Jihlava doc festival starting

The largest such festival in the CEE region was started by students

The 22nd edition of the Jihlava International Film Festival begins in the small Czech town on Oct. 25. It’s the biggest documentary film festival focussing on Central and Eastern Europe and has an international following. It lasts for six days until Tuesday, Oct. 30. some 327 films are showing, with 100 of these being world premieres.

“I’m surprised that documentary films still remain overlooked, even though they are some of the most interesting cinema out there. Compared to narrative films, they more accurately reflect our own questions, doubts, joys and failures. Documentary films aren’t meant to be an escape from our own lives – they are a way for us to better understand them,” says Marek Hovorka, the festival’s director.

The festival is well-regarded for its informal vibe, compared to, for instance, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. You won’t find a red carpet here. The town itself becomes the venue, with local museums, galleries and cultural centres joining local cinemas as festival venues. The action even spills out onto the streets.

The impressive town square has for many years housed an elaborate wooden construction during the festival. It now takes the form of The Lighthouse, the industry venue and coffee bar. Venues are traditionally linked by (washable) spray paint lines on the pavement and are all within easy walking distance.

Festival pass holders do get use of the towns trolleybus system, sometime useful for reaching out-of-center accommodation. Amazingly for such a small town there is a night bus service, although parties have been known to continue until the first buses of the day are running.

Buses from Prague for the town will be hard to find today, Jihlava lies off the main road between Prague and Brno, in the Vysočina region, not far from the UNESCO listed town of Telč.

Founded by current director Marek Hovorka when he was still a student in Jihlava, the festival has a reputation for not just discussing film, but the world in which films are made.

This year’s guests include UK film director Sean McAllister, who will be talking about making a film in in his hometown of Hull, after many years filming in the world’s hotspots in Iraq and Syria, in advance of the international premiere of A Northern Soul at the IDFA festival in Amsterdam next month.

The main competition, unusually, is decided not by jury but by one person invited to do so.

Other prizes are chosen by a jury, such as Between the Seas, for the best of Central and East European filmmaking, and Czech Joy, focusing on Czech documentary. Czech documentaries include a portrait of the poet and art theorist and surrealist Vratislav Effenberger by David Jařab.

Other non-competitive sections include the Czechoslovak Orient, film from the Ruthenia region of eastern Slovakia. Andy Warhol’s family came from Ruthenia. 

Kinedok, the Prague-based community of alternative distribution of creative documentaries, presents a reverent screening of The Dead Nation with director Radu Jude present. It’s a portrait of a nation, composed from diary entries of a Jewish doctor from Bucharest who started to write in December 1937 after an anti-Semitic president was elected to lead Romania. It’s screened in the Memorial Jihlava Synagogue.

Jihlava is also, as most film festivals are, a big industry event, Masterclasses, discussions and marketplace occupy the attention of the many film professionals who attend the festival. In the Emerging Producers event, 15 new producers from European countries are joined by a guest producer, this year from Chile.

Industry events are more accessible than at most festivals, spare places are open for regular festival goers. Everyone gets involved in the audience award, awarded alongside other awards at the very 1960s DKO venue that also hosts the opening event as well as the exhibition of posters from documentary film festivals around the world. 

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