Some October reflections on the festival, films and life-journeys
As much as the autumn quietness of blue-steel heavens gives people the opportunity to reflect on the past days of the year, the lovely little Czech city of Jihlava serves as a perfect mise-en-scène for an international film festival. The historical silver-mining city with population of 50,000 is pleasant to promenade about, but, at the same time, there is not much to distract the audience from the festival programme itself.
This year, more than 1,000 visitors came to the Moravian-Bohemian border with an eye to watch more than 340 documentaries from as far as Taiwan, however, the focus is on European films, of course. The whole city was buzzing with agitation! Here and there one could get sight of stylish people with cameras or, at least, the festival brochures in hands. Nevertheless, strolling about the streets buried in crimson-golden leaves, I could not help but think about the change of time. Maybe it was the history of Jihlava (it flourished as a result of exploitation of silver in the 13th century), maybe it was the poetic appeal of October, but throughout the week, I couldn’t help but notice the connection between the past and the present in the rich programme of the 21st edition of Ji.hlava.
Interestingly enough, the first three, randomly chosen, documentaries I watched, one way or another, touched upon the themes of time, memory and change of generations.
The first film, Marriage Stories: Ivana and Pavel by a renowned Czech director Helena Třeštíková, is a time-lapse observing the life of a newlywed couple at different stages throughout 30 years. Back in 1987, not many common people had the chance to be documented on a daily basis, so the 21-century audience could sense a kind of shyness from the 20-century characters at first. Indeed, the daily graft of those times looks so fresh and artless.
In contrast, another documentary, Following by Jiří Sádek, follows five most popular Youtube bloggers of the Czech Republic who actively record and post videos about their everyday life (e.g. breakfasts, outfits, meetings with friends, you name it). Even though Following is not a retrospective, keeping in mind how unusual it was to record prosy life for Marriage Stories coevals, it gives an additional dimension to the topic of people and the change of time. What was seen as an experiment in 80’s seems to be a daily routine today.
Furthermore, the third documentary I [randomly] chose to watch was «a time travel through 200 years of Hungarian art & history through the eye and lenses of painters», Picturesque Epochs as described by its director Péter Forgács. Again, here we see a wonderful story of a Hungarian family through a collage of photos, paintings and rare home videos that were miraculously recorded in 60’s. Rare home videos. When I was watching the 60’s family sitting around the table and having their dinner, I thought that was indeed a time traveling, a unique opportunity to get an insight into the daily life of the bygone times. Perhaps, our descendants will not be able to experience the same curiosity and feeling of discovery we do.
Not only the documentaries I managed to watch and the master classes I attended, but even the award-winning films of Jihlava IDFF 2017 touch upon the themes of time, memory, heritage and traditions in forms of retrospectives, time-lapses and time-windows. To illustrate, the Best Czech Experimental Documentary Film 2017 award was granted to a film collage about fading memories of childhood intertwined with the folklore of the Moravian region of Haná (Konzerva, Lucie Navrátilová, Czech Republic, 2017). Likewise, the Best Experimental Documentary Film 2017 prize was presented to a historical reflection on human migration and “the age-old possibilities of hospitality» (Boat People, Sarah Wood, United Kingdom, 2016).
All in all, no matter what era it is, documentarians will be interested in observing the present, reflecting on the past and extracting a golden kernel from our life experiences, traditions and memories. Ji.hlava with its autumn vibe is a beautiful setting for pausing the everyday flow of tasks (e.g. breakfasts, outfits, meetings with friends, you name it) for a moment to contemplate what your life would look like if filmed for a longitudinal documentary?
Author: Yelena Kilina