Leading international festival of documentary film at Jihlava celebrates 11th anniversairy

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This Tuesday sees the opening of the 11th Jihlava film festival. The festival in the small town where Bohemia meets Moravia is one of the biggest of its kind in central and eastern Europe. Dedicated to screening fresh new documentary films, it aims to provide an alternative outlet to more popular cinemas and to Czech television, where such films are rarely shown.

This year's festival will have three competitive sections: Opus Bonum, for the best in international documentary cinema from 2006 and 2007; Mezi Mori or 'Between the Seas' for the best films from central and eastern Europe, and finally a category known as 'Ceska Radost', 'Czech Joy', reserved exclusively for films by Czech directors. Many of the films in the international competition have had controversial receptions at other international film festivals, such as Locarno, Venice and Cannes.

Marek Hovorka is the festival's founder and producer. I asked him which films he was particularly looking forward to this year.

Marek Hovorka
'All of them, all of them it's hard to say only a few, but I think for example every listener to this radio knows Michael Moore, and on the closing ceremony we'll have the Czech premier of his film 'Sicko', which had its premiere this year at the Cannes festival. It was quite hard for them to bring this film to Europe, so this film will have its Czech premier at Jihlava. Of the Czech films, maybe we can speak about the opening film and this opening film is the Necrology of the still living ex-premier of the Czech Republic Milos Zeman. Another very interesting film is called 'Peace with Seals' which starts distribution in cinemas not only in the Czech Republic but also in Italy. It's shot in Czech and Italian.'

This will be the second year that the winners of the competition will be decided by a single juror. In previous years, the winner has been the result of compromise between up to five panelists. The organisers insist that such compromise is not something they want: the winner in each category must be the best and the award a personal one. In addition, this is the first year that the 'Between the Seas' competition will be open to films from eastern Europe. So where did it all begin? Marek Hovorka:

'Peace with Seals'
'Well we started the festival for the first year in 1997, and it was something like a personal discovery of Czech documentary cinema. I wanted to study documentary film making and it wasn't possible to watch documentary films in cinemas or on the Czech television, so we needed to screen them for ourselves in the Jihlava cinema. And we were surprised that we were not the only ones who wanted to watch documentary films in the cinema; since the first year there have been hundreds of young students visiting or screening, discussing with directors and so on. This was the first step in the founding of the festival. Since the second year the program has been open to international films, and it was in the third year that the program really became international.'