59th International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film
Germany, October 31 - November 6 2016
DOK Leipzig, under its new directorial management by Leena Pasanen, has carefully carved its niche today as one of the most prestigious and selective festivals for documentary and animation. For its 59th edition this year, it received a record number of over 3,300 submissions, while only 179 films ultimately made it into the official selection, alongside 125 films in various other special programmes. A careful selection process ensured that it was almost a safe bet to watch an interesting film in any of the programme sections. With the Next Masters Competition, offering the opportunity to discover young and promising filmmakers; two German Competitions, for both long and short cutting-edge and broadly diversified documentaries and animations; or the International Programme, curating works from around the world with an international appeal, the festival programme screened only the best, and we haven’t even yet mentioned the main competition and the special programmes.
My Life as a Courgette (Ma vie de courgette) by Claude Barras opened this year’s edition of the festival, and was the first animated feature film to ever open DOK Leipzig. It was also the only animated film in the Official International Competition, which in itself was especially strong. The competition included twelve films from different countries, five of which made by women. Documentaries made by both newcomers and well-known names such as Heidi Specogna, Vitaly Mansky or Sergei Loznitsa penetrated deeply and intricately into present-day conflicts, without ever forgetting the human subject at stake. The Golden Dove in the Official Competition, the most prestigious award in the festival, went to Loznitsa’s Austerlitz, a meditative filmic essay about Holocaust memorial sites and selfie culture. The Silver Dove, a new prize given to a film on the subject of democracy and human rights, was awarded to Specogna for her Cahier Africain, a powerful and poetic documentary that chronicles the story of abuse victims of Congolese Rebels. However, the biggest winner in the festival was definitely Jakob Schmidt, who swept away no less than four awards for his cinema-vérité documentary To Be a Teacher, a film that follows in an intimate, empathic and sensitive way the professional career of three trainee teachers. The FIPRESCI jury decided to give the International Critics Prize to Yann Coridian and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s A Young Girl in Her Nineties, a touching love story between an Alzheimer patient and a choreographer who invokes vivid memories of her life. This year, for the very first time, the festival also convened an Interreligious Jury to replace the Ecumenical Jury from previous years.
The motto of the festival was “disobedience”, and it wove its way through no less than seven special programmes with 125 films. A programme called “Disobedient Images” included both short and long films, analogue and digital, where documentary and animation enter into an aesthetic dialogue; the Country Focus at Dok Leipzig provided an insight into contemporary documentary filmmaking in Turkey; a special retrospective dug into some of the most courageous and radical Polish documentaries in history; another alternative focus was put on unseen state documentaries and amateur films made in the GDR; and one fun programme delved into different elements of hip-hop culture on film. Aardman Animation, the clay-animation studio known for its famous characters Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep and the revolutionary hens from Chicken Run, presented a special Aardman Night by the studio’s co- founder David Sproxton. During this enjoyable event, Sproxton provided an insight into the working process of the studio, telling anecdotes from its everyday life, and showing excerpts from its productions. In addition, two very insightful master-classes were given at the festival. Bill Morrison, a New York-based experimental filmmaker often working with traces of film material, provided fascinating information on found footage research and showed excerpts from his own work. The festival also screened his masterful essay film Decasia as part of the programme “Disobedient Images.” Marina Razbezhkina, head of the Moscow School of Documentary Film, presented another interesting master-class, where she explained her method for making direct and personal documentaries.(Ohad Landesman, edited by Birgit Beumers)