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Ji.hlava Documentary Festival tackles hot ethical issues

Twenty-sixth edition of the exhibition Ji.hlava Intl. The Documentary Film Festival is back in full force — and hasn’t shied away from controversy this year, says director Marek Hovorka.

“It’s really a complete version of the festival,” he says. Last year he was probably still in the shadow of an epidemic. However, people really enjoyed it as a meeting point for fans, filmmakers, and professionals.”

But this time, he notes, things are back to new levels. “It’s really a full version. We feel it’s a really, really strong program. We’re very happy with all the competitions, all the sections – we have 376 films as well as many short films. It really shows that the documentary is strong: it has survived.”

Part of the reward, Hovorka says, is festival debuts for several films that have been postponed during the COVID lockdown. Release them now. Many of the films born during the pandemic have also now been completed – so it’s like two copies in one.”

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Hovorka says the festival’s reputation for progressive politics and inclusive debate has also returned to the fore.

“If we think in terms of Ji.hlava’s themes for this year, there’s a strong theme of ethics – the ethics of filmmaking, because we’re starting to organize a conference on ethics in documentary filmmaking. And the question this year is strength: the constellation of the crew but also the strength between the director and the social actor, Personalities “.

Hovorka adds that the question of who has power in documentary filmmaking can lead to revealing debates. “It’s not an obvious thing,” he says. What is the relationship between the director and the character?

Hovorka says the panels on this question, among other things, will be in two parts, one led by academics, the other by film professionals with a keynote address open to questions to the audience on October 27 by Patricia Aufderheide, who he calls “one of the greatest experts on the question of ethics.” in the documentary film industry.

Aufderheide, a professor in the School of Communications at American University in Washington, D.C., is a figure known for “thinking hard about morals in the documentary.”

Hovorka adds that others in the filmmaking process, from those on the set to the backers, are also empowered with an ethical dimension. “There are many influences on the outcome. Social questions, financial questions related to power-sharing and the granting of power.”

He adds that film festivals also face complex ethical issues, something that has emerged in the wake of Russia’s war on Ukraine with growing calls to ban Russian-made films.

“It’s a huge discussion all over the world and it has shown the power of curators. They are real gatekeepers to showing or not showing something, focusing on something or not showing it, and leaving it in the shadows.”

“Should festivals censor films?” Hovorka asks. Do they ban movies or not? There are many things that are not part of the visual part of cinema.

More than 50 guests involved in the management and programming of film festivals will gather in the small Czech city that gave Ji.hlava its name this year, he says, building on a tradition of discussions about the role and identity of such events. What is the location of film festivals today? Asked. “It is the position of the curators.”

Facing some of the same dilemmas, this year Ji.hlava had a moral debate over one of its most notable films, Ulrich Seidl’s “Sparta.”

The Austrian director’s new film, whose main character is a man who is attracted to young boys, has sparked controversy with some accused of exploiting children while filming them bathing and playing in the story castle.

“We finally decided, after huge discussions about it, that we would show ‘Sparta’ because we had been following Ulrich Seidl’s films for years. A few years ago he had master classes at the festival. So in a way we feel responsible for supporting this way of making films” .

Hovorka says Ji.hlava chose to show the film as a way to “continue the discussion”. “If the film is hidden somewhere, then the discussion is over.”

The Ji.hlava Festival, which runs until October 30, will host approximately 1,300 film-making professionals in its industry programme, which includes a series of sessions and panel discussions on documentary film development, production, distribution, and the annual recognition and celebration of filmmakers. Emerging Producers Mentoring Program.