When local is universal

dok.revue 1.20

Photo: Martin Mareček

“We’re living in a rare age… We’ve been given the chance to stop and consider things we usually put off… Strange times…” These are the thoughts of one Czech documentarian on the current pandemic. While some filmmakers are happy that they now have time to look back and reflect or to work on long-postponed projects, others were forced to interrupt filming or cancel pitches at festivals or trips abroad. The situation has also had a detrimental effect on cinemas and festivals, and the impact on the film sector as a whole will be visible for the next several years.

In our first English edition of 2020, we bring you a selection of articles from this year’s Czech issues of dok.revue which should interest our international readers. The articles in this digest can be divided into two groups. While the first is dedicated predominantly to events in the field of world documentary, the second set of texts maps out the Czech situation. In May we published an interview with organisers of major industry events in the field of documentary film. We spoke with Tereza Šimíková from Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival CPH:DOX, which took place in March just after the declaration of a state of emergency, Pierre-Alexis Chevit, the head of Cannes Docs at Marché du Film of Festival de Cannes, which happened at the end of June, and Jarmila Outratová, the head of the Industry Office at IDFF Ji.hlava, which will be taking place from the 29th of October to the 1st of November. They discussed the challenges faced by the film industry in the age of the coronavirus.

American documentarian Jeff Gibbs’ activist film Planet of the Humans, which criticises the way we treat renewable energy sources, has stirred up much controversy. It’s no surprise that the producer is well-known filmmaker Michael Moore, who released the film for free on YouTube on Earth Day, when the worldwide pandemic was at its peak. In our debate about the film, ecological economist Naděžda Johanisová commented that “Living through the pandemic has shaken our certainties, but it’s good to emphasise that this pandemic is the result of our unsustainable lifestyle – we’re destroying the last remnants of the rainforests and wiping out their biotopes, which leads to viruses and their hosts moving and coming into contact with humans. A change of lifestyle is one thing, but what’s needed is a change of narrative – it’s a mistake to think that the capitalist system works and that it merely needs a little tweaking. It’s not so. We need to re-evaluate our basic economic postulates, which goes against the interests of the powerful elites.” Biologist and Catholic priest Marek Orko Vácha and director of the cinema Kino Pohoda in Jeseník Pavel Bednařík also took part in our discussion of the film.

The film Honeyland, by Macedonian documentarians Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevská, touches on a similar environmental theme, albeit through a completely different mode of expression. It is a sensitive observational study of the harmony in life and nature and the possibility of its disruption. In their interview with dok.revue the directors note: “If the film succeeds in anything, it’s in showing how this mechanism of greed works. It’s important because in some ways we’re all (…) capable of destroying this harmony.”

Our English issue also includes an essay by one of the most prominent minds in film today, Timothy Corrigan, who presented his essay “Biopics and the Trembling Ethics of the Real” at the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival in fall 2019 as a part of his lecture for students in the festival’s educational module Media and Documentary. An introduction to the essay was prepared for dok.revue by aesthetician Tereza Hadravová, which places Corrigan’s thinking into the context of other contemporary theories.

However, this issue is devoted local Czech themes as well. First of all, we present a debate about the Czech film event of the spring – Vít Klusák and Barbora Chalupová’s film Caught in the Net, which became the first Czech documentary blockbuster. The film shows how sexual predators behave toward minors on the internet, and the creators even prepared a special version of the film for schools, which is suitable for children 12 and over. However, it’s not merely a film, but rather a film-event, which aims to transform our reality, inform the youth, and discredit predators.

Film publicist Martin Šrajer once again looks into the feminist position of Czech female documentarians and compares the works of two directors, Olga Sommerová and Martina Malinová, who differ both generationally as well as in their poetics. At the same time, he also poses some more general questions: “Are women truly predisposed to making documentary films? Or is it that given the systemic circumstances, it is simply more viable for women to make documentaries, and their greater recognition in the field is merely the logical result of their greater representation. In order to better understand this dynamic, in the tradition of Bill Nichols we should ask who is speaking to whom about what and through what means and take into account the position of power, the context of the statement, and the possibility of what can be shared in the scope of a certain discourse. For the answers to these questions, the statements of individual creators will likely aid us more than any statistical data.”

In this English digest we also bring you three texts in which the individual filmmakers share the origins of their projects. However, all three extend far beyond Czech borders. Novice Russian director Dmitrij Bogoljubov tells dok.revue about the circumstances surrounding the origin of his new film Town of Glory, a co-production with Czech production company Hypermarket Film and Czech Television. The film uncovers the mentality of Yelnya, a provincial Russian town that is one of the most depressing in the country and where the legacy of the Great Patriotic War still lingers – something Putin’s establishment has successfully exploited to gain the support of the local citizens. Viera Čákanyová, a Slovak filmmaker working in the Czech Republic, writes about the development of her documentary essay FREM, which was selected for the prestigious Forum section at this year’s Berlinale. The director describes what it was like to film in Antarctica, whether it is possible to get into the head of an artificial intelligence, and what exactly GAI is. Czech-based Ukrainian visual artist Anna Kryvenko, who was chosen for this year’s Berlinale Talents thanks to her successful film My Unknown Soldier, describes the documentary essay she is currently preparing entitled Sun of the Living Dead, which will be composed of archive materials. She writes, “The thing that troubles me most from the past five years is how I’ve grown desensitised. When you watch endless recordings of the suffering of people you don’t know (and occasionally also people you do know and like), you start to get the feeling that the limits of your sensitivity are shifting and you’re afflicted by a kind of occupational hazard. A recording of a person’s death becomes merely visual material that either is or is not ‘interesting’. It’s a dilemma I attempt to draw attention to with this new film.”

The next English edition of dok.revue will come out at the end of this year.

September 25, 2020

from current issue:

New releaseShooting About KunderaDocumentarian Miloslav Šmídmajer describes the process of making a documentary about Milan Kundera with the working title “Milan Kundera: From the Joke to Insignificance.” Miloslav ŠmídmajerThemeNest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter HamesThemeNever stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo BenziThemeBehold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightenedIn this English issue of dok.revue we have collected some remembrances to Karel Vachek, the respected Czech documentarist who died in December 2020 at the age of 80. One of the contributors is Olaf Möller, a well-known film theorist and critic collaborating with many renowned film magazines (Film Comment or Sight & Sound), film museums and festivals (e.g. Il Cinema Ritrovato or International Film Festival Rotterdam).Olaf MöllerThemeEvery human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako FujiokaThemeLike the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice LovejoyInterviewThe times of lifelong careers are overAn interview with documentarian Jindřich Andrš, whose film A New Shift won the Czech competition section Czech Joy at Ji.hlava IDFF2020.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewGoing to the Polish Turf with Our Own TeamInterview with documentary filmmakers Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák about their latest joint film project Once Upon a Time in Poland that shows how religion and faith are misused in contemporary Poland for mass manipulation and political purposes. The film‘s Czech premiere was held as part of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival 2020.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionDok.revue 1.21This issue is dedicated to the doyen of Czech documentary filmmaking Karel VachekKamila Boháčková