DokLeipzig continues to develop its industry events, this year introducing a digital doc market. At the same time the festival also boasts a selection of high-class films.

October and November are probably the busiest months for documentary film festivals. Many major doc festivals are held at almost the same time: Doclisboa, Jihlava, Sheffield, Leipzig, cph:dox, and then IDFA. The competition for getting the best documentary films is tough-and since IDFA is the most prestigious of all and requires a world premiere to participate in its competition, the other festivals often have to wait till the last minute to know whether the film they want will be available.

However, when attending the 49th DokLeipzig festival, there is no sign of standing in IFDA’s shadow. Its industry events and Discovery Campus pitching forum have made DokLeipzig a major international documentary event. This year the organizers introduced a new digital market that puts the festival at the forefront of documentary film markets. DokLeipzig has invested in developing a system especially for film markets like this. All films for the market are digitised and placed on a central server from which each computer at the market can download the films. No more waiting for copies of DVDs or VHSs to be available- in principle every market attendee can watch the same film at the same time. Not only that, the organizers have also made a system that enables the user to write comments about the film, both to be sent to the filmmaker and to oneself, and to directly request a screener from the producer, etc. The system is user-friendly, easy to use and effective. Other festival directors enviously regarded the system, which will undoubtedly be standard in a few years.

As for the film selection, we seem to be lucky that there are many good films out there. At Leipzig the films were certainly not leftovers from the table of the established festivals, as the international competition programme was composed of many powerful films with significant authorship.

Exile Family Movie

Leipzig’s awards are golden and silver Doves, symbolizing peace, and in that sense it was in keeping with this tradition that one of the main awards went to “Exile Family Movie” by Arash (Austria). The film goes right to the heart of one of the most central conflicts of the times in which we live: the clashes between the Islamic and Western worlds. The film tackles the subject first of all from a completely human perspective that everybody on earth can relate to, an issue central to everyone: family ties. Everyone empathises with the difficulty of being unable to travel to one’s own native country to see one’s father one last time when he is dying or even participate in his funeral.

exile_family_movie“Exile Family Movie” is basically about the filmmaker’s own family. He came to Austria at the age of nine as a refugee from Iran, together with his father, mother, sister and brother. His father, who had served 5 years of a 15-year sentence for having read the wrong books, was forced to flee. The family have relatives in Sweden and the US, while the rest still live in Iran. The refugee families could not enter Iran, so they decided to set up a family reunion in Mecca, pretending they were on a pilgrimage. Arash films this trip, the reunion, and his family’s daily life in both Austria and the US.

On the surface, this looks a lot like a family movie (alas the title), but there is much more to it – also cinematographically. Of course there is little room for scenic shots in the key scene of the film where the whole extended Iranian family meets in a hotel room in Mecca. Even so, these sequences are carefully framed: the women talking together, different generations, different cultures – yet the same family; the grandfather saying his prayers filmed at a respectful distance and so on. Arash catches an interesting conversation among family members, which sums up the times we live in: the women living in Iran asking curiously about life in the West, and Arash’s sister, based in Austria, asking curiously about their life in Iran, about marriage, education. Such different worlds and yet they feel very close.

The film does not set out to sketch a problem, but to warmly portray a family who just happen to have quite an interesting story. As a result, humour is ever-present in the film. Arash starts out by warning, “You are going to see a lot of this,” after which we see lots of people hugging and kissing – and the tone is set. The film concludes with a spectacular scene which is the film in a nutshell. Arash’s grandmother has finally been granted a permit to visit her daughter in the US. In the US, the two women sit together on a sofa watching a soap opera. The Americanized daughter tries to explain to her mother what is happening in the episode, which is basically about a lot of messy love affairs, and the puzzled mother makes comments like “Was he married three times?”, “Did they get a divorce?”, thus revealing the stupidity of the series when it has to be explained and showing how completely alien this culture is to an elderly Iranian lady.

Other Worlds

“Other Worlds” by Marko Skop (Slovakia) was granted the Talent Dove for a new talent. The film portrays six people from a small town in Eastern Slovakia, which includes a mix of peoples – Sarisans, Ruthenians, Jews and Romanies. Each people have their own separate tradition they like to hang on to, though they are increasingly influenced by globalisation. Globalisation makes the young generation in particular look out rather than back. The six main characters bring us to very different worlds: the old Sarisan who devoted his entire life to ethnological research of the local area; the Rusin cartoonist who is also a football couch for a boys’ team and also likes beer; a female Jewish doctor who talks about the vanishing Jewish community in Saris; a Romany man living in a tough Romany settlement; a young man, a newlywed with a small child and devoted to traditional folkdance; and a rich youth trying to forge a career in a pop band, but who is mostly bored in his father’s big house with a swimming pool.

The film doesn’t have a strict narrative thread or development, it simply unfolds before your eyes, delving deeper into the life of each colourful character. Dramatic events unfold for some of them (the Roma), others just gradually reveal more of their lives. All agree that they can live peacefully together despite cultural differences. The film is playful, with a nice flow and a collection of amusing episodes. It shows cultures disappearing as the young generation looks away, stupid TV shows, but is not overly sentimental. Though this craziness has its charm, it’s not very progressive, and life in the town does not appeal to the young generation.