Velvet Revolution and East European docs focus of 23rd Jihlava festival

The 23rd edition of the annual Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival gets underway on Thursday evening. Over the course of the next five days, the festival will showcase a total of 277 films, including a section dedicated to the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. I spoke to Marek Hovorka, the festival’s director, and asked to tell me more about the opening film, a tribute to the great Czech cinematographer Jaroslav Kučera:

“We are very happy that we will open the festival with a film Jaroslav Kučera –Diary, directed by Jakub Felcman and produced by Tomáš Michálek, because it is a real discovery.

“They found out film material that the great director of photography created for himself in the 1960s, just to try things out or to keep family memories.

“It shows the way the genius cinematographer thought about visuality and its connection to the daily family life. It is really a beautiful film.”

A substantial part of this year’s programme is dedicated to Eastern European filmmakers. Why is that?

“It is not dedicated only to Eastern European filmmakers. We want explore whether there is a real dialogue between Eastern and Western Europe. We will have a presentation showing that Eastern European cinema is very underestimated. We want to ask why and create this kind of dialogue, which I think is very needed in European film landscape.

“That’s why we focus on the work of a Kazakh director Sergei Dvortsevoy whose work we admire very much. We also discovered this virtually unknown Ukrainian filmmaker Felix Soboliev, who was very famous during the Soviet Era, but who is completely unknown outside Ukraine and Russia.”

Sergei Dvortsevoy is also the author of the official festival spot. What is he bringing to the festival?

Ai Weiwei,  photo: archive of Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival
“He is a master of a cinema bordering documentary and fiction: he is famous for his long shorts observing humans and for his special sensitivity for humanity. “He is not trying to find spectacular moments. He focuses on daily life, trying to show it in full colour.

“Although he has been making films for more than 30 years, he only made six films. The last one, Ayka, is from 2018 and its actress was awarded in Cannes. She is also the person we can see in the festival spot he created for us this year.”

The Jihlava festival awards have a new design this year, made by Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei. Why have you decided to approach him?

“Actually, we got in touch back in 2012 when he was in home prison in China. At the time we focused on his film work. It is not so well-known that he is not just a great artist and activist, but also a great filmmaker. This was the first connection.

“We decided that we wanted to give a new life and we asked him if he would design our festival award for this year. So we are very happy but also very curious about the dialogue he will open. We will present the first award tonight during the opening ceremony.”