Enduration and Reflection
by Petra Meterc
At the DOK Leipzig International Festival, the main competition program included fourteen feature-length documentaries. The main prize was won by the film Father, the debut of Chinese director Wei Deng. Father brings to the fore an eighty-seven-year-old man, the director’s grandfather, who has been blind since the third year of his life due to malnutrition and lack of medical care. When he was growing up, he had no choice but to learn divination to earn his own bread, which allowed him to live independently. He was able to get married, build a house for himself and raise a son in accordance with the Chinese policy of the time. Today, in a fast-growing concrete city, his son is doing dubious construction jobs. The film, with its intimate images, takes turns looking at two generations – a son obsessed with earnings who receives only gloomy prophecies from his father, and a blind old man who murmurs and sometimes mystically comments on his expiring difficult life and the newly emerging world in which he no longer feels at home.
Outside the competition program, the festival also screened a feature film by young Indian director Payal Kapadia, entitled A Night of Knowing Nothing, which won the Best Documentary Award in Cannes this summer. She interweaves stories of protests at the Indian Film Academy with a fictional narrative, designed as a student’s letters to her lover, in which she reflects on what is happening around her and of the artistic representation of what she has experienced. The protests, which began because of the politically minded leadership, soon escalated into a wider uprising against the policies of the ruling Indian party and were then violently suppressed. The director combines outstanding archival footage of organizing protests and nights full of youthful enthusiasm at gatherings at the academy into grainy black-and-white images that unify 16 mm footage and footage from mobile phones and surveillance cameras. The visual narrative is complemented by the whisper of the narrator, who composes her memories and feelings in letters. She’s faced with the realization that her lover had to sever contact with her because of the still ingrained caste system that works hand in hand with nationalist politics in India and is present in private and public life.
In Leipzig, we could also see a film by Slovenian-German director Jakob Krese and Brazilian director Danilo do Carmo entitled What remains on the way. The directors followed a caravan of Latin American migrants with the film crew in 2018, including Lilian, a young mother who left Guatemala because of a violent husband with children. The caravan made it easier for her to overcome the 4,000-kilometer route, which is extremely dangerous. in the community of those seeking a more dignified life in the United States. Contrary to media images of such topics, the documentary, which takes an intimate look and focuses on the family cell within the crowd, subtly talks about the reasons for overcoming a long journey and the courage and newly gained self-confidence of a woman who sees a safer life.
Edited by Justine Smith
© FIPRESCI 2021