28th Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival
Testimonies is a competition section dedicated to powerful documentary films which deal with important social, economic, environmental, and political phenomena.
One day, Taylor, a university student, is shocked to discover that videos of her having sex with strange men are circulating on the internet. None of it happened. Her face was planted on a porn actress' body using deepfake technology. Taylor decides to find out who made the video and what she can do to defend herself against identity theft. Straddling the line between personal essay and true-crime, the film gives us a glimpse into the disturbing world of deepfake videos and revenge pornography through a specific traumatic experience. Nonetheless, Compton and Hamlyn also focus on the positives of smart technologies, using them to anonymize the protagonist. “We live in the age of technologies that are advancing rapidly, and the way that they shape how we live our lives is changing on a daily basis. It’s so important to focus and reflect on these new things and the way we’re adapting to them.” — Reuben Hamlyn Source: The Korea Herald
Reuben Hamlyn, Sophie Compton
United Kingdom, United States / 2023 / 80 min.
Maria and Zahra meet around 1970 while studying medicine at the University of Bucharest. Zahra is from Iran, a country on the verge of a major political revolution. She returns to see her family and stays in touch with Maria through letters exchanged over the next few years. The film tells the parallel stories of two countries tested by turbulent political change, but also the stories of two women who are eager to carve out their place in a male-dominated world. Their poetic letters, full of melancholy and friendly affection, are complemented by archive footage from both countries, which reminds us of the harsh reality of the last century.“In my view, the most important revolutions of the second half of the 20th century happened in Iran and Romania.” — Vlad PetriQuote source: Cineuropa.
Qatar, Iran, Croatia, Romania / 2023 / 70 min.
Danish artist Pia Rönicke has been exploring Scandinavian forests as a changing historical and phenomenological space for several years. She draws inspiration from the concepts of ecologist Suzanne Simard, who sees the forest ecosystem as an arena where human and non-human life forms collide. Like the subterranean mycelium, this polyphonic film is not arranged hierarchically but in a network. In addition to the people connected to the forest and the land, it lets the trees themselves tell the story. Their non-linearly presented story begins at the end of the Ice Age and continues to the present day, when man has ripped the wood from its natural habitat and reduced it to an industrial commodity."The forest is dynamic. Clearings appear and new trees grow. Just like the cells in our body are not the same as last year, the forest is always changing." – Pia Rönicke Source: BLOOM
Denmark, Sweden / 2023 / 100 min.
Q&A with Josef Mašín (CZ language)The documentary film uncovers the story of Mašín brothers, which is of the greatest stories of the Cold War. A group of five young men decided to leave the then-communist Czechoslovakia with guns in hand to join the fighting in the then expected war between the West and the East. The year was 1953, and today, through the last witnesses, we follow the 30-day dramatic journey to West Berlin and the subsequent fateful events that happened to her loved ones at home.
Escape to Berlin
Jan Novák, Martin Froyda
Czech Republic / 2023 / 98 min.
Although feminism is considered to be one of the most successful social movements of the 20th century, even today there is no consensus on which conception of feminism is the correct one. In this sense, Katharina Mückstein's feature-length documentary debut can be seen as a playful beginner's guide to feminism. Through colour, dance choreographies and a series of interviews with inspiring figures from a variety of fields – from sociology and psychology, biology and history to activism itself – the director introduces us to the basic approaches of the feminist movement and asks the fundamental yet still relevant and pressing question: why do we keep turning to a binary understanding of gender roles? What is the relationship between gender and capitalism? Why can't we be male and female feminists without taking race into account? And what do we actually want to achieve with feminism? “My greatest personal wish for the development of the world would be for us to remember that “care” – i.e. caring for ourselves and the planet – is the most important human value. A patriarchal capitalist ideology has brought us to where we are now. We have forgotten to care for each other, and for the weakest and the most vulnerable, and to care for our habitat – and consequently we have developed in a direction that means we can’t survive. Feminism and feminist expertise are required to find a solution to the major issues of our day. Topics such as ecology, social justice, questioning capitalism as a superordinate system, patriarchy and gender justice can’t be considered in isolation; they’re all very closely intertwined.” — Katharina Mückstein Source: AUSTRIAN FILMS
Austria / 2023 / 96 min.
The remnants of the once vast Hambach Forest in Germany are definitively set to fall victim to lignite mining in 2018. A group of environmental activists are trying to prevent this by occupying the threatened area as a form of a protest. Among them, film student and journalist Steffen Meyn sets out to document the critical events from the perspective of the immediate participants. A 360° camera, which Steffen usually wears attached to his helmet, gives the film a unique perspective. This is accompanied by his sincere desire to understand activism as an authentic expression of defiance but also of radicalism and violence, which ultimately leads to his tragic death. “Filmmakers Fabiana Fragale, Kilian Kuhlendahl and Jens Mühlhoff sifted through the archives of their late friend and interwove the material with interviews they conducted with the former squatters of Hambach Forest.” Source: Nd.
Fabiana Fragale, Jens Mühlhoff, Kilian Kuhlendahl
Germany / 2023 / 102 min.
This time-lapse film follows five years in the life of Afrin, an orphaned girl who lives with her foster parents on an island in the Brahmaputra River. For the past few years, the area has been plagued by heavy rains, and devastating floods caused by climate change have taken the homes and lives of its inhabitants. Survivors are moving to the cities, leaving behind a devastated wilderness. Through her pride and courage, Afrin also manages to make it to civilization, where she tries to find a better life and her missing father. The visually captivating shots of the waterlogged landscape and the story of a girl who doesn't want to be a victim of circumstance speak volumes about the current conflict between humanity and nature. “The Brahmaputra tells new stories over and over again.”
MIGHTY AFRIN: in the time of floods
Greece, France / 2023 / 91 min.
Perpetrators of sexual assault tend to be portrayed as monsters. Signe Rosenlund-Hauglid, on the other hand, approaches them with empathy and an attempt to understand what led them to commit the crime. In her documentary, we follow a trio of men aged 20 to 27 who committed rape after a party. They face charges, trial, sentencing and eventual release. In the process, Morten, Benjamin and Kasper talk openly about their identity crisis, social stigma and suicidal thoughts. Faced with the director, herself a victim of an assault, they also realise how devastating an attack on someone's physical integrity can be. “Identifying yourself with the term 'rapist‘ is really quite impossible.” (from Not That Kind of Guy)
Not that kind of guy
Norway / 2022 / 40 min.
While researching the history of women in Irish agriculture, director Cara Holmes met Orla Barry, a queer visual artist and shepherdess. Her life is filled with art and the breeding of sheep, which are equal creatures and a source of inspiration for her. Over the course of a year, we follow Orla's preparation for a breeding competition and her struggle to reconcile her creative exuberance with her daily rural responsibilities. Like its protagonist, the film doesn't dwell on unnecessary rhetoric, paying homage to the Irish landscape, the physically demanding work on the farm and, above all, a woman who moves casually between different worlds.“I definitely wanted to be playful with the form. Maybe if it was a different fund, I would have been way more structured, but being playful, pushing out the visuals and integrating Orla’s artwork, that was all on the table. I was having a bit of fun in the edit as well, because I work as an editor quite a lot but I don't get a chance to be so fluid or so playful a lot of the time.” – Cara Holmes Source: Eye For Film
Notes From Sheepland
Ireland / 2023 / 71 min.
In 1994, up to one million people lost their lives in the Rwandan genocide, and yet today there are those who deny its horrors. With his film, the Belgian director attempts to recall the specific stories of the victims of the genocide so that their suffering is not forgotten. He visits the Rwandan villages where the ruthless killing took place and follows the story of three Tutsi children who were killed. The memories of the surviving locals, as well as the perpetrators of the genocide themselves, provide a chilling account of human cruelty. The second part of the film shows the trials of the perpetrators and asks whether a just punishment can be found for the killers of the children. “The Tutsi was the enemy, the hypocrite, the snake. That is how they were brainwashed.”
ONE OF THE THOUSAND HILLS
Belgium / 2023 / 80 min.
The protagonist of Virginia Woolf's Orlando was born a man. But, after thirty years of life, he wakes up as a woman and his previous perspective changes radically. Similarly, this personal film essay changes the perspective from which a middle-class story is usually presented. When you are neither rich nor poor, you struggle with the problem of identity all your life. All the more so if you are also a woman struggling for your rights, education and financial independence. Inspired by Daniela Dröscher's text, the film is not only about growing up in West Germany, but more generally about the difficulties of social mobility for those who are not heterosexual men. “It took a long time for me to realise that I'm from a lower-middle class family, from the petit bourgeois. For some time, I didn't know what to call my social position.”
Orlando - or a Little History of the Middle Class
Catalina Flórez, Jelena Jeremejewa
Germany / 2023 / 42 min.
The film reveals the mechanisms behind the weakening of democratic principles in the United States through evangelical fundamentalism. Religious groups and popular TV pastors proclaim the coming of the end of the world just as the Bible says. They see its origins in the coronavirus crisis, the unrest in the Middle East, and the potential development of LGBTQIA+ rights. Exploring the influence of religious fundamentalism on leading politicians and their foreign policy raises an uncomfortable question: what happens when the prophets of the end of the world whisper in the ears of the politicians who have the power to bring it about? “Praying for Armageddon is a compelling, sobering Revelation all its own, revealing the hitherto unimagined scale of a type of political insanity that would entrust the future to people who don’t want there to be a future at all.” — Jessica Kiang Source: Variety
Praying for Armageddon
Michael Rowley, Tonje Hessen Schei
Norway / 2023 / 96 min.
Google's data centres are renowned for their size and efficiency, but are also fraught with many questions. Adam Diller tried to penetrate the security fence and answer some of them. In his multimedia project, which in addition to this film includes a book and exhibition, he focused on a data centre in The Dalles, Oregon, built in 2006. Using both his own and archival footage, he uncovers the various layers of power, media and ecology to understand the history of the site and the material and discursive practices we come into contact with daily in our use of the internet. “The internet that this data center helps produce is changing our relationship with ourselves and everything around us.”
United States / 2023 / 65 min.
Originally a six-part television series, it offers a detailed insight into the political transformations of the last few decades in Brazil. The transformation of the regime, the introduction of the constitution, the development of human rights, but also the ever-swelling judiciary, whose high-ranking protagonists are paradoxically above the law. Without the use of typical talking heads, the narrative turns to archival footage, television reports, feature films and mood-art video clips to create a documentary collage. The film narrates historical events from a contemporary critical perspective and exposes the mechanisms behind the lawlessness in South American states. “They do not overthrow the powerful with weapons or battles, but with pens, sentences, and in coordination with the Public Ministry.” Source: Ponte Jornalismo
Republic of Judges
Cédric Fanti, Eugenio Puppo, Hugo Leonardo
Brazil / 2023 / 100 min.
The Beatles was the nickname given to several Islamic State fighters originally from the UK who were responsible for a series of kidnappings, torture and executions of Western journalists and aid workers. A surviving Danish photographer tells his story and, with the help of testimony from others involved, gives a detailed account of the horrors he experienced. The second strand of the film features interviews with two of the detained members of the Islamic Beatles, conducted by a British journalist whose friend was executed by the group. This opens up moral dilemmas and questions about guilt and punishment: who deserves empathy and who is not entitled to it? “If I had wanted to cause damage, I could have caused real damage, but that was neither the objective nor the aim.” — El Shafee Elsheikh
The Hostage Takers
Puk Damsgård, Søren Klovborg
Denmark / 2023 / 86 min.
Édouard Louis comes from a poor family in the north-west of France. But, in less than a decade after the publication of his debut novel, The End of Eddy, he has become one of the leading figures on the French literary scene. The transformation of a boy from a proletarian background into a privileged Parisian intellectual with high cultural capital is one of the central lines of this biographical documentary. Louis is given the space to retell the story of his difficult childhood, adolescence and integration into a new social class in his own words. He introduces us to the landscape of his youth and to the act of writing, which for him is above all a means of crossing boundaries. “Here is a young man who has not stopped transforming himself for twenty years. His entire career has been marked by renewal.” – François Caillat Source: Outplay Films
The Many Lives of Édouard Louis
France / 2023 / 71 min.
A documentary dystopia set in contemporary China shows where the use of advanced digital tools of surveillance and control can take a society, especially when they are in the hands of the leaders of a totalitarian establishment. Dissidents and their families are the most painfully affected by universal surveillance. Institutionalised harassment takes many forms – from street surveillance and preventing people from leaving the house to the installation of intrusive cameras near the home, house arrest and internment in an unknown location. In a world where artificial intelligence and big data track our every public utterance, the state itself may eventually become the prison and our homes the cells. “We didn’t just want to do a film about surveillance but about the people living in this kind of society.” Source: Variety Magazine
Netherlands, Germany / 2023 / 97 min.