“This festival is the best education”: Ji.hlava chief looks forward to edition 25

The jubilee 25th edition of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival gets underway in the small Czech city on Tuesday. The country’s top documentary event opens with When Flowers Are Not Silent, about brutal repression in Belarus, and offers around 300 other films across six days. I spoke to founder Marek Hovorka and first asked about a Ji.hlava masterclass due to be given online by controversial US director Oliver Stone.

“Actually we were touched by his last film, which he presented at the Cannes festival this July: JFK Revisited.

“It is, I would say, a very serious work, bringing out from the shadows new information from the CIA and FBI archives.

“This is something we would love to talk with him about, because his passion is to really think about and study American history.

“We want to know more about this and to talk to him about it.

“Of course he is controversial, and he isn’t only focusing on US issues.

“But this American perspective is something we are curious about.”

'Oliver Stone' | Photo: Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

You also have a retrospective dedicated to the films of Susan Sontag. I must admit I wasn’t aware that she was more than a writer. Tell us something about the retrospective.

“She’s a great figure, because she was not only an intellectual, which would be enough.

“She is also a brave person. We can see that in one discussion which is shot by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker in 1971 in New York.

“You can see her in the film [Town Bloody Hall] just in the public, listening to a discussion about women’s rights at the beginning of the ‘70s in the US.

“She is such a noble person but saying so properly what’s the problem of American society at that time.”

'No Desire To Hide' | Photo: Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

I’m sure you will say all of the films are excellent, and I’m sure that they are, but is there any one documentary that you are particularly excited about?

“There were 2,500 films submitted to the programme and we made a selection of 300 films, so it’s definitely tough to say just a few titles.

“But of course I can always find one film or two films to suggest, and these can always be different films.

“And I’m very happy that we have a chance to screen the Chinese film No Desire to Hide, by director – but also producer of independent Chinese films – Zhu Rikun, with whom we have been connected for years.

“It’s about a couple living today in a big Chinese city, living in a way the same way of life connected to social media and the internet and all this communication.

“The couple is shooting erotic videos for social media, but it’s not so much about this – it’s just part of their lives.

“The film is about their relationship and about relationships in general, but based in contemporary China.”

'When Flowers Are Not Silent' | Photo: Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

Ji.hlava has been going now for 25 years. You started the festival when you were still in secondary school. How does it feel to have reached this milestone of a quarter of a century?

“I would say, when you mentioned my education, that the best education is this festival.

“Because every year you can meet new topics and new ways how to think about cinema, new names and new countries.

“We know that education is not only about school – it’s a whole-life project.

“For example to learn at the festival as a viewer is a great thing, because you really, during a couple of days, discover many new things, on which the director has spent years.

“We have the privilege to screen these films in Jihlava and really have an intense moment to think about our position towards society and the future of the world.

“So yes, it’s a privilege and I’m happy I can still be part of it.”