We are idiosyncratic and want to be that way
How might we briefly describe the idea behind this year’s festival?
This year we have attempted to present the festival in a somewhat ambiguous manner in order to emphasize its diverse nature. You will find revolt in the streets, films about intimate relations between men and women, a portrait of a 70-year-old filmmaker, and social analyses backed up by years of work.
So the festival does not have one simple slogan?
It didn’t have one last year, either, except by chance the poster’s dark visual design and the atmosphere in society came together with the worldwide protests for the release of Jafar Panahi, and so the media reduced the festival to those topics. This year, we could have taken the main visual motif (the bull’s eye), put a bullet through it, and demanded the release of other artists while emphasizing the section “Man in Revolt”. The media would have been all ears. But we consciously tried to avoid this in order to present a far less clear-cut picture of the world.
What is your relationship to the media?
My relationship to the media is determined by the fact that when I was 12 years old, I wanted to be a journalist. It was 1992, immense euphoria, a totally different atmosphere… it definitely left its mark on me. I did interviews, and we founded a school newspaper, The Roar of the Wild. But with time I came to realize that things that are in the media evaporate terribly quickly. The information that appears in the media quickly disappears – and that was my road to documentary film. Documentaries have the handicap that they are not as immediate, but at the same time they have the benefit of distance, of reflection within a different context. I just preferred a deeper reflection of the things that go on around us.
But by bringing together documentary films and presenting them to others at a festival, you have probably sacrificed the time you need for making your own films.
That hasn’t been the case, but it has been an enormous learning experience for me. I see so many films and approaches to filmmaking that I am constantly learning. For now I feel that I would like to make a film when I’m forty. I feel that my work at university was quite influenced by a lack of experience resulting from age. I’ll make a movie when I feel an inner need to do so. For now, the festival is like a film for me. Not only because it is a collective work where every detail is decisive – the kinds of people you surround yourself with, who is the graphic designer, , who sits on the selection committee, what the festival architecture is like… Each year is a work with a beginning and an end. And each is different. Many people approach what they do as work, mechanically. But this festival is not mechanical. Our festival is not a marketplace, it is a creative process. What is more, in recent years it has become a platform for local people who want to discuss possibilities for additional activities.
Is that why you use the somewhat sensitive word “patriot” in connection with Jihlava?
I don’t have a problem with the word patriot. But I understand that various people appropriate various words and juggle with them. The important thing is context. I use that word in connection with the place where the festival takes place: Jihlava may not necessarily be an attractive location for guests from the many different corners of the world, especially since festivals tend to take place in attractive tourist destinations. I think that it is important not to concentrate culture only in large cities, although that would of course be much simpler. If someone has made the effort to travel through the fog to Jihlava, he experiences those few days here completely differently.
Was it a problem to convince local people that the festival in Jihlava is important for them as well?
Around the fourth year, we realized that the festival was already well-known, but that practically nobody in Jihlava knew about it. We began to hold smaller events aimed at introducing it to the locals, for instance through screenings in public spaces – the “living cinema” in late August – and we also held a large exhibition of movie posters at all of Jihlava’s exhibition spaces. Today, the situation is the opposite: not all Jihlavans go to the cinema to watch documentaries, but they are proud that the festival is here, that it didn’t move somewhere else. We nearly left town because of the absolutely unsatisfactory state of the local cinemas. And it happened that I would run not only into film fans but ordinary people from Jihlava who said that it would be terrible if we left, we don’t want that to happen. I was really surprised by this sensitive response. Fortunately, the situation changed and the cinemas were renovated.
The festival shows nearly 200 films. What guidelines do you use to select them?
There is a starting point, and then there are external limitations. Our starting point is that we want to choose films that are different, that surprise even us – for example, the films in the “Czech Joy” section are more distinctive than 150 other films. Then there are tons of decisive details, such as premieres and the year when the film was made. We don’t want a festival that provides an absolute overview of what is going on; we are interested in launching discussion about the films that audiences will see in the cinemas during the next year. Not all films can be just in Jihlava, but we want those that were premiered between January and September.
You described the festival as a collective work. Are films selected on the basis of consensus?
In this regard, we are not democratic. We don’t have a pre-selection committee, we don’t write analyses that somebody then reads through, we don’t vote. Our aim is for a small circle of people to see everything, and then we talk about it and make our final selection. This is a very unusual approach; not many festivals take such an auteur approach to programming, but it allows them to have a distinctive identity. We are idiosyncratic and want to be that way.
In your press release, you mentioned the premiere of Free Smetana!, and the festival will present numerous films on revolting against communist totalitarianism as well as capitalism. What unites these people in revolt?
The festival’s aim is to complicate matters; we are not looking for simple answers. For instance, I don’t see the films from North Korea as an a priori criticism of an extremely unfree regime. If I did, then I wouldn’t have to watch those films. For me, they are a way of immersing myself in a world that functions according to a different code. The same thing applies to the other films on rebellion: each is different, but the things that happen in them are the same. Each filmmaker captures people in the streets differently, even the causes are different in those films on Greece, Spain, Egypt or Iceland. For instance, the American Occupy Wall Street movement didn’t find much of a response here; nobody understood it. But here are eight or nine short films by various independent filmmakers, something like micro-reportages without commentary or grand statements. And suddenly you as the viewer feel like you are on the street, that you finally know what was going on there and how it all looked. Anyone who sees this section in its entirety will have a very three-dimensional picture – surprisingly enough, on both levels: cinematic as well as informational. They will see the uncertain individual standing on the square as those in power use nightclubs to keep him in line. This is a truly interesting section, although the media may in the end simplify it and capture only about five percent of it. We’ll see.
How many people do you expect this year?
I’m always terribly nervous about whether people will come.