since and every step he takes is an arduous task. He travels to Laos with a team of filmmakers and his adult children where he plans a project with help from the local people to capture the pristine nature of the country. During the project’s pre-production phase, he revisits the past to speak about his own life story, taking a poetic approach as he answers the burning question: is it still possible to find beauty and happiness if one is barely able to put on his own shoes? “I think that happiness, or what appears to be happiness, exists in the simple life. What some might view as cheating.” I Walk (00:58:50–00:59:01)
Denmark / 2019 / 90 min.
An archival memento of the horrors of war in the 20th century that delves into philosophical reflections on the nature of evil and the meaning of suffering. Raw images of prisoners in concentration and labor camps and victims of nuclear attacks are a chronicle of global human tragedy. The sensory and emotional experience is multiplied by a vertically divided image, which triples each shot. The dramatic content and Pahn’s stylistic quirkiness, however, are not an outright attempt to rattle the viewers’ cages. His philosophical essay, dedicated to documentary filmmaker and concentration camp survivor Marceline Loridan-Ivens, fights back against the contagion of oblivion that is spreading through the current infinitely changing and accelerated audiovisual landscape. “Big media changes images every ten seconds. The next day, no one cares what happened yesterday. No one thinks about the consequences of what happened in the past.” R. Panh
France, Cambodia / 2020 / 88 min.
East European Premiere
The narrator of the film is Belgian fashion designer Martin Margiela. The film portrait captures his career from the 1980s to the present day using the footage of fashion shows and comments by Margiela’s close collaborators. The most important part of the film, however, is the designer, his voice and participation in the film. Margiela is known for his introversion; he does not let anyone photograph or interview him. When he does speak, he never speaks for himself but always on behalf of a collective. The film respects his approach and gives him a voice, not a face; we can see only his hands – the instruments of his imagination. “My documentary work is very personal and intimate in many ways, and what I want to achieve is to discreetly communicate these elements to the audience.” R. Holzemer
Martin Margiela: In His Own Words
Germany, Belgium / 2019 / 90 min.
East European Premiere
On March 20, 1995, members of the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo religious cult released deadly sarin gas in five Tokyo subway stations. Twelve people died. Among the hundreds of others who suffered long-term complications was the film's director Atsushi Sakahara. After more than twenty years, he decided to find out who was behind the attacks. He managed to convince a man who is still associated with the active movement to appear in a film. Through inconsequential conversation, the filmmaker slowly gains his trust so that he can confront him about the trauma that he has caused him. An intimate debate about the banality and inconspicuousness of evil shows how long the road to truth and redemption can be. “I promised my high school classmate that I would become a respected director. But he committed suicide, and I blamed myself for not being able to stop him. For the next thirty years, I tried to keep my promise. After the sarin attack, my determination grew even stronger.” A. SakaharaQ&A with the director Atsushi Sakahara:
Me and the Cult Leader - A Modern Report on the Banality of Evil
Japan / 2020 / 114 min.
East European Premiere
Though China doesn't celebrate Christmas, it’s exactly where the magic of Christmas comes from. Yiwu City District is home to more than 600 factories that make glittering bulbs, flashing snowmen, and other festive decorations. People from all over the country flock to Yiwu to land a good-paying job, and they leave their families, college, and cultural traditions behind just so they can buy the latest iPhone with the money they earn. The film explores their typical day on the job and private lives with a pinch of laconic humour. And with the help of perceptive observation, the many paradoxes of a globalised world and a modernising communist China are brought to the fore. “I wanted it to be a photogenic and illustrative story that could be told in an observational and organic way without too much manipulation of the narrative, but also an emotionally relevant story for the Western world.” M. Kovačević
Merry Christmas, Yiwu
Sweden, Serbia, France, Germany, Belgium, Qatar / 2020 / 94 min.
Right from its opening line: “Not everything in this story is true”, the film can be seen as a playful application of deductive reasoning often found in crime fiction. Somewhere at a landfill site where you can allegedly get the best views of the Adriatic sea, a middle-aged man comes across a microcassette and begins to deduce who could have made such a recording and for what reason based on the cassette’s simple label description. Accompanied by an essential Balkan brass band and with the help of animation by Ivana Pipal, the man begins to piece together a caricature image of this mystery person’s life and love story, which most likely never even happened. But whatever the case may be, this story will continue to be recycled. „I think local love is a good thing, to understand your surroundings. It’s when patriotic feelings start to lead to exclusion and neighborly tensions that it becomes dangerous.“ I. Bezinović Q&A Igor Bezinović and Ivana Pipal:
Microcassette - The Smallest Cassette I've Ever Seen
Igor Bezinović, Ivana Pipal
Croatia, Serbia / 2020 / 19 min.
The nonprofit B´Tselem organization documents the violation of human rights in Jordan’s West Bank. Thanks to the efforts of volunteers, it has collected thousands of hours of video records capturing the everyday hardships of Palestinians who are tormented by the Israeli army, the police, and even ordinary civilians. Amateurly filmed night raids and daily hardships provide a vivid narrative about injustice, helplessness and violence in the Israeli-occupied territories. The hand-held camera, which is the only weapon the volunteers use, creates a raw, aesthetically unadorned image of a world where people are deprived of their land, their privacy, a carefree childhood, and even a dignified death. “It is a story of a vulnerable life, with no political rights or the right to protest, a life on the receiving end of the project of dispossession of land and resources which is the Israeli occupation.” E. Tarabien
Of Land and Bread
Israel, Palestine / 2019 / 88 min.
“Krāslava Bridge is the first bridge over the river Daugava in the territory of Latvia — a gate for the Daugava river from Belarus to Latvia” says the opening title of the film in which a strategically built and historically significant construction holds a number of different meanings. An analytical documentary immortalised in a series of suggestive, black-and-white, static shots and sounds brings us closer to the life of the bridge in all its heaviness and lightness from various angles: through the eternally flowing river it arches over, we witness the endless movement of car traffic and pedestrians walking between two river banks as well as the call of the wild within close proximity to the manifestations of human civilisation, for which it serves as a symbolic backdrop. "The special thing about the documentary is the fact that we shot it on the leftovers of a 21-year-old 35mm negative. And it really worked. It looks great.” L. Pakalniņa
The First Bridge
Latvia / 2020 / 11 min.
In 1930, Andrei Platonov completed his novel entitled The Foundation Pit, which explored the living dystopia of the Soviet regime as it began to lose meaning for the country’s people. Just as the workers in prose begin to question the world around them and cease to understand the meaning of their work, which eats away at their physical and mental wellbeing, many Russians today are expressing feelings of disillusionment with the current regime through posts uploaded on YouTube. When all official channels of communication are under the watchful eye of government authorities, the litany directed towards President Vladimir Putin can only be posted on the internet. And together they consist of a remarkable, found-footage fresco of the lives of the citizens of modern-day Russia, often living in poverty and helpless on the back of official propaganda. “It's hard to tell the exact amount of footage, but it's around 80-90 hours of live recordings. Some videos lasted less than a minute, others went up to 10-20 minutes. In the end there were thousands of messages.” A. GryazevQ&A with the director of The Foundation Pit Andrey Gryazev:
The Foundation Pit
Russia / 2020 / 71 min.
Catarina’s mother died when Catarina was 17 years old. Jacinto lost his mother prematurely as well. Catarina is the director of the film, Jacinto is her father, and together, they tell their family history, marked by the resistance against the fleetingness of time, in a poetic dialogue. The film combines documentary and fiction – the story of Beatriz and Henrique and how they fell in love, had a wedding and six children together. As a sailor, Henrique spent a lot of time away from home, so his wife took care of the children mostly herself. Ttheir eldest son Jacinto has been dreaming of becoming a bird since his childhood...“The question of metamorphosis is linked to the idea of how the character portraying my father in the film, transforms into me.” C. Vasconcelos
The Metamorphosis of Birds
Portugal / 2020 / 101 min.
In eastern Nepal, the sacred mountain Janna looms at 7000m tall. The top of Janna is considered the seat of gods and demons. It is said that whoever tries to humble her will pay for it with his life. Under the mountain lies the village where Ngada Sherpa lives with his family. One of the most reliable mountain carriers in the area, he is struggling with poverty. Nevertheless, he is determined to pay for his son to attend medical school. He therefore decides to break the taboo and accompany a climbing expedition to the summit of Janna. He hopes the gods will be merciful to him. The majestic mountain scenery becomes the set for a drama about a man tempting the elements and his own religious beliefs. “People are often guided by emotions, and in the mountains it’s even more pronounced. Over there, we are who we are. Everything is black and white. Only here in the lowlands do we have many shades of grey.” E. Kubarska Q&A with Eliza Kubarska:
The Wall of Shadows
Poland, Germany, Switzerland / 2020 / 94 min.
Small silhouettes appear in the middle of the sights, observed from afar. They move quickly but they cannot escape the quick all-seeing eye. They are monitored all the time. Despite the apparent absence of the human element we are not watching an animated film or a computer game but authentic videos from Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian missions of American and French soldiers. The silhouettes belong to real people who are only a trigger pull away from death. This is the 21st-century warfare. Everyone who can be seen is under threat. Eléonore Weber used dehumanized images of dying for her chilling reflection of the modern form of war.Q&A with the director Eléonore Weber:
There will be no more night
France / 2020 / 75 min.