Between War and Peace, Poverty and Dignity By Viliam Jablonicky

in 12th Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival

by Viliam Jablonický

There are few documentary filmmakers who like to show the world as beautiful and humane. They are mostly interested, naturally, more “in the Devil than in God”, if I can paraphrase the original, nonconformist and controversial modern Greek writer and thinker Petropoulos, the subject of a n interesting documentary by Kalioppi Legaki Elias Petropoulos /An Underground World which won the FIPRESCI prize for the best Greek documentary film at the 7th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival – Images of the 21st Century. Probably only a few of filmmakers believe that the world can be better. More documentary filmmakers hope that knowledge of the world could change people’s thinking.

The Canadian director Peter Lom, in his first film, Bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan, recorded a traditional but very brutal kidnapping of a young woman in the country. The director believes that spectators “come to their own conclusions and think their own thoughts.” Human rights and the law has not existed until today for many woman married against their will. The director didn’t feel any moral dilemma in staying behind the camera and collaborating in the kidnapping.

A similar method was used by director Laurentis Calcu: Mamaliga te Asteapta – The Land is waiting . He studies an extremely poor family of gypsies in Romania, maybe a prototype of millions of rural families around the world. The whole family with all the young children have to work hard to surive. But the hero has the idea, together with his sisters and brothers, of how the find a solution to this misery: to study at university. The story is very similar to a Tolstoy fable, or is a Nanook of the North of the 21st century.

Other socially oriented filmmakers have reflected poverty in many countries echoing the words “We have no work. We have no food for the children.” (See Compadre , from Sweden or The Take , Argentina/Canada). Cinematically better were films focused on one main idea, like Uj Eldorado – New Eldorado, by Tibor Kocsis, Hungary or Justica – Justice from Brazil by Maria Ramos showing injustice connected with lies, corruption or bureaucracy. The Danish director Jeepe Ronde found a very original visual solution in The Swenkas. A small group of working Zulu men in post-apartheid South Africa use their habits and style of native narration to symbolize the new dignity for poor but free black people. More directors know that “When you make films about ordinary people, you almost always change their social position”.

Some documentary filmmakers are very close to genre fiction. They aren’t interested in being “objective”, but are strongly “subjective”. They would like to show not only the “outer life but to explore the inner life as well” like the very subjective Pirjo Honkasalo from Finland in Melancholian kolme huometta – 3 Rooms of Melancholia (FIPRESCI prize for the best documentary in the International competition). “It is not only political, but, at the same time, a humanitarian and poetic documentary” according to Dimitri Eipides, the founder of the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, which is, and we hope will remain, one of the most important festivals today in Europe and the world.

There was also a very strong investigative documentary from Greece called Whistleblowers , by Stelios Koulou, about new moral heroes who risk prison in more “democratic” countries, because they are fascinated with the idea of peace, truth, justice and democracy. Believe it or not, Europeans and others around the world, could be better after having seen the best films at the 7th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.