Merging masters with new talent: Marek Hovorka on this year’s Ji.hlava film festival

The 27th edition of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival kicks off today, ushering in six days of documentary films by both seasoned and new filmmakers. To learn more about the history of the festival and this year’s edition, I spoke with the festival’s head and creator, Marek Hovorka.

“Once upon a time, in 1997 we wanted to watch documentary films in the cinema, and we realized there are many people who are interested in documentary film making. That was the very beginning of the film festival which is now the leading festival in Central and Eastern Europe. We try to bring the spirit of documentary film making to a wide audience.”

It’s an extremely international festival featuring films from all over the world. What is the selection process like for choosing each film?

Marek Hovorka | Photo: Radek Lněnička,  Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

“This is the biggest adventure of the festival! When the festival ends, all we know about the next addition of the festival is the date. We wait to see what films are made by the filmmakers, and it’s important to find and capture the spirit of the times and also discover new talent and approaches to cinema. Every year, there about 3,000 films submitted to the festival, and we also travel to different film festivals across the world and research the programming of other festivals that we can’t attend. We see roughly between four and five thousand films every year in order to make the best choices for Ji.hlava.”

Are there any films in particular this year that you’re looking forward to? Or any directors who are new to the festival?

Section Fascination: 'Arcalis' | Photo: Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

“It’s never fair to name a few directors and not the others! But I am very happy we have a section of the program called ‘Fascination’, which is bringing experimental cinema to the audience. This is the ‘fresh air’ of filmmaking, and allows us to discover new ways of working with images.

“We also have a section called ‘Testimony’, which is dedicated to documentaries made for big audiences, and presents ideas on how to deal with issues of politics, nature, and sciences. Of course we have our main competition which is dedicated to real authors and filmmakers who are trying to discover something from their own personal perspective.

Section Fascination: 'Notes From Sheepland' | Photo: Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

“I am very honoured we are having Béla Tarr and his Masterclass on Saturday. We are awarding him the lifetime achievement award because he is a great master. I am looking forward to meeting the new generation of filmmakers, and merging it with the great masters – it’s really what makes the festival unique. For two weeks after the festival, everyone in the Czech Republic can screen most of the current films from home online well.”

Masterclass: Béla Tarr | Photo: Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

October 24-29, 2023

For more information, visit the official website.