Two new doc festivals in Zagreb and Belgrade respectively were steps in the right direction as they both premiered with a cracking success.
«The general audience is left shorthanded for the possibility of learning that the documentary film today, possibly more than ever in its past, is a vibrant, creative, exciting, popular, risky, but also a beautiful form of film expression.»
These were the words of Nenad Puhovski, programme director of ZagrebDox, the new International Documentary Film Festival that took place in the capital of Croatia on 21–26 February 2005. He wrote them in his inspiring foreword to an extensive festival catalogue that invited the audience to watch an international and regional competition programme, a retrospective of Danish documentaries, an homage to Kieslowski, a selection of films by Nick Broomfield and a Croatian programme from the ’60s and ’70s – 99 films all told, 41 of which were in the two competitions. Very ambitious indeed, with a very successful result: 6500 spectators.
One month earlier (22–25 January) a similar success (3500 spectators) had been generated by Puhovski’s Serbian colleagues Svetlana and Zoran Popovic, who had chosen a completely different format for a European Feature Documentary Festival with the title “The Magnificent 7”. Seven films were shown, each followed by one hour of discussion with the general audience *and a masterclass with invited directors for film professionals.
Puhovski in Croatia, the Popovics in Belgrade – they accomplished something that one day might be looked back upon as pioneering efforts by bringing back the free documentary to audiences. Both initiatives in Zagreb and Belgrade were assisted by young professionals and by their enthusiasm and talent for promotion and generosity.
A New Festival Format in Belgrade
The motivation of the Popovics was basically the same as Puhovski’s: give people a chance to see new, powerful films that are seldom or never shown in our country. The audience responded with a resounding ‘Yes’.
A thousand people turned up to see the opening film, Touch the Sound by director Thomas Riedelsheimer (Germany), shattering the modesty and scepticism of the Popovics and their small efficient team, who had promoted the event on a shoestring budget. A few hours before the screening, Svetlana and Zoran Popovic said to me they were expecting around a hundred people to show up because “many of our friends have said that they were occupied elsewhere and couldn’t come.” The two indefatigable film producers and owners of the private Kvadrat Film School (see DOX#35) demonstrated a fine sense of timing for an almost no-budget mini-festival that highlighted seven directors and their films. Thomas Riedelsheimer (Germany), Jeppe Rønde (Denmark), Sonia Herman Dolz (The Netherlands), Kim Longinotto (UK), Kersti Uibo (UK-Estonia) and Stefano Tealdi (Italy) shared their documentary knowledge and skills with young Serbian colleagues in well-attended masterclasses.
Breaking the Isolation
The top priority of today’s young Serbian filmmakers is to break the isolation after the war in ex-Yugoslavia and the NATO bombings of their country. They need to travel, they need to get their films shown and they need to learn about the European market, because back home they have very few possibilities to realise their ideas. Only limited financing is available from the Serbian Ministry of Culture, there is no big hope that the huge, local, public broadcasting company will ever develop – and European funds like MEDIA are not open to countries outside the EU. Serbian and Croatian filmmakers who wish to make films requiring a bit more financing than the minimum – an understatement – have to rely on different foreign sources, like the Jan Vrijman Fund. And on having contacts to international, open-minded TV channels like Finland’s YLE and Arte, the French-German cultural channel.