Dear Cinephiles and Film Lovers,
How layered the history and form of the documentary film is is evidenced by the wealth of theories that interpret it, as well as the multiplicity of directions that have marked it historically. Basically considered a unique film genre, its heterogeneity manifests itself in different manifestations that outline its loose structure, but also its inseparability from the political, economic and cultural events of the time in which they are created. Even the earliest documentaries such as Nanook from the North (Flaherty, 1922), which this year marks its centenary, are a testament to this complexity. By showing the daily life of the Inuit in the far north of Canada, the director poeticizes and dramatizes their rituals, realizing even then that the documentary form is one that takes reality only as a reference point, in order to shape it into a specific story in a limited space and time, keeping in mind the Western viewer with certain interests and background knowledge. Between those hundred years, various political systems used the documentary film as a means of propaganda (they still use it today), for the purpose of education and formation, as an ethnographic record of the people, their rituals and layered everyday life, as a means of entertainment, instruction, satire or even falsification of the documentary . Some directors famous for feature films, such as the French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, did not shy away from documentary experiments in order to underline the complex relationship between reality and its extensions in documentary film. Godard created one of his most significant works precisely in the form of a compilation of visual, sound and textual quotes from the hundred years of film history in eight episodes of Film stories, using the "documents" as a starting point for further poetic, political and intertextual elaborations of the relationship between history and modernity through film. Other authors, such as Michael Moore, use reality as a springboard to shape a critical blade against the political everyday life in which we live. The importance of that form cannot be ignored: his 2004 Fahrenheit 9/11 was the most successful documentary film up to that point in terms of marketing and finance. In the space between the film as a documentary message like Attenborough's fantastic records of the biological world around us and the film as a humanistic, poetic or traumatic document about the power of man's destruction of personal and collective histories like Resnais's Night and Fog, is precisely the meaning of the documentary film.
When Godard claims in his stories and histories, i.e. pri/histories, that film is both a form that thinks and a thought that forms, he is actually describing a feedback process - a film that has the power to penetrate and shape the viewer, regardless of whether he agrees with what is shown. or does not agree, but it also describes us, the viewers in front of the film, who interpret it in a variety of ways and thereby give it the heterogeneity of its meaning appearance. The documentary film is no exception.
Between films about immediate reality, historical films, and even poetic and political documentaries, there is a thin but stretchable thread that, especially in recent decades, indicates that a "document" is not only information that needs to be shown, but also life that needs to be interpreted. Precisely for this reason, this year's History Film Festival finds that thread at three complementary points of interest: the trauma of war through personal and collective politics; documenting art and culture; and documenting the history of film development.
The first block of films gathers around the issue of war, the personal traumas that result from it, as well as the politics that shape these wars. The relationship between the personal and the collective is crucial here, as is the right to one's own story, to a counter-narrative, and the right to representation. Every day he contextualizes one historically relevant event told from the point of view of previously unknown actors, or using information that was not part of the dominant public discourse. These films show us the power of a personal story and the transformative power of trauma. Investigating topics from the silent crimes of the Spanish Civil War during the Franco regime (Estos Muros), through oral history, which sometimes in the absence of archives is the only thing that remembers the Nazi crimes of the Second World War in Greece (Marika, Why be Afraid), to personal and collective traumas from the wars on these spaces during the 90s (Veća od Trauma), the documentary shows us that it draws its strength just as strongly from the archives as it does from the memories of those who shaped that history.
The Australian short film The Missing by Jary Nemo brings a little-known story about the efforts of the Red Cross in listing and remembering the victims of the First World War, and in the film Nazi Death Marches, French director Virginie Linhart reminds us of the atrocities that took place right before the end of the Second World War, when the German war machine began to empty the camps and move more than 700 thousand prisoners and inmates to the heart of Germany. Horen Ghareeb's Iraqi film Sleeping in Ruins reminds us that in the last hundred years, history has been shaped to a large extent precisely by the transformations of war and the power relations that arise from it, showing the daily challenges in occupied Mosul. Arthur Franck's Rogue Reporters brings to the screen an excellently filmed and narrated documentary film about censorship in Finnish politics during the 1980s, following a group of journalists, on the trail of the politically engaged satire "The Feralians", who write about the influence of the Soviet Union on Finnish people in the midst of Cold War Finland. politicians and journalists, and trigger an avalanche of censorship and (self) censorship. Two more films in the block, the South Korean Video Archive '10 days in May' and the Polish 1970 open issues of state censorship by using archival or banned footage to illuminate what has long been obscured - the struggle of various social groups against systemic manifestations of power.
The second block thematizes the relationship between politics, art and culture through five films. Sparks in Time follows the rise and fall of the Slovenian and Yugoslav company Iskra Delta from the seventies until the breakup of Yugoslavia, its role in the development of computer technologies in the world, the anticipation of globalization and technological processes, but also the political interventions that led to its downfall, and the relationship between capitalist methods of production, market manipulation and Cold War political interests. The film stands as a synecdoche of privatization processes in the so-called "transition", but also as a reminder of the (unrealized) potential in these areas. The films Foreign Made Goods Hatred, A Summer in Antibes and The Nameless Woman deal with the relationship between art, freedom and censorship. While the Russian documentary is reminiscent of the Yugoslav experience of censorship, i.e. the loose control of the flow of Western popular cultural products to the market (in this case, primarily rock music), The Nameless Woman opens up an extremely interesting issue of censorship of Baudleaire's oeuvre, i.e. the hidden role of the dark-skinned muse and Baudleaire's lover Jeanne Duval from historical documents and books of his biographers. Olivier Bourgeois' The Oath of Cryiac closes the block on Saturday underscoring the imperative to protect our shared material history with a beautifully timed docudrama about the extreme efforts Syrian archaeologists and museum curators took to evacuate and protect more than 50,000 artifacts in the besieged city during the 2015 war. Aleppo.
The third block includes films that thematize film or broader screening practices. One day is reserved for an ode to Istria, with the short poetic experimental documentary film Monologue o Pula by director Elvis Lenić, and Nuovo Cinema Buie by Alessio Bozzer about the importance of cinema that brings together and strengthens social structures in multi-ethnic Istria after World War II. The second day is reserved for a tribute to the greatest comedian of the silent era, Charlie Chaplin, whose life story is told with innovative film techniques such as the exclusive use of inserts from his films along with the narration. The third day opens with Bosnian Broadway, an excellently directed, sensitive and culturally relevant film about the hopes of young Bosnian actors and actresses who are preparing a musical in collaboration with American Broadway directors. The relationship between the Balkans and the West, i.e. the center and the periphery, as well as economic-class immobility, is presented meticulously in the form of a medium-length intimate drama.
This year's festival does not have an overarching theme, a single inspirational point or a singular thread, but instead decided to show the complexity of the current times (which need not be further stated) without reducing history to one or two epochal events. Allowing for the plurality of memory politics, personal traumas, historical archives and lesser-known war events, this year's festival underlines the layering of power relations in film, as well as in everyday life, as the key to understanding our environment. If film is a form that thinks, as well as a thought that forms, it can only do so in the heterogeneity of personal, collective and documented histories that invite the viewer to confront the limits of personal worlds, and perhaps overcome them.