The Jihlava Doc Festival of 2017 was focussed on political film. Several films took on the theme of state leaders and the election processes that led to their victory.
The Lust for Power/ The Candidate: The Rise of Emmanuel Macron/ Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time
Tereza Nvotová/ Yann L’Hénoret/ Ted BourneMary Robertson and Banks Tarver
SK and CZ/FR/USA
The Jihlava International Film Festival is a unique event where the East and the West of the documentary film world meet. In 2017, the festival also released hybrid films (documentary films as well as fiction-feature films with a documentary feel), something new that will likely create a trend for similar festivals in the future. Documentary films have an increased influence on TV shows and feature films, or the “audio-visual landscape”, as the festival director, Marek Hovorka, described it. Nevertheless, the program mainly consisted of classic documentary films. Political film was a major focus at the festival that mainly took on the theme of state leaders and the campaign process behind their election victories. The opening film The Lust for Power is a portrait of former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, and the final film–having its world premiere at the festival–was the French The Candidate: The Rise of Emmanuel Macron. The film Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time, was also part of the program of the festival.
The Lust for Power has a promising start. The director, Tereza Nvotová, varies the narrative methods in her sincere attempt to investigate the mechanisms behind Mečiar´s popularity and power. Nvotová says, “I consider Mečiar to be a key person in the recent history of Slovakia. The film is also a portrait of an archetype that can be observed several places around the world today, dressed in different disguises.” Mečiar is an example of a standard type of leader that can be seen in former East Bloc countries. He has developed into an ideal in parts of the western world as well. The film´s opening scenes consist of beautiful air shots of Slovakia´s capital Bratislava as it wakes to life in the early morning. Nvotová´s own voice is heard talking on the phone: “Hi, this is Tereza. Can I arrange a meeting with Mečiar?” The film soon changes into a reportage format when the director rings the doorbell at the former prime minister´s house, and the door is opened by a charming elderly man. No, he can´t really comment on his political life. It´s as if he doesn´t quite understand the questions, and he answers with a boyish smile.
We then go on to follow Nvotová´s thoughts through a voice-over: she tells us that she was one year old during the fall of the Berlin Wall. The personal form is kept throughout the film, and with the help of home videos clips and photographs, we are introduced to the director´s family, several of whom are young, sympathetic theatre people. Through taking part in these people´s life journeys we become familiar with the political and historical events that have taken place in the country and how they have affected the country´s citizens.
The story goes back to the 1990s during a period of time when several political leaders in power (who were former members of the Communist Party) ignored the ideological distinction and embraced the capitalist system in a way that is more reminiscent of the Wild West. Their political patterns resembled the methods we witnessed in the Godfather movies, among other films. The secret police wore face masks and nonchalantly carried machine guns over their shoulders in public; abductions and extortion attempts took place every single day. The nation was divided.
The Slovaks did not wake up until Madeleine Albright declared, in clear speech, that the country would not be invited to either NATO or the EU if Mečiar continued to stay in power. Only then did they take action to remove Mečiar from the political scene. Significantly the director´s parents are delighted by their prime minister at the beginning of the film, but towards the end of the film they are active opponents.
The personal story at the start of the film is followed by an extensive use of material collected from news archives, as well as stories told by people who witnessed this politically troubled era. The most interesting quote from that time is the marketing manager behind Mečiar´s election victory. He states what is known to be true: “People would like to think that they are engaged in the political positions of the candidates, but that´s not what matters. People choose depending on their feelings. Voting in elections is simply an emotional act.”