A first-time visitor to Leipzig, just to state the obvious, is immediately struck by this continental city with its small-town charm, not to mention its cleanliness, all the more impressive considering the seeming absence of rubbish bins.I happen to know at least one city where the exact opposite is the case. And then there’s the architecture. Having to rush back and forth between the different cinemas – and the occasional restaurant – without finding the time for Jugend indulgence, feels like sacrilege.
The festival-goer is spoilt for choice among the titles being screened, the events, and there’s the master classes, and the mingling parties and business get-togethers. Add to that the subterranean “off-programme” market, Dok Mark(e)t, where screening booths are available in the basement of the festival Centre, enabling purchasers or other interested parts to watch a select number of titles not in the main programme, and the abundance should be apparent. With up to eight or nine screenings and events running simultaneously from 10 am until way past 10 pm, the festival life could easily be compared with that of some of the world’s major cities, of which it is said that you could easily live countless disparate lives here, without having the one interfering with the other.
In short: it’s not the place for people yearning to have it all, let alone those of us who resent the idea of having the impressions of one film mashed up by the next one immediately following. Ah, the acute problems of the Western World, to paraphrase Rocky, the Swedish cartoon character. There are choices to be made.
Of course, knowing it’s a documentary festival, the attendee knows he has to brace himself for the eternal documentary topics of need, poverty, neglected children, abusive husbands, of life in the war zone – in case disastermongering television doesn’t provide the necessary daily dose. Predictably, the situation in the Middle East was the subject matter of at least a couple of them, and, in case this presentation sounds a bit blasé, one of them should immediately be pointed out: Precious Life, a remarkable story of a Palestinian child being treated by Israeli doctors. There’s more than the apparent paradox being presented here.
Being one of the world’s major documentary film festivals, the Leipzig festival’s vast repertoire might be seen – in all its diversity – as a pretty fair representation of the current conditions of documentary cinema.
For better or worse, that is. So, what film in particular was it that’s so upsetting? None of them, actually. It’s a cumulative effect, obtained over years of watching documentaries with a ceaseless curiosity and varying degrees of pleasure. After a while you get the sense that a kind of routine mind-set has established itself, a customary “way to go” that doesn’t sit all that well with the investigative and/or revelatory motive some of us like to see in certain lines of documentary film-making.
Anyway, talking about “misery porn” is not a recommended ice-breaker for late night mingling events at the Ring Café.
There’s plenty of fodder for most segments within the festival community, for directors and producers, for audience, press and students alike. Apart from the animation programme, there were other sub-programmes, such as Money Matters, films dealing with economics in a wide sense, and from the most peculiar angles (eating coins being one of them), as well as a podium discussion, Geld – Problem oder Lösung, not in English, unfortunately for us not-so-German-proficient foreigners.
There were quite a few other occasions for debate, interaction and audience participation under the Dok heading: Dok Summit, Dok Podium, Dok Talk, some of which had a focus on criticism, marketing and distribution, not to mention “Crowdfunding – When Your Audience becomes your financier”. There was also discussion around the authentic versus arranged truths in documentary cinema. Other recurring themes within several films on the programme were: family relations as conveyed by expats in a couple of them, and more defined by father figures in another couple of titles (Walking Back to Happiness, Portrait of a Man, Father’s Prayer), or the contemplation of contemporary manhood: Men who swim and Steam of Life, to name two of them.
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