I am in the capital of Macedonia, Skopje, at the documentary festival MakeDox. I have been invited to be a member of the jury and decide on a winner.
Festival director, Kirijana A. Nikoloska, wrote in the foreword of the catalogue that we would experience the hospitality of the Macedonians. We are therefore spending most of our time in the little backyard under the fig tree of the old Ottoman ruin from the 1600s where the festival is being held. In a way, the films are secondary. The meals and discussions around the big, low table are never ending. Ditto the food on the table and the influx of new people arriving throughout the week. The directors behind the festival films, festival directors from all over Europe, producers and film enthusiasts. What do they all talk about? Like in documentaries, it’s about life itself, about the things each individual finds meaningful in this existentially seen very short life, and how life is lived in the Balkans, in the old empire of Tito. Or about photography in film, scriptwriting, film criticism or video activism. Or the different reasons why people want to make films, sometimes explained by stories from one’s childhood, the desire to create, to protest – these are the reasons as adults we strive for years to make a work of art. Our conversations sometimes last until sunrise in this warm atmosphere. Direct speech sharpens our minds; we search for explanations, wonder about the things we do not know, and are often surprised about how little we do know. Isn’t this the self-same objective as that of documentaries? To make us think, to react emotionally, and raise our political awareness?
In Skopje, the festival needed the darkness of night to show the films on the screen in the ruin, open to the sky. The groups around the table often start during the night. We talk about how people in the Balkan region have been affected by the conflicts of recent years: Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Albania – the nationalism, propaganda, ethnical cleansing, the deaths of relatives. Macedonia is also struggling with an identity problem. Her neighbour, Greece, refuses to acknowledge her as a nation. One symbol of identity is the new, 35-metre high bronze statue of Alexander the Great on horseback that has been erected in the centre. Statues of brave men are scattered around the city. But the Disney-like monument to Mother Teresa, who once lived here, only adds to the kitschness of these sculptures. Also the big new buildings – like the classical copy of Greece’s columned parliamentary building, still surrounded by scaffolding – look kitschy to us Northern Europeans. It stands out in contrast to the bazaars of the old town, where the festival is located. But I am writing about documentaries. My protestant consciousness takes the task of the jury seriously. Our jury will concentrate on “new filmmakers” – the other juries cover human rights, environmental issues, shorts for young people, and “morality”. The latter consists of a Macedonian Orthodox priest from the Holy Transformation Monastery, a local anarchist painter and a female judge from Slovenia.
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