One World festival stirs debate while keeping emphasis on quality documentaries

The Jeden Svet (One World) festival of human rights documentaries is run by the NGO People in Need. This year's One World, featuring over 120 films, has just come to an end in Prague, and now moves on to the provinces. In this edition of the Arts we speak to the man behind the colourful festival and many of this year's guests.

Alongside the films themselves there have also been debates, seminars and exhibitions. Festival director Igor Blazevic explains why.

"These films are really not meant just to be screened. These films are basically provoking a lot of questions. We as One World are trying to push these discussions in two different ways. One is discussion with the ordinary festival audience -that is more discussion about the issues of the film.

"But the other direction is discussion between filmmakers, between film professionals and between the people coming from the NGO world and the festival world, to discuss how film and audio-visual communication can be used for awareness building purposes. Not for propaganda, but really for awareness building purposes."

Many of the festival goers are educated "alternative" types. Is there a danger that One World is preaching to the converted?

"First of all I think that we have long ago really broken - as far as the audience is concerned - from preaching to the converted, to the mainstream of young people. The main reason has been because we have insisted from the beginning on that it's not only about human rights but it's really a lot about good film.

The End of the Neuberger Project
"We basically use marketing strategies to draw a more mainstream audience. So I don't think today there are only sitting in the cinema people who are already concerned about what's going on around the world. Many people are coming because it's trendy."

In The End of the Neuberger Project director Marcus J. Carney traces the Nazi past of his Austrian family. It is just one of several films at this year's One World in which documentary makers examine their own family history. Marcus Carney was at its screening.

"Mine may even be a very humble one, a very...mediocre one, compared to so many incredible, incredible family histories. That's where I think we fit into the festival. I think it's one of the best things, to have it at a human rights festival."

So what does the term 'human rights' mean to the director?

"There's one human right missing, as we know, the right to information...it's yet to be invented...it's already invented but it hasn't been installed yet (laughs).

"Maybe it's along the lines of...we need to know where we come from - well Simon Wiesenthal said that, we need to know our past so that we have a future."

Young, Nazi and Proud
David Modell's documentary Young, Nazi and Proud explores the UK's far-right British National Party, focusing on one young member. Why did the director choose this particular topic?

"On a simple level I chose to explore the BNP because it was at a time when they were trying to promote themselves as more mainstream, and trying to enter the political mainstream. They were telling people they were no longer a Nazi party, so this was something I wanted to test.

"I actually went into the project expecting I wouldn't really find Nazism. I thought I would find racism - but the degree, the depth of Nazism in the party was actually surprisingly shocking. Now I may have been naïve, but I did find it shocking."

The British National Party are in some ways a very British phenomenon - is this film something that Czech or other international audiences can really relate to?

"In tone there are parts of it which are peculiarly British. But I think the underlying themes are common, probably to every society. And I think if we are to understand human rights or persecution or conflict or confrontation, we have to understand extremism.

"And certainly this film taught me a great deal about extremism and the extremist mindset. So I do think, genuinely, that at the heart of the film there is a universal theme."

The Case of Uherske Hradiste
Of course there have been several Czech films at One World too, including The Case of Uherske Hradiste, by Kristina Vlachova. It documents the ordeal of political prisoners tortured at a jail in the south Moravian town in the 1950s and 60s. Among the guests at its screening was Petr Vymyslicky, a former prisoner.

"I lived through it and even today when I think about it I see it in front of me. I see how they beat our boys. There was a European boxing champion there, a guy called Vojta Sasinek. He told us he would protect himself, that he wasn't an animal.

"But they beat him so hard with nightsticks that I thought he would die by morning. Vojta took it bravely and when he woke up he said he'd never taken such a beating from any boxer. But he was in a bad way and died in the end."

Among the most eagerly awaited Czech films at One World was Marcela by Helena Trestikova. The Main Competition picture tells the very sad story of a woman the director first filmed in 1980; Marcela's daughter has died while she herself has decided against suicide for the sake of her son.

"Coming to terms with her daughter's death is a strong subject, the kind of subject that is usually dealt with in feature films. It's not so common in documentaries. So we've tried to tell this dramatic story purely using the medium of documentary. For me the work was hard and interesting. I'm curious how the audience will like it."

Marcela
Marcela has gone down well with audiences, though the jury plumped for a different picture for the Best Film award. The prize went to Losers and Winners, a German film about the culture clash that ensues when a German company attempts to hand an industrial plant over to a firm in China. Director Ulrike Franke explains what winning the award means to her.

"You're working very, very hard and long on a film - for example we just started without any budget. We just believed in the film and in the protagonists. We were shooting for one and a half years, and we always said the Chinese people are faster to dismantle a whole coke plant than we are at getting finance for the film.

"Afterwards we said that we take longer to edit the film that the Chinese take to rebuild the plant in China.

"So we were working for a total of three years on this film. To win a prize gives you vitamins to proceed and make a new film."

The One World human rights documentary film festival came to a close in Prague on Thursday night. It now goes on to 15 other towns and cities around the country.

But for festival director Igor Blazevic most of the hardest work is now done, and he can reflect on a very busy week and a half. Is he happy with how things have gone?

"I'm very happy how the whole thing happened. Because there was an extraordinary reaction from the people at the cinemas, and the cinemas have been mostly full or pretty full.

The guests are now leaving Prague and they are really enthusiastic. They can't cheat me - I have seen a lot of festivals and I know when people are leaving if someone's praise is honest and meant, and when it is not.

I really feel that basically I've gained a hundred good friends of One World who will now travel around through other festivals and praise what we are doing here. So from that point of view, yes, I'm very, very happy."

www.jedensvet.cz