After a three-year hiatus, the eagerly awaited DOKUARTS festival returns to Berlin for its 2023 edition, promising a captivating lineup of 18 films from 14 different countries. Screenings will be held at iconic Berlin venues like the Kino in der Kulturbrauerei, BrotfabrikKino, and KLICK Kino, featuring documentaries that offer deep insights into artistic processes, chart extraordinary life journeys, and present cinematic essays on the ever-fluid concept of identity. Adding another layer of depth to this year’s festival is the introduction of the DOKUARTS Forum, dubbed «Visual Alterity,» scheduled for 6-7 October. This forum aims to dissect the cinematic interpretations of «The Other,» exploring pressing questions around identity construction, ethical considerations in documentary filmmaking, and how the medium can serve as a voice for marginalized perspectives. Among the notable filmmakers presenting their works are those behind documentaries on personalities like Cymande, Nikki Giovanni, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and others.
With the festival set to run from 11 to 22 October, Modern Times Review spoke with its Artistic Director Andreas Lewin. Here, we discuss the 2023 theme of «Visual Alterity», why DOKUARTS is not a competition festival, the place of the festival withi the wider continental landscape, and more.
I always loved those films, and they were always underrepresented at film festivals worldwide as most (documentary) film festivals focus on social, political and human rights issues.
In 2023, DOKUARTS returns after three years with the theme «Visual Alterity.» Can you explain the reasoning behind this theme for this year?
It started with a sentence by German-Italian (theatre) director Roberto Ciulli, who claimed that if the Other did not exist, we would have to invent him/her. In times of wokeism, I found that remark by an Italian immigrant who established the first transnational stage in German theatre history utterly refreshing. Binding questions of creativity and imagination to ethical discourses about the Other (with artistic openness) seems much needed nowadays (and documentary film is the perfect field in this regard). Furthermore, the terrible and bitter discussion about antisemitism at documenta (2022) struck me deeply, most of all the inability of the people involved to talk face to face. And the absence of the Jewish communities in wokeism (we call this «identity politics» in Germany), etc. I remembered an excellent film about the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, which we had presented as a German premiere in 2016. Levinas’ work has inspired filmmakers like the Dardenne Brothers, who also appear in the movie (as well as film theorists). The main themes of his ethics center on The Other and Alterity. So that was more or less how it came about… and we are glad that Yoram Ron will present his excellent film Absent God again at DOKUARTS this year.
As DOKUARTS is a festival focused on art and artists, why did you feel such a documentary-specific festival was necessary in Berlin and, perhaps, the wider country?
I always loved those films, and they were always underrepresented at film festivals worldwide as most (documentary) film festivals focus on social, political and human rights issues. Sometimes, one could find excellent docs on art on the sidelines in Venice and Cannes, but rarely in the competition of the doc fests. (This year’s opening film) Apolonia, Apolonia is a rare exception from that rule. And even a TV station like ARTE has deleted its «grand format arts docs» from its scheme: La Lucarne used to be one of the last slots in German public broadcasting, where you could place an artist portrait without a fixed format. Unfortunately, those times are over.
Why does DOKUARTS not hold a competition? Personally, the idea of competition in film festivals and events seems a bit classist and very capitalistic. I believe they are ultimately there to add a problematic sense of «value» to art.
Presenting about 20 films each year, we are a rather small festival and therefore work with a limited budget. I always preferred to enable all filmmakers to visit the festival, bear the expenses for travel and accommodation costs and pay license fees instead of creating a competitive atmosphere with small outcomes. With the inflation of the film festival world before the pandemic, many absurd developments occurred (for example, competitions between festivals – who gives more money through prizes?). But l always wanted to focus on the earnest and professional presentation of the films by hiring good moderators (if possible from outside the industry), good text authors, and invest in deep and careful research regarding the film program, rather than focus on the usual circus of red carpets, endless jury and award lists, the new policy of fighting against other festivals through festival regulation and exclusivity (also established in recent years by IDFA).
With the inflation of the film festival world before the pandemic, many absurd developments occurred
As Artistic Director, how would you define your role and responsibilities?
Providing (financing, organizing, curating) a platform for filmmakers to present their films as concentrated and professionally as possible and enabling external input from other fields of the arts rather than from within the film/festival community to investigate the ethical and aesthetical relevance of documentaries today. By that, it broadens the boundaries and perspectives of the viewers and the festival community.
What are some seminal films on art, artistry, and artists that are important in your cinematic evolution?
During my studies as an actor, I often went into the VHS media library at the University of the Arts in Berlin, which had a great collection of docs about theatre and dance. One of them was What are Pina Bausch and Her Dancers Doing in Wuppertal? (1982) by Klaus Wildenhahn. And as a projectionist working in cinema, I saw Wim Wenders’ Tokyo-Ga (1985) on Ozu. Both films impressed me deeply and led to my own four films about actors and directors between 2001 and 2013.