24th Ji.hlava brings Black Lives Matter, South Korea and Ai’s Covid doc – online

Photo: Ji.hlava 2020

The 2020 Ji.hlava festival of documentary films gets underway on Tuesday. Given the Covid-19 emergency, the 24th Ji.hlava will be purely online, though the organisers have made great efforts to deliver a full programme of over 200 documentaries, for a very reasonable price. I discussed this year’s edition with Ji.hlava’s founder, Marek Hovorka.

Marek Hovorka,  photo: Milan Kopecký,  Czech Radio

“Everything will be located on the website of the festival.

“There it’s possible to buy accreditation, which costs 350 crowns, so something like 15 euros.

“After buying accreditation, people will have access to the website, with films.

“We will open films in a similar way that we do during the festival, but just two times per day.

“In the morning or the afternoon every day there will be around 10 or 15 films opening for the public, so they can stream them.

“And they will be accessible for seven days.

“There are a few films with some limits, of for example 500 or 1,000 streams, but there are not so many like that; most of the films will be accessible for one week.”

I know you’re going to say they’re all very good films, but what for you will be some of the highlights of this year’s festival?

'Finally Got the News' is from a section called Black Cinema Matters,  photo: Ji.hlava 2020

“Actually I think it depends on who is watching these films.

“For those who are beginners in the documentary field, I would suggest sections like Czech Joy, which is a national competition, or Testimonies, which is a section of films based on issues related to politics, nature, knowledge – more topic-oriented documentary films.

“For those who are cinephiles or who have been travelling to Ji.hlava for years, we have special retrospectives or competitions like Opus Bonum, or First Light, for debut films.

“Actually from the non-competitive sections, I’m very happy that we can present a section called Black Cinema Matters.

“It’s a retrospective of North American films directed by Afro-American directors only.

“Also very new and surprising is a section focused on the documentary production of South Korea, which is now celebrating 100 years of national film production.

Retrospective of North Korea documentary films,  photo: Ji.hlava 2020

“Most film lovers know fiction films shot in South Korea, for example Parasite, which won Oscars and the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and also other fiction filmmakers.

“But almost nobody knows about the documentary scene.

“So we decided to discover this hidden part of South Korean cinema.

“And it’s really one of the largest retrospectives of their documentary production, worldwide.”

Is it also the case that you’re going to have some documentaries actually about Covid-19?

“That’s true. We didn’t want to have a special section, but we were waiting to see if there were films that we would be taken by – and there are some really strong ones.

'Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry',  photo: Ji.hlava 2020

“I think the most known film is directed by the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. It’s called Coronation.

“This film was shot from January to April this year in Wuhan.

“He’s observing how people living in this huge city are dealing with this issue.

“For me what’s really touching is that we don’t see people in the same way that we know from the media – we really see humans.

“This humanistic approach is something which is actually very new.

“Ai Weiwei is bringing us this human perspective – that there are millions of people going through the same experience, and through the same tough times as we Europeans, for example.

“So it’s really strong.”

A New Shift by Jindřich Andrš is the opening film of the 24th Ji.hlava festival of documentary films. It is also in the running in the main Czech Joy domestic competition.