Over seven festival days, goEast Film Festival presents the full range of Central and Eastern European filmmaking. Located in Wiesbaden, Germany and additional locations around the Rhine-Main region, the festival features a programme of current trends, new positions, and film-historical rarities within socio-political, cinema aesthetics, and film theory contexts.
With goEast scheduled to run from 26th April to 2nd May, we had the opportunity to speak with its Head of Festival, Heleen Gerritsen In our conversation, we explore the role of the festival among the crowded continental documentary landscape and get some insights into what the 2023 festival has on offer. Additionally, we discuss the importance and relevance of the decolonial mindset against the backdrop of the current war in Europe.
As the Artistic Director of goEast, how do you define your role and responsibilities?
I am actually the Head of Festival, so I am not only in charge of all artistic decisions but also responsible for the festival financing, staff and management.
I took over in 2017, and I already knew back then that the festival’s program structure was very solid and offered a lot of opportunities. There is a large symposium with 20-30 films at the heart, a competition with 16 films that mixes documentary and fiction. Historical programs stand alongside the East-West Talent Lab for up-and-coming filmmakers. It is not just my role to select films and do programming but also to invite guests and bring people together. Apart from our regular selection committee, I like collaborating with guest curators from Central and Eastern Europe. They represent the region and bring different perspectives. It is my job to translate those perspectives to a local audience. So, I see my role mostly as a host and a translator.
It is not just my role to select films and do programming but also to invite guests and bring people together.
How would you describe the place of goEast in the wider continental film festival landscape?
We specialise in a region in turmoil because of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. I would like to see goEast as a welcoming and safe place for filmmakers from Central and Eastern Europe. We offer a serious program, serious debates and great parties. But we do not have a red carpet, dress codes or industry chichi.
The festival is not exclusively for documentaries. Can you speak on how to present a balance between fiction & non-fiction selections that make the programme? Is there a set approach, or does it evolve/change from year to year?
Under my helm, there has definitely been a shift towards more documentary programming on an equal footing with fiction. I think that in certain cases, the genre can be more relevant than fiction; it reacts faster and more freely to the world we live in and is often less ego-driven. But film is film, and diversity is key in our programming. We’ve definitely noticed that it makes a lot of sense to specialise in our one-week East-West Talent Lab for up-and-coming filmmakers. Now our program, which this year includes mentoring sessions with DAE’s Brigid O’Shea, a masterclass with Elwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosolowski, as well as meetings with locals funds and commissioning editors, is much more effective for the participants. Our local fund HessenFilm is very much interested in young documentary talent and international coproductions, so we aim for more collaboration with them too.
film is film, and diversity is key in our programming.
There are many peripheral aspects of the program, but for me, the de-colonising post-Soviet cinema is of particular interest. Why did you program this event? In its description, the word «#decolonisation» is met with some scepticism from the region in the same way «#wokeness» and «#cancel culture#» are. This is an interesting perspective, and I am curious why do you think this is the case? Personally, living in the region, I see, at least among the younger generation, a full embracement of such Western concepts that don’t exactly fit within its wider history and experiences. That said, decolonisation is vital for the entire Western world to understand, given that colonisation (and neo-colonisation) is the foundation of much of its wealth and its overall neoliberal mindset. I actually feel that cancel culture and wokeness are much more embraced in Eastern Europe than decolonisation is as a product of emerging economy syndrome and a lack of willingness to discuss how exactly the Western world gained its wealth and power.
For me, the decolonial lens is a tool for looking at a world that’s going through transformations, and it can be a tool for the empowerment of underrepresented groups. With regards to Eastern Europe, the terms «cancel culture» and «wokeness» are often used by Russian propaganda, as in «cancelling Tchaikovsky», etc. Gross exaggerations that purposefully try to ridicule decolonisation efforts. The full-scale invasion of Ukraine announced itself long before it happened, also in the field of culture. Barbara Wurm, who co-curates the symposium, and I thought it was important to speak about the role of culture, specifically film, in Eastern Europe and look at the aspects of imperialism in (post-Soviet) film. Why has Russian cinema continued dominating the international festival circuit for so long? A younger generation of activists and academics in Eastern Europe certainly understands the meaning of Russian imperialism. Some of them also would agree that the West colonised Eastern Europe in the 1990s. But the concept of decolonisation originally stems from Latin America and was further developed by academics and activists in other parts of the world. The debates surrounding it are predominantly Anglo-Saxon. It is interesting to see how these concepts apply in the vast post-Soviet space. Over the course of four days, we will have discussions with prominent academics like Ivan Kozlenko (former director of the Dovzhenko Center in Ukraine), Nancy Condee (Head of the Slavic Dept at Uni Pittsburg) and Dita Rietuma (Head of the Latvian Film Center), but also with grassroots activists and filmmakers like Aida Adilbek of DAVRA collective, Michael Borodin of the newly founded independent Tashkent Film School, Igor Soukmnanov and several members of the newly founded Independent Belarusian Film academy, as well as filmmakers and activists with a non-Russian ethnic background from Russia.
What other aspects of the program do you feel are of particular importance/impact for audiences?
Our opening film, Aurora’s Sunrise by Inna Sahakyan, is our first Armenian opening film ever – it will be shown two days after Armenian Genocide Memorial Day. While tensions continue rising between Azerbaijan and Armenia, I think this is meaningful. At the same time, we try to programme in such a way that German audiences do not only see tragic events from Central and Eastern Europe but also the sunny side and the diversity of cultures and languages. So powerful documentaries about hot news topics stand alongside psychedelic Hungarian and Estonian animation from the 1970s and – 80s. And from Ukraine, we screen Alisa Kovalenko’s beautiful doc We Will Not Fade Away, but also a 90s police gangster flic called La Palisiada by Philip Sotnychenko.
What are some of the primary documentary films, filmmakers, or filmographies that give you interest in the genre?
I grew up in the Netherlands and studied in Amsterdam from 1997-2003. Visiting IDFA was a must every year. For a few years, I was even a volunteer there. I always feel I grew up in quite a lively documentary culture: growing up, I could watch films by Sergey Dvortsevoy, Hedi Honigman, Viktor Kossakovsky, Volker Koepp, etc., on TV! Over the years, I have become very interested in montage films and more experimental approaches as well: Artavazd Pelechian’s work, for example.
This year we have a number of great documentaries in the program. A focus on the AniDoc genre across all sections, starting with the previously mentioned opening film, continuing with Signe Baumane’s My Love Affair With Marriage, and continuing in Radu Jude’s hybrid short film Almanac, and in a Czech AniDoc program, organised together with Institute of Documentary Film in Prague.