Concerns and Hope

    Simon Popek
    CD Film Programme Director
    Documentary filmmakers seem to increasingly prefer titles that ironically or even sarcastically underscore the addressed topics. The Happy Worker. Innocence. Eating Our Way to Extinction. A House Made of Splinters. Matter Out of Place. We Come As Friends. Whereas the titles reflect the movie’s topics more or less tellingly, the 25th Documentary Film Festival undoubtedly brings a promising selection of new films that offer a revealing insight into the challenges of the 21st century and recent history. The featured directors include both well-known, long-established artists – Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Werner Herzog, Hubert Sauper –, and contemporary filmmakers who are breaking new ground with equal enthusiasm. Some explore the interior of the human body, some transform volcanology into a visual spectacle, and others are wondering what happens to all the globally accumulated waste. 

    Female directors are interested in toxic masculinity and downright sadistic pleasure in subjecting women to repression (e.g., in Iran), male directors explore recent history’s toxic masculinity, e.g., Il Duce's machismo and the March on Rome held one hundred years ago. Some protagonists switch between male and female identities, depending on their emotional state, while others are bursting with nationalist passions. While protest songs (e.g., Bella Ciao) used to connect young people, social networks (e.g., Instagram) are today contributing to a growing sense of alienation.

    Is our society doomed to extinction? ‘We are heading towards disaster if we do not change tack’, portend the environmental documentaries that are abounding this year. Some blame the methane emissions from cattle, and others find fault with the air pollution that has been causing birds of prey to fall from the Indian sky at an alarming rate. Matevž Lenarčič, an airman who flies around the globe in his ultralight plane collecting particles of black carbon, the second largest contributor to global warming, will have a lot to say about carbon footprint.

    Affirming that there is still hope for communication, the optimistic Patrick and the Whale is a story about relationships; the relationship that a man is trying to establish with the largest mammals on the planet – if not with his fellow human beings. Looking for another movie about hope? It’s the documentary about neglected children living in what is arguably the world’s most hopeless environment today – eastern Ukraine. 

    Some documentarians addressed the topics of communication, neighbourly relations, environmental issues or fake patriotism as early as half a century ago, which is also why they attained the status of cinematic giants, including the recently deceased Mako Sajko, to whom the Documentary Film Festival first paid tribute in 2007. His prematurely concluded oeuvre ‘beautifully’ illustrates the consequences of excessive criticism against the national milieu, just as Hubert Sauper’s works superbly illustrate the consequences of excessive criticism against European colonialism and the insatiable thirst for the rich natural resources of the Dark Continent. Sajko’s and Sauper’s filmographies demonstrate the value of a critical documentary in comparison to the often over-dramatized and hysterically embroidered media stories. That's why they're with us this year.