«Returning directly to the past has no future»

    DOK.fest München: Deputy Festival Director Artistic Director Adele Kohout and Programme Selection member Monika Haas on the festival's 36th edition.

    The 36th DOK.fest München is set to take place from 5 to 23 May 2021 as an online @home experience for the second year in a row.

    Over 130 films will be screened, as well as industry events, filmmaker discussions, panels, and more across its 18 day span. As Germany’s largest documentary film festival, DOK.fest München presents the most interesting and relevant international documentaries, supports directors from so-called «low produc­tion countries», works on a widespread impact of artistic documentary films, and initiates sustainable relationships between established filmmakers and newcomers.

    From 6 May, most of the DOK.fest München programme will be made available (subject to availability & geolocation – Germany) with. With the festival imminent, Modern Times Review spoke with both Deputy Festival Director Artistic Director Adele Kohout and Programme Selection member Monika Haas on the challenges, trends, and future of Visions du Réel in this, the second year of COVID-19.

    What makes a DOK.fest München film? What sort of criteria do you look for in submissions when making your selections?
    Monika Haas: A DOK.fest München film can be many things – or in other words: all kinds of films can become a DOK.fest München film and be part of our programme, our competitions and other sections. For the selection of our programme we put an emphasis on including a great diversity of topics and formats in order to display the full range and richness of current documentary filmmaking. Every year, it is our passionate aim to put together a programme with socially relevant as well as artistically and formal-aesthetically interesting documentary films.

    Our competition is representative of that. It shows 13 current international films from 10 different countries that couldn’t be more diverse: from portrait (ANNY, DARK RIDER, FURY, HE’S MY BROTHER, NO HAY CAMINO) to drama (THE ARK), thriller (BEHIND THE HEADLINES), society portrait (PRESIDENT, KOMÚNA) and reflection on nature (HOLGUT, LAND), up to essays (THE PERSONAL LIFE OF A HOLE, THE LAST HILLBILLY), the widest range of documentary storytelling is represented.

    Monika Haas
    Monika Haas
    credit: DOK.fest München / Ute Bolmer

    Did you find any common themes amongst this year’s pool of submissions? If so, did they translate into the final programme? What kind of themes do make up this year’s final programme?
    Monika Haas: Amongst the 1.200 submissions that have reached us this year, there was once again an enormous range and variety of topics. Next to rather personal and intimate stories, there were numerous films that told of socio-political change, of the search for kindred spirits, together with whom things want to and can be changed – be it through the portrayed people themselves or through the stance of the filmmakers who, through their commitment and willingness for departure, are carried to empowerment.

    To honour this tendency, we dedicate this year’s thematic series DOK.fokus Empowerment to this atmosphere of departure. With six movies, we place an emphasis on empowerment movements from all over the world and among different aspects of life. Apart from social interaction – more important than ever in this day and age – the films negotiate aspects of inclusion and diversity with regard to social, political, ecological and economic factors.

    Moreover, the thought of participation and interaction is represented in numerous films in our programme. The films in our guest region section DOK.guest Kanada or the DOK.horizonte competition are representative of that, taking a close look at multifaceted inclusion as well as indigenous culture.

    A DOK.fest München film can be many things – or in other words: all kinds of films can become a DOK.fest München film and be part of our programme, our competitions and other sections.

    This will be the 2nd “@home” edition of the festival due to the pandemic. How does the 2021 edition differ from 2020? What did you learn from last years’ experience?
    Adele Kohout: Last year, we were able to gather valuable experience that had a great impact on the planning and development of this year’s edition. Thus, it was important to us to again offer an extensive and, as much as possible, interactive supporting programme. Alongside the opening event and the award ceremonies there will be live Q&A sessions every evening at 8 pm. Here, filmmakers and additional guests can come to our new studio in the «Silbersaal» auditorium of the Deutsches Theater München, with the audience at home being given the chance to ask questions via chat and thusly enter into a direct exchange.

    We as a festival can and have to be the place and forum where encounters, exchange and discourse on the diverse issues of our time are made possible. And as a result, raise awareness and sensitise the public to pan-European topics of a social, political, economic or ecological nature. The documentary film inherently possesses the potential to accompany, process and ideally even to influence and shape social change.

    With this idea of a festival as a meeting ground, we have also looked for a good opportunity for a kind of informal meet-and-greet, as we know it from foyers and the festival centre, and to transfer that into a virtual space. We are happy to be able to offer a good alternative here as well: using our free and easily accessible meeting tools «Wonder» and «Spatial Chat», where filmmakers as well as other festival guests and our audience can meet up at fixed times.

    Adele Kohout
    Adele Kohout
    credit: DOK.fest München

    Do you think that there will ever be a purely, 100% physical festival again? Meaning, will an online component be standard moving forward? Either because of accessibility or financing.
    Adele Kohout: Returning directly to the past has no future, however, our vision for the future can only be realised together with all industry representatives. To be precise, this issue still leaves us with many a question that needs to be answered. For instance: How will film rights be dealt with in the future. How will the films be distributed? How does a new revenue model for films look like that everyone can participate in? Our vision is to break down barriers, to become more inclusive and sustainable in many respects: socially, financially as well as ecologically. Our mission is to further refine our profile, as we have to prove ourselves with our digital offer in an environment that is new and highly competitive. At this point, we need to evaluate our current entirely digital edition of the 36. DOK.fest München once more and see, which components of a dual festival make sense in what context, as for example with respect to the, our industry section. How exactly things are going to look like for the public film festival however, has yet to be determined. Here, I think, collaborative and forward-thinking strategies will have to be found through dialogue with everyone concerned.

    We as a festival can and have to be the place and forum where encounters, exchange and discourse on the diverse issues of our time are made possible.

    Can each of you describe a documentary that was seminal in developing your personal interest with the genre?
    Adele Kohout: There hasn’t been this one particular moment, but rather certain formal-aesthetic films that have fascinated us both and still do. Their subjects are not always apparent upon first glance, being more conceptually driven, thesis-like and using poetic visual language, telling their stories through images as well as text, sound and music. In many cases, these films testify to strong authorship. They confuse and irritate, challenge our viewing habits as well as the classical patterns of narration and consequently redefine the boundaries of documentary storytelling. These are precisely the kind of border crossing films that we once again have in our programme this year, as for example THE PERSONAL LIFE OF A HOLE by Ondřej Vavrečka. An artistically arranged essay that in a collage-like manner negotiates the blank spaces of life and in doing so, touches upon big themes like religion or love. Or likewise the purely conceptually crafted film WHITE CUBE by Renzo Martens that fluctuates between different poles, from artistic performance and experiment to life perspective and shows us how deeply intertwined Congolese cocoa plantations are with the international art market.

    Monika Haas: KOMUNÁ by Jakub Julény and Pavel Smejkal also fits perfectly into this line-up. This film examines in a poetic and playful fashion the work of the artist, philosopher and politician Marcel Strýko and his underground group in the former Czechoslovakia. Another of this border crossing films is MOLECULES, an intelligent, poetic and thoughtful essay in which Andrea Segre takes a very personal look at the history of the city Venice and that of his family – a film that is carried by fascinating images of the empty (!) city, the poetic text and the unbelievably beautiful and atmospherically dense music by Teho Teardo. Likewise, THE LAST HILLBILLY, an intimate portrait of a disappearing world, through the use of poetic voiceover texts is able to tell us so much more than the already expressive images and breathtaking nature shots are capable of – a cinematic stroke of luck for the filmmakers Diane Sara Bouzgarrou and Thomas Jenkoe. Last but not least, HOLGUT by Liesbeth De Ceulaer needs to be mentioned, who artistically interlaces science, poetry and legend and thereby creates a narrative that remains in your memory.

    Steve Rickinson
    Communications Manager at Modern Times Review.

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