Crossing Borders

in 52nd Leipzig International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film

by Martin Blaney

International co-production is a reality for many producers, whether they are making documentaries or feature films, given the rising production costs and potential for wider distribution of the completed works. But this year’s International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film saw the premiere of two other kinds of cross-border collaboration: Kerstin Nickig’s Kein Ort (Nowhere In Europe) and the Breathless – Dominance of the Moment project.

Nickig had already explored the subject of her new film in Lieber Muslim (2005) whichcentred on the fate of a Chechen family waiting in Eastern Poland for a decision on their asylum application. The 30-minute short won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cracow Film Festival in 2006.

She has now returned to the subject for her debut feature-length documentary, subtitled ‘One Journey In Four Stories’, to follow the effects of European policy on four refugees and their families from the Chechnya conflict.

In the Polish city of Lublin, we see the journalist Ali with wife and child waiting for the verdict from the authorities about his application for political asylum (he had supported the murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya in her research of atrocities in Chechnya). However, their final decision is constantly pushed back, and for yet another six months. The scene then changes to Vienna and the political activist Wacha, who was granted asylum in Austria, but is now trying everything to get his twenty-year-old son Ucmi freed from a Lithuanian jail after the boy went AWOL from the Russian army. The Austrian capital is also the placewhereanodyssey for a new life in the West starts for Tamara, her husband Abu and their handicapped daughter Jacha, wholiving under constant threat of deportation. Then there is the story of Ruslan, who is stranded in the Ukraine without any money or a residence permit, but is hoping to find a reliable human smuggler to get him and his family across the border into Western Europe.

Unlike Leipzig’s Golden Dove winner Les Arrivants(The Arrivals), Nickig’s film doesn’t feature any scenes of the refugees being “processed”, except for showing at the beginning of the film what can happen to someone entering Poland by train without the properdocumentation. She instead concentrates on the four protagonists’ own hopes and fears for their future lives, drawn from observations made over one year of shooting. These are supplemented by interviews conductedwith officials responsible for border control and refugee policy in Poland and Austria.

Nowhere In Europe was made as a German-Polish co-production between Berlin-based time prints and Warsaw’s Metro Films, with co-financing from the broadcasters ZDF/3sat and TVP2 and support from the German-Polish Co-Development Fund, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, the Polish Film Institute and the MEDIA Programme.

In addition, producers Michael Truckenbrodt and MarcinWierzchoslawski received support for their project from the Robert Bosch Stiftung as part of its Co-Production Prize for Young German and South-East European Filmmakers.

Meanwhile, the five short creative documentaries in Breathless – Dominance of the Moment were realised as part of a German-Czech initiative between the German Federal Cultural Foundation’s Zipp project, DOK Leipzig and the Prague-based Institute of Documentary Film.

Produced by Jiri Konecny’s Endorfilm and Stefan Kloos’ Kloos & Co. Medien, the films received backing from Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Filmstiftung NRW, Filmwerkstatt Kiel, the German Federal Film Board (FFA), and the Czech State Fund for Cinematography.

They were selected from more than 130 submissions by filmmakers of all ages from Germany and the Czech Republic wanting to address the initiative’s theme about the hectic pace of everyday life and the changes in the way people relate to one another.

Romanian director Anca Miruna Lazarescu’s Es wird einmal gewesen sein (One Day Today Will Be Once), for example, dealt with the performance of avant-garde composer John Cage’s composition Organ2/ASLP in a small church in the East German town of Halberstadt. The concert wasintended to last day and night without interruption for 639 years until the year 2640.

Meanwhile, Berlin-based filmmakers Marie-Catherine Theiler & Jan Peters’ Time’s Up gave a humorous and witty take on the subject of time by showing how their lives have become much too hectic and they need to slow things down. All of this framed by Marie-Catherine’s pregnancy, with a final shot of the happy new parents.

The world premiere of the quintet – Lazarescu’s One Day Today Will Be Once, Jan Gogola’s Mám Ráda Nudný Zivot (I Love My Boring Life), Theiler & Peters’ Time’s Up, Rainer Komers’ Milltown, Montana and Karel Zalud’s Phantom of Liberty II – took place at DOK Leipzig, followed a day later with a screening at the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival in the Czech Republic.

A theatrical release of the Breathless collection is planned in Germany by Real Fiction Filmverleih on December 30, 2009, but those outside of Germany can obtain the films on DVD from Real Fiction ( More information about the initiative can be found at

Edited by Tara Judah