26th Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

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Testimonies

Testimonies is a selection of films that capture the current state of the world from various angles: as much as it may seem that there is no common thread running through them, within the context of Czech and international documentary filmmaking these are works that, for many diff erent reasons, cannot be overlooked.

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1970
In December 1970, riots broke out in communist Poland in response to the sudden rise in the price of meat and basic foodstuffs. The response of the ruling establishment to the workers' strikes, demonstrations, and protests was harsh. The film reconstruction could have been a gripping feature drama, but the director depicts the events of the time using animated puppets and archival audiovisual footage. The film's central focus is recordings of telephone conversations of peculiar characters, whose conversations stand on the borderline between absurd drama and black grotesque. However, the questions of who recorded them and why the rioting crowd is mute are chilling."Outside, people are fighting for this proverbial bread, and these guys are sitting surrounded by oranges, bottles and grapes. There is this divide. And when it reaches truly extreme levels, people take to the streets."   The Polish Institute in Prague is the partner of the 25th Ji.hlava IDFF.   
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1970

Tomasz Wolski
Poland / 2021 / 70 min.
section: Testimonies
Czech Premiere
African Apocalypse
Even though Joseph Conrad’s legendary novella Heart of Darkness is admitted fiction, it is nothing short of reality. A British university student of Nigerian origin sets out to retrace Captain Voulet’s deadly military mission to the area of today’s Niger. At the time when Conrad’s gloomy literary vision of a white man falling victim to his megalomaniac frenzy deep in the backwoods of Africa was issued as a magazine serial story, the colonial ambitions of his country led a French officer to wreak havoc in the heart of the black continent, the consequences of which the local population is facing until this day. "We wanted to find a universal way into the subject of Colonial history and the idea that it continues until now." (Rob Lemkin)
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African Apocalypse

Rob Lemkin
United Kingdom / 2020 / 88 min.
section: Testimonies
Czech Premiere
All Light, Everywhere
A multi-layered documentary odyssey exploring the possibilities of seeing and being seen in a society that both oversees and is itself overseen. The film introduces the viewer to America's largest company producing police bodycams and tasers, presents a history of the development of audio-visual recording devices and weapons, and takes a bird's eye view of Baltimore citizens' debates about how to reduce crime through bird's-eye view monitoring. Is the human eye or the camera lens more objective? The film oscillates between investigative journalism and philosophical video essay, revealing the limits of individual freedom in an age of constant surveillance. „As a filmmaker especially, in my position, it’s my worst fear that something that I make would end up reinforcing the very thing that I’m critiquing.“ (Theo Anthony)
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All Light, Everywhere

Theo Anthony
United States / 2021 / 109 min.
section: Testimonies
Czech Premiere
Connection
This documentary film is made without words, music, and usually even without human presence. At the beginning, we see in detail a small wolf cub that some people found abandoned in a forest and are now taking to a rescue station by car. Then pure observational methods are used to develop the light-hearted story of two such wolves during their forced stay in captivity until such time that they are returned to the wild. The structure of the film is based only on the changing times of day and yearly seasons. Everything else is open to the viewer’s interpretation of animal behavior, chiefly during the wolves’ interaction with other representatives of their own species and in both familiar and unknown surroundings. "A reintegration experiment in the wild never attempted in Europe, this time crowned with success despite normally imprinting on humans condemning wolves recovered when they were still cubs to perennial captivity."
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Connection

Andrea Dalpian
Italy / 2021 / 71 min.
section: Testimonies
International Premiere
Dark Red Forest
Once a year, ten thousand Buddhist nuns gather on top the Tibetan plateau in Sichuan Province to seek enlightenment in adverse weather conditions. In the Yarchen monastery, they build small wooden huts, reminiscent of coffins, in which they spend one hundred coldest days of the year. Instead of telling personal stories, we follow the monastery and its daily rituals in action. Witness the physical transform into the spiritual and the individual transform into the collective, all in perfect harmony with this majestic landscape. Thousands of women clad in red robes become a living forest that grows in defiance of dictatorship, atop the Roof of the World.   „I want to focus more on representing the way the characters feel and what they really think about in that moment, instead of telling the story and telling the audience what’s happening.“ (Jin Huaqing)
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Dark Red Forest

Jin Huaqing
China / 2021 / 85 min.
section: Testimonies
Czech Premiere
From the Wild Sea
Efforts at saving sea animals that are – as a consequence of human interventions – harmed and washed up ashore, form an endless and continually speeding up cycle. A series of fatal causes and consequences whereby a man is the perpetrator and negotiator of problems, while the animals are the victims, pretends to be a reflective documentary film. Be it members of an organization caring for injured seals, people washing diesel-stained swans, or scientists dissecting a dolphin harmed by ships, everyone is teeming with a conscience that with the proceeding climate change and intensive exploitation of the seas, such cases would be ever more numerous and incalculably frequent.„It’s not so much a film about the sea, it’s almost a film from the sea. It’s as if the sea is speaking to us.“
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From the Wild Sea

Robin Petré
Denmark / 2021 / 78 min.
section: Testimonies
Czech Premiere
Globes
The informative and playful essay starts with a birth. A birth of a bee. It closely and curiously follows its entire lifecycle, which is more and more significantly impacted by human activity. Humans can draw inspiration from the organization of bee communities and respectful way in which the insect populates its territory. The film moves from the bee larva to global problems, which are crucial for the future of this planet, and it intertwines the stories of the two kinds that could not be more different from each other from the outside view. Yet, in fact, they have been connected since the very beginning of civilization by a very fragile bond. If this bond gets broken, it could have devastating impacts on both, bees and humans."The documentary considers our globalised economy, but also the landscapes around the beehive. The microlevel is thus always connected to the macro-level, the local to the global."
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Globes

Nina de Vroome
Belgium / 2021 / 96 min.
section: Testimonies
World Premiere
Gorbachev. Heaven
For some, the destructor of the Soviet empire, betrayer of his own country, iconoclast. For many a peacemaker, bringer of faith, dynamic figure of the global world. A portrait of the spiritual father of perestroika and glasnost, Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev, presents an intimate struggle between two personalities: an aging, though still vital legend of Russian politics and a critical creator, interrogator and philosopher. Both offer their own versions of understanding the key moments of the socialist era’s end in Russia. Vitaly Mansky composes a mosaic made up of contemplative moments and debates intertwined with singing and poetry. A documentary epitaph of a feeble-bodied statesman put in contrast with the chaos of Putin’s contemporary Russia. A requiem for an echoing spring of the heavenly music of one’s childhood.   „I wished to see a man behind the cold marble, who decided to make the world a better place to live. And that’s why, for a long time, we didn’t give up hopes of convincing this life-beaten, almost 90-year-old man to let us into his world of desolation, frustrations, but also a joy of freedom!” (Vitaly Mansky)
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Gorbachev. Heaven

Vitaly Mansky
Czech Republic, Latvia / 2020 / 100 min.
section: Testimonies
Czech Premiere
How to Kill a Cloud
Hannele Korhonen, an ambitious Finnish meteorologist, has been studying clouds all her life. Their essence is chemical, physical and metaphysical. Due to funding constraints on her research, she decides to take up the Faustian challenge of a wealthy sheikh from the United Arab Emirates and apply for a scientific tender. Research into the creation of artificial rain in arid desert land is fraught with a number of moral dilemmas. An ambient, fragile film about clouds, cultural practices and the temptations of environmental engineering. Fragments of destruction wrapped in a meditative flow of aerosol images.   Q&A with Tuija Halltunen:  
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How to Kill a Cloud

Tuija Halttunen
Finland, Denmark / 2021 / 80 min.
section: Testimonies
Czech Premiere
My Psychedelic Love Story
When Joanna Harcourt-Smith met Timothy Leary in 1972, he was hiding from the law. The former faculty member at Harvard was set to serve ten years in prison for committing drug offenses when Joanna, a woman half his age, became his mistress and accomplice. After living several months on the run, the man credited to popularizing psychedelics was finally caught and detained at an airport in Afghanistan. Joanna campaigned for three and a half years to free Timothy. Errol Morris relies on her narration for this colourful reconstruction of a very surreal story. Over time, however, it's uncertain whether she was a character in a romance novel or a conspiracy thriller, and whether her actions were influenced only by LSD or also by the CIA.
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My Psychedelic Love Story

Errol Morris
United States / 2020 / 102 min.
section: Testimonies
Czech Premiere
Origin of the Species
Today’s state of robotics and artificial intelligence is the topic of this reflective documentary dealing with the assumption that just now, we may be experiencing a turning point exhibited by the birth of a brand new, completely artificial species. Its diversity manifests itself, among others, in a plurality of visualisations of how such an autonomous machine might look like. Whether it should resemble humans, or just simulate some of their functions, whether it should be fully independent or completely subordinated to its maker. Apart from technological difficulties, moral dilemmas start popping up. And, along with them, a seemingly paradoxical question: What is the real point of this at this stage of development? „Hitchcock used to say that after he had the script, he had the film. My work process is different: it involves finding/discovering the structure in the editing.“ (Abigail Child)
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Origin of the Species

Abigail Child
Japan, United States / 2021 / 72 min.
section: Testimonies
European Premiere
Rastorhuev
On 30 July 2018, Russian documentary filmmaker Alexander Rastorhuev, an award-winning filmmaker known for introducing innovative documentary practices inspired by digital technologies, experimental formats, and online communication, was killed in the Central African Republic. Using direct speech, excerpts from his famous and neglected works, and footage of the director at work, Evgenia Ostanina has managed to put together an evocative portrait of a man who left an indelible mark not only on Russian cinema, but also to open up the themes that were key for Rastorhuev - the meaning of art, the homeland, suffering, and, above all, truth. "It was difficult for me to evaluate Rastorhuev as a director, I only tried to do so when I was making the film itself - I was mainly interested in looking at person very close to me from a distance. However, I was never aware of this process, nor did I analyze it in any way." (Evgeniya Ostanina)
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Rastorhuev

Evgeniya Ostanina
Russia, Norway / 2021 / 125 min.
section: Testimonies
Czech Premiere
Roof of Leaves
Constantin, Sarah and Gregor live in a polyamorous relationship. Their intimate confession is not just a demonstration of a free relationship between three people. The lovers, who have intimate conversations, sing, tease each other, or remain silent together, give a glimpse into the life of a social unit that takes questions of trust and tolerance to extremes. A polyamorous relationship can sometimes be even more solid than a couple because it goes beyond the familiar. It represents an experimental space where safe boundaries are abandoned and a gateway is opened to a frighteningly unrestrained universe where established patterns of behavior do not apply. It is a chance to free oneself from inner demons and be renewed within. To find ourselves, we must first lose ourselves."Relationship concepts stay focussed on two people and the third person will only be seen in relation to those two. Normative reference system at its best. It forces onto you roles that are purely arbitrary."   Q&A with Anna Caroline Arndt:  
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Roof of Leaves

Anna Caroline Arndt
Germany / 2021 / 105 min.
section: Testimonies
World Premiere
Stingl - Little Big Okima
The documentary portrait of the world-famous traveler, the most translated Czech writer and the only Czech chief of an Indian tribe, Miloslav Stingl, is an adventurous journey presenting the life of an extraordinary personality. It is also a journey of Stingl’s biographer and monograph author Adam Chroust into the unexplored corners of Stingl’s extraordinary, obsessive and lonely life. 286 unpacked suitcases, archival films and photographs are a monument to his romantic exploration of unknown cultures and corners in an age of global oversaturation with images."The phenomenal Stingl has always been a completely impractical man at his core. He was only interested in scientific discoveries, travel stories and plans for further expeditions of discovery." (Steve Lichtag)
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Stingl - Little Big Okima

Steve Lichtag
Czech Republic / 2021 / 89 min.
section: Testimonies
World Premiere
The Gig Is Up
Tech companies like Uber, Amazon and Deliveroo attract workers with flexible working hours and freedom. But in actuality, employees are under constant surveillance, risk their lives and have no free moments or even any guarantee that they will be paid. Today, millions of people live in a state of insecurity when it comes to work, income and housing because they are subject to the rules of transnational corporations. From China to France, from Nigeria to the United States and Britain. Their backgrounds may differ, but the price they pay in an attempt to stay afloat in the system is equally high. For the companies, they are invisible and replaceable, but this complicated and dynamic analysis puts them front and centre. "I hope that when people watch it, they have more of a sense of connection to the fact that this is an important part of the economy and the society in which we live now." (Shannon Walsh)
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The Gig Is Up

Shannon Walsh
Canada / 2021 / 88 min.
section: Testimonies
Czech Premiere
The Mushroom Speaks
Mushrooms will most probably still be around long after humans become extinct. It is specifically the invincibility of this type of fungi and its not yet fully explored aspects that set the tone for this unusual nature documentary. Scientists from various disciplines, mushroom lovers, and their tireless promoters all speak about them. These three groups all have one thing in common: whether in a laboratory, wandering through the woods, or during a public presentation, their fascination with the ability of mushrooms to survive in hostile environments, to perceive and communicate through mycelium, and to liquidate dangerous substances through decomposing and consuming them.   "Fungi transform quickly into something else, so of course it's interesting to me as an artist. I tried to be diverse and organic in my approach – this film goes everywhere and you don't know where you are." (Marion Neumann)   Q&A with Marion Neumann:  
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The Mushroom Speaks

Marion Neumann
Switzerland / 2021 / 90 min.
section: Testimonies
Czech Premiere
The Play of Everyman
In 2016, two environmental organizations sued the Norwegian state on suspicion that it was violating the constitution by continuing to license oil drilling in the Barents Sea – specifically, the guaranteed right to a healthy environment for everyone and the responsible as well as sustainable extraction of natural resources. Thanks to the exclusive opportunity to shoot in the courtroom during the appeal proceedings in 2019 and 2020, we get a glimpse of the events that the Norwegian media has referred to as the “climate trial of the century” and we can learn that political interests, thinly disguised by an environmental agenda, still triumph over the respect for the future."Documentary for me is to use film as a tool to approach reality." (Thomas A. Østbye)
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The Play of Everyman

Thomas A. Østbye
Norway / 2021 / 31 min.
section: Testimonies
International Premiere
The Spark
Since the 1970s, local farmers in the area near Nantes have been protesting against the construction of a new airport, which would have a devastating impact on the local environment and economy. Gradually, the farmers were joined by environmental activists and anarchists, and the ZAD, an autonomous “zone of protection”, was created. Its inhabitants form a cohesive community practicing sustainable living and seeking an alternative to consumerist lifestyles and social hierarchies. A surveillance camera follows the daily activities of the residents until they are expelled by the police.„I didn’t want to be a commodity that produces goods or when you’re on holiday, that buys good and consumes leisure time.“   Q&A with Valeria Mazzucchi and Antoine Harari:  
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The Spark

Antoine Harari, Valeria Mazzucchi
Switzerland, France, Italy / 2021 / 59 min.
section: Testimonies
East European Premiere
War and Peace
From the nitrate film prints used by the pioneers of cinema to record the Italian invasion of Libya in 1911, to footage of contemporary war conflicts taken with the smartphones of random passers-by. A significant part of our visual memory of the last hundred years consists of images of war. In four chapters, the documentary epic War and Peace investigates the making, archiving, and social significance of films depicting warfare in different times and places. Aesthetics and technology change, but what remains the same is that film is not only a neutral witness in war, but also one of the most powerful weapons. "It is clear that cinema, from its origins, has had a stronger link with war than with peace, in part because of the spirit that permeated the first half of the last century and the intrinsic need to document historic events, and in part owing to the real difficulty of filming a process of peace."
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War and Peace

Martina Parenti, Massimo D'Anolfi
Italy, Switzerland / 2020 / 128 min.
section: Testimonies
Czech Premiere
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