In July, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival’s annual presentation of up-coming Eastern European documentaries showcased a lexicon of lifestyles – works-in-progress.

Melanie Sevcenko

Sevcenco currently lives in Berlin, where she works as a freelance writer, and for several documentary film initiatives.

“Everydayisfamous,” breathes the ubiquitous voice of grandmother Alena Němcova, reciting her diary entries in Czech filmmaker Jan Gogola’s newest documentary short, I Love My Boring Life. Gogola is a filmmaker, teacher and journalist whose cinematic oeuvre is one of extreme visual technique comprising of metaphor and absurd comedy, where the world is a construct ready for reinvention.

During the 44th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, I Love My Boring Life was presented alongside eight other documentaries as part of Docu Talents From the East, an annual works-in-progress industry event which previews up-coming projects from the Eastern European region.

Using time as its central theme, Jan Gogola’s film is a surreal approach to eternity – daily life mixed with a transpersonal history where weather is mentioned in the same breath as war. I Love My Boring Life is one of ve documentary shorts (under 30 minutes) produced within “Breathless – Dominance of the Moment”, a two-year long Czech-German co-production project that funds workshops and mentors short experimental documentary filmmakers from both countries. Hinging on the ow of time and speed, the Breathless concept is inspired by the bombardment of information technology that in recent years has overloaded our senses and fragmented our conception of time and orientation, where the use of terms such as globalisation, digitalisation and mobility has become unavoidable. Thus, each Breathless film toys with the idea that our lives are no longer our own.

I Love My Boring Life
I Love My Boring Life

Beginning the Breathless process in January 2008, Gogola’s short documentary relives the diary entries of the Němec family’s grandmother, Alena, who Gogola has known for ten years from Prague’s Zbraslav neighbourhood. Deconstructing the conventions of time with the basic narrative techniques of fiction film, the filmmaker sees the diary as “an example of processing the world in one’s own way, in its common and timeless aspects.” The idea is to a make a film about the singularity of ordinary life where, through the careful architecture of images, “every moment could be a living painting,” says Gogola. The camera enters the Němec’s house and moves into normal family situations where Alena’s voice-over becomes a sound effect within the spatial situations, a commentary that traces the past into the present. “Alena is not the author of her life,” affirms Gogola. “Like us, she is the co-author. This film is not a reconstruction, rather it’s a reincarnation of the past.”

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I Love My Boring Life

Every moment could be a living painting

The concept for the Breathless short documentary stemmed from Gogola’s previous film, Diary of Grandmother Němcova, which focused on the diary entries of Alena’s mother-in-law, Jirina Němcova. Six years ago, while Alena Němcova was living in the same house as her mother-in-law, she began a diary of her own, which in turn inspired I Love My Boring Life. Given Breathless’ theme of time, the ‘diary-with-no-end’ concept made sense when perceiving the journal as “a can of time,” explains Gogola. “In the Němcova family house there are younger generations too, so maybe aer 10 years there will be another diary and another film.”

In addition to Gogola’s film, its Breathless counter-part The Phantom Of Liberty II (working title) by Czech filmmaker Karel Žalud, was also presented during Docu Talents. It reveals the physicality of time in a global age where, ironically, the freedom of man is jeopardised by his self-spun web of arbitrary calculations. Borrowing the narrative techniques of Robert Altman, Žalud makes use of the spatial overlapping of the characters in his storytelling– a scene jumps from the passenger seat of one car to the backseat of another as the two automobiles pass on the highway; a motorcyclist then engages with the driver of the car before the camera leaps into a train cart on the highway overpass. In his statement, the director underlines that “all the situations included in the narrative must be quite commonplace or banal, corresponding with the viewer’s experience as they capture only typical events. No eccentric occurrence should disturb the chain of paradoxes created by mostly conventional scenes that do not share any common context.”

With this, its fifth edition, Docu Talents From the East has made a reputation of directing the attention of documentary distributors, buyers, festival programmers and journalists to the productions and developments of Eastern European art, history, politics and daily life. The Eastern European region has a deep-rooted tradition of documentary  filmmaking, although a genuine support system for creative documentary work has only existed for the last 10 to 20 years, since the fall of the Iron Curtain. The genre is now moving into new territories of network broadcast and theatrical release – a consideration all nine docs-in-progress are port her uncompromising habit. Třestíková has crept in and out of Katka’s world for 13 years (while at the same time recording re-peat-offender René’s philosophical laments from prison for her acclaimed documentary René), to capture a cinematic sentiment not simply of drug abuse, but also the struggle to replenish the power of life.

At the end of the trailer we are informed that Katka is pregnant. Will she be forced to give up her baby? Or pushed to come clean and reclaim her life in order to save her child’s? The production team manages to leave us with this intrigue.

The Sound of Insects
The Sound of Insects

When surrealist preacher/docu-guru Karel Vachek presented his latest documentary, The Obscurantist and His Lineage, his comments on the film’s concept were just as non sequitur as the actual trailer (or Director’s Note’s as he called it). The Czech director has been making documentaries since the early 1960s and his work has since screened in theatres and galleries across Europe and the United States. Since 1994, Vachek has taught in the Documentary Film Department at Prague’s performing arts school, FAMU (where amateurs morph into experts, including Miloš Forman and Emir Kusturica), and has acquired a reputation for his non-conformance to aesthetic and political trends. Czech critics Vratislav Effenberger and Jan rooms and UFOs.” Vachek uses the projection screen as a crooked mirror through which to gaze at nonrational and expansive perceptions of reality.

During a four-minute preview of The Obscurantist and His Lineage, existential slogans and fortune cookie wisdom are plastered in the most commonplace surfaces; for example “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy life,” This displayed across a city bus. To conclude his presentation Karel Vachek assured the crowd of his project’s legitimacy, saying, “I apologise for the nonsense, it will be a serious film.”

Prolonged suicide through self-imposed starvation

All nine of the documentaries that were presented provided a vista of their respective countries, creating a sum of all parts that showed the region’s ability to turn their collective history into local stories with a global interest. But, even when taking into account their work-in-progress status, it was clear that not all the films could promise slick picture quality or innovative technique. What they could all promise, however, are engaging subjects referring to cultural traditions and political struggles within the ever-evolving

European Union. Docu Talents From the East has proved to be a starting point for many internationally successful documentaries that have toured festivals such as Berlin, Toronto and Cannes. The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories, Blind Loves, Rabbit à la Berlin, and both award-winning films from Slovakian director Marko Skop (Other Worlds and Osadne) were presented in previous years as the up-coming documentaries waiting to be discovered.

There’s no doubt that this edition of Docu Talents will also be useful in getting the next wave of the region’s documentaries to the forefront of the industry. LeRight LeRight, by Hungarian director Erzsebet Racz, has great potential considering its relevance to the everrising number of elected fascists within Hungary’s official parties. Racz bravely delves into the fascist past of her deceased father (who once belonged to the Hungarian right-wing faction, the Order of the Brave) by literally putting the camera in the faces of her family to dissect their racist tendencies.

Bosnian director Srdjan Sarenac’s newest project is appropriately titled Village Without Women, which is literally the circumstance for three Serbian brothers who attempt to nd wives across the mountains in their neighbouring nemesis of Albania. Sarenac and his producer Estelle Robin-You have already achieved tremendous positive feedback for this project resulting from its development in the Ex Oriente training program, and the subsequent promising pitch at last year’s East European Forum.

In the grander context of festival circuit, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival this summer presented a programme of international documentaries that included We Live in Public, Thriller in Manila, Those Who Remain, Act of God, and Osadne (which took the competition prize for Best Documentary). The morbidly impressionistic, The Sound of Insects – Record of a Mummy, a experimental documentary by Peter Liechti has toured Rotterdamm, Visions du Réel, Hot Docs, Silverdocs, and is selected for many more festival appearances in the coming months. It is a daunting exploration into the final days of one nameless/faceless man. This mysterious man’s exile from society leads him to a remote forest where he keeps a day-to-day journal of his prolonged suicide through self-imposed starvation. Based on the novella, Until I Am a Mummy by Shimada Masahiko, which was penned from real events, The Sound of Insects is a viscerally hypnotic reading of a lost soul’s record of relinquishing life. Narrated by mono-tonal Canadian filmmaker, Peter Mettler, Liechti’s carefully chosen kaleidoscopic images lets surrealist shreds of urban life cut into the calm ominous forest scenery – where the slightest stir of leaves raises the hollow vacancy of life transitioning into death.


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