57th International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film

Germany, October 27 - November 2 2014

The jury

Martin Horyna (Czech Republic), Thomas Rothschild (Germany), Madelyn Most (France)

Awarded films

Founded in 1955, the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film is one of the oldest documentary festivals in the world; this year it held its 57th edition. Over six long and intense days, 368 works from more than 60 countries screened in different venues around the historic city, once a medieval center of learning and culture and home to some of Germany’s (and the world’s) most illustrious musicians, philosophers, political thinkers and social revolutionaries.

In the week leading up to the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we were reminded that Leipzig played a crucial role in instigating the fall of communism in the German Democratic Republic as major events took place around St. Nicolas Church. The people here are sensitive to and still haunted by dark memories of what it was like to live in fear under Stasi surveillance and wire taping, which gave the selection of Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour as Dok Leipzig’s Opening Night Film, a particularly symbolic importance. 

Poitras’ film records eight days inside a Hong Kong hotel room as Edward Snowden explains his motivation for going public with the revelations about the NSA’s worldwide surveillance network that collects information on everyone, everywhere, and all the time. On Monday 27 October 2014 the German premiere of Citizenfour  was introduced to the Dok Leipzig audience by Edward Snowden via a video link message…

“I’ve never agreed to do an introduction to this film. Not in the UK, not in the US – But when somebody asked me if I would do it for Leipzig, I said yes and that’s because your history is an inspiration to me. It’s critical that we remember the lessons from history. And Leipzig reminded us that the wall and the GDR didn’t go down because of bombs or guns or violent resistance. It was brought down by ordinary people on the streets in the square on Mondays. Ordinary people against extraordinary powers reminded us that the legitimacy of governments is derived from this consent of the people that they are governing. And today when that principle is so often forgotten, we have so many governments, even in liberal democracies, western democracies, not just authoritarian regimes, that so frequently favor tactics of deception and secrecy we do remember that the consent of the government is only meaningful if it’s informed”.  

Festival director Claas Danielson added that “Freedom is an elementary theme that accompanies us in life and will follow us through this festival.” Germany is leading a campaign demanding safety and asylum for Edward Snowden through a petition signed by millions of citizens around the world, including many festival organizers and participants who wore Snowden’s photo inside their accreditation badges to show their solidarity.  

There seemed to be almost too many juries: 68 jury members made up 13 different juries: for International Documentary, Short Documentary, Young Cinema, German Documentary Films, and International Animated Films; the Golden Dove Jury, the FIPRESCI Jury, the Healthy Workplaces Jury, the Fachbereich Medien Jury, the Goethe Institute Jury, the Documentary Film Prize Jury, the jury of the Leipziger Ring der Stiftung Friedliche Revolution, the Ecumenical Jury, and the Youth jury from the Leipzig Film school. Their job was to consider the artistic merits of a multitude of documentary and animated films in different categories. There was such a wide disparity or incongruity in terms of quality, professional execution, and artistic value between the films that I wondered how they could be judged fairly.

On Wednesday night there was a special ceremony in the historical landmark St. Nicolas Church: The Leipziger Ring Award from the Peaceful Revolution Foundation was presented to Laura Poitras for Citizenfour “to honor an artistic documentary film that shows exemplary civic engagement for democracy and human rights, made with great personal commitment and courage in the face of resistance and restrictions on freedom of opinion and freedom of the press”.
The Foundation’s Jury stated that “Snowden had risked his life and freedom to make the world aware of intelligence service practices that hardly anyone would have believed possible. With her film, Laura Poitras had rendered a great service to the freedom of all people.” In his opening speech, the Foundation’s president, Professor Dr Rainer Vor, recalled the still rampant xenophobia in the country, but also the “intelligence services who had lost every restraint in their mania for surveillance”. At Thursday morning’s press conference at the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum Leipzig, Poitras answered questions about the making of Citizenfour, the third film in her trilogy about America after 9/11.

The good news of this year’s Dok Leipzig is that audience attendance exceeded 42,000 entries; 80 screenings were completely sold out, and 1,750 accredited professional visitors participated in ancillary sidebar activities, such as DoK Market, Dok Industry Talks, Dok. Incubator, Dok Panels and Workshops – making it the most successful festival ever. The bad news is festival director Claas Danielsen, who has presided over Dok Leipzig for ten years and turned it into an important international documentary hub, announced his departure. He will be handing over to his successor, the Finnish-born Leena Posanen. The audience showed their respect and affection for the much-loved Danielsen in a long standing ovation at the closing ceremony.

Among the jury members there was a warm and friendly camaraderie, but unfortunately our busy schedule left little to no time to exchange viewpoints and opinions about the many films we watched together. I was particularly interested to learn from other jury members who had come from distant places with other cultural attitudes than my own how they understood story-telling and what impressions they took away.
The FIPRESCI Jury viewed the 12 International Competition films from France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Poland, Romania, Belgium, the U.S., Germany, and Austria; to be honest, the films selected were disappointing and only 3-4 really caught my attention. Several films appeared to be experimental works whose storyline was not clearly defined, focused, or fully developed, sometimes wandering aimlessly (as did the characters) with new themes suddenly introduced towards the end – it was perplexing. In today’s world where humanity is threatened with extinction – raging wars on every continent, global warming and climate change, Ebola, religious fundamentalism and terrorism – few films made us aware of these dangerous realities we face in our daily lives; I wonder why.

Feeling frustrated by the lack of coherent story-telling, and annoyed by what I considered to be tasteless over-indulgence by one director (producers, and a well known broadcaster) I took refuge in the screening library at the Dok Market above the festival headquarters, where I watched some truly inspiring, delightful, relevant, and well-made films from Iran, China, Borneo, Tunisia, Cuba, Syria, Russia, Poland, Chile, Colombia, and the U.K. These works proved more meaningful than what we were assigned to watch and made me regret that I was unable to make my own viewing choices. I also managed to pop in on some interesting panels and industry talks where I met young student filmmakers from remote places who were passionate about their films and about the future; so there is hope.

Dok Leipzig’s symbol of the Peaceful Revolution is the Golden Dove and at Saturday night’s closing ceremony at the Schauspiel auditorium, many Doves were awarded among the 25 prizes recognizing the filmmaker’s achievement. Some Doves came with financial remuneration to help a filmmaker make their next project.

The Golden Dove in the International Documentary Film Competition was awarded to The Rules of the Game (Les Règles du Jeu) by Claudine Bories and Patrice Chagnard (France).

The Golden Dove in the German Documentary Film Competition went to Domino Effect by the Germany-based Polish directors Elwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosolowski.

The Golden Dove for Best Animated Film went to Asa Sandzen from Sweden for Still Born. Another Golden Dove went to Roberto Collio from Chile for White Death (Muerte Blanca). The MDR Film Prize for an Outstanding East European Documentary was awarded to All Things Ablaze by Ukrainian directors Oleksandr Techynski, Aleksey Solodunov, and Dmitry Stoykov.

Our jury, made up of Martin Horyna from the Czech Republic, Thomas Rothschild from Germany, and myself, representing France, awarded the FIPRESCI prize to Spartacus and Cassandra by Ioanis Nuguet from France. (Madelyn Most)

International Leipzig Festival For Documentary and Animated Film: