13th ZagrebDox - International Documentary Film Festival

Croatia, February 26 - March 5 2017


The narrow, winding streets, the wide squares, the buildings of the old town of Zagreb preserve the spirit of the “good old days” of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. This unique atmosphere is mingled with the typical flavour of the Balkans and the Adriatic. The heart of the downtown is crossed by the popular walking street, Nova Ves, full of pubs, cafés and terraces. The venue of the 13th ZagrebDox, one of the most important international documentary film festivals, is situated in this charming street, the films are shown in five theatres at a small shopping centre called Kaptol Centar. This year, it was a high quality selection, showing the programmers’ good taste and deep knowledge of the contemporary documentary scene. The programme offered 120 titles in 15 categories, most of them full length features from all corners of the world. The two competition programmes, the International and the Regional Competition consisted of more than 20 titles, with 20 hours running time each. I, as a FIPRESCI-observer, served in the three- members International Competition Jury, while another three colleagues selected the winners of the Regional Competition. The festival also installed a Young Jury, and a Movies That Matter Jury. Students from a local secondary school also gave an award and the viewers could vote for the Audience Award.

It was a hard work for every jury. Both two competition programmes were very tight, not to speak about the special screenings and sidebar programmes full of must-see productions. Every piece was interesting and you could hardly find a weaker production among them. That’s the advantage of documentaries: the filmmaker has a strong co-author, full of shocking and surprising ideas – reality. Thanks to the brave cameras of the filmmakers we could be part of the horror of the Syrian War (The War Show by Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon), the oppression of women’s liberation movements in China (Hooligan Sparrow (Hai nan zhi hou) by Nanfu Wang), the life in Kurdish refugee camps of Kobané and Shingal, North Syria. This latter movie, Life on the Border, has eight directors: 12-13-year-old boys and girls whose houses were attacked and burnt by ISIS, some of their relatives were killed, some of them were kidnapped by gunmen. The famous Persian-Kurdish director, Bahman Ghobadi produced this shocking masterpiece, giving a camera to the kids, encouraging them to film their life and tell their stories. In the Regional Competition, the jury’s Big Stamp Award and the Young Jury’s Little Stamp Award went to a Serbian-French production, Depth Two (Dubina Dva) by Ognjen Glavonic. That film also deals with a “hot potato” topic: a massacre in Kosovo committed by the Serbian military and paramilitary forces killing innocent local Albanians, mostly children and women, that remained hidden for 17 years. The Big Stamp Award of the International Jury went, after a heavy debate, to a young Georgian filmmaker, Salomé Jashi’s first feature documentary, The Dazzling Light of Sunset (Daisis Miziduloba). According to our jury’s motivation, the film “paints an atmospheric and subtly humorous image of daily life in a small town in Georgia. Local events – such as weddings, shows, election discussions, captured owls, church rituals – seem like a good topic for the local TV crew whose cover stories are also in the focus of this film”.

In the numerous sidebar programs – like Biography Dox, Controversial Dox, Happy Dox, Musical Globe, Teen Dox – were screened, among others, the new documentary of Ulrich Seidl (Safari), The German Life (Ein Deutshes leben by Krönes, Müller, Weigensamer and Schrotthoffer) – a confession of the personal secretary of Joseph Goebbels – and Andrew Dominic’s moving portrait on Nick Cave, One More Time with Feeling.

One of the most important sidebar programs of ZagrebDox was the Pitching Forum. In this open workshop, 12 projects from 12 countries were presented by young directors, screenwriters and producers to the audience and to a panel of representatives, programmers and producers from different film funds, companies and TV-channels. The participants do hope that, as in previous years, some projects will be realised and shown in the next ZagrebDox’s programme. -György Báron

Edited by Amber Wilkinson