50th Leipzig International Festival for Documentary and Animation Films

Wow! The 50th DOKfestival — short for Leipzig International Festival for Documentary and Animation Films, aka Leipzig Dok Festival and Dok Industry — surpassed even the most optimistic of anniversary predictions. Furthermore, statistics alone underscore its importance as a key player on the festival circuit. For DOK 50 (29 October - 04 November 2007), the fourth under the committed Claas Danielson, broke its own attendance record by an eye-catching 30 % increase. Last year, when festival attendance climbed to 22,500 (up from 20,000 in 2005), the increase was thanks mostly to a young crowd in this university city. This year, when attendance rose again to 31,000 — with crowds lining up in advance for choice screenings of 315 films booked from 60 countries (a staffer reckoned total festival running time at 14 days) — the increase was thanks mostly to the interest generated among average moviegoers in Leipzig. What’s more, the leapfrog to nearly 10,000 more spectators over last year prompted a teasing question at the closing press conference: where will the festival find additional venues in 2008? »I am very pleased about the enormous increase in audience attendance,« stated Claas Danielsen with justified pride. »Particularly young specatators stormed the venues, and the retrospective drew enthusiastic audiences. Often, the cinemas were filled to the last seat. And documentary professionals from abroad praised the quality of this year’s program. Thus, DOK Leipzig now stands in the forefront of international documentary film festivals.«

Claas Danielsen could also take pride in the festival’s flourishing DOK Market Digital innovation. Thanks to a software program developed last year by the local Computer Leipzig team, documentary enthusiasts could view circa 300 films invited to this year’s DOKfestival, as well as 150 more produced during 2006 and 2007. With two dozen computer stations at DOK Digital recording 7,400 viewing sessions, the 1,450 accredited industry participants (in comparison with 1,150 in 2006) could even vote online for favorite screenings. Thus, for many professionals, Leipzig stands tall on the international festival scene due to this unique documentary largesse alone. Back on 1 November 2006, when DOK Digital was officially opened by a Saxon State Minister, the innovation was viewed as promising, though questionable. This year, however, the computer stations in the basement of the Museum der bildende Künste (Museum of Visual Arts), the festival headquarters, were booked out a day in advance. And it heralds the day when digital transmission might be the norm for market screenings at international film events. According to a reliable report, the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) requested permission to introduce the Computer Leipzig software into its own market at the end of this November.

Talk to the local Leipzig public about the reasons for heightened festival interest, and much of the credit is given to an information-packed 250-page catalogue printed in German and English, accompanied by tips in a bilingual 68-page program booklet. Not only is the DOKfest team well informed, but many staffers also do double-duty by leading discussions as both translators with a comprehensive knowledge of theme and content. With the German media also taking a greater interest in promoting the festival’s anniversary celebration, the list of sponsors now include Zweitausendeins (a major DVD outlet of art films), Telepool, Arthaus, Discovery Channel, Kinowelt, MDR Leipzig, RBB Berlin-Brandenburg, ZDF, 3Sat, Arte, and local media and newspapers. No wonder crowds sometimes turned out in droves!

As befits an open-ended documentary film festival, the sidebars proved to be as attractive as the four competitive sections — International, German, Generation (young filmmakers), and Animation — with the awarded »Doves« in the International Competition handed out separately to Long and Short Documentaries. Indeed, the Special Screening of Barbara and Winfried Junge’s Und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind... Die Kinder von Golzow (And If they Havent Passed Away... The Children of Golzow) (Germany) was one of the highlights of the festival. From an historical viewpoint, the Leipzig DOKfestival had served as a launching-pad for this »longest-running documentary in the history of cinema«. Shortly after Winfried Junge, a DEFA student of Karl Gass, filmed the children of Golzow at their first day of school in 1961, the second film in the series, Nach einem Jahr (After a Year) (GDR) was awarded a Silver Dove at the 1962 Leipzig festival. As for the latest episode in the Golzow epic, it chronicles the adult life of three women in the original class, together with their first-grade teacher, and scores as one of the best in the entire series. Shortly, the proposed finale — tentatively titled ...dann leben sie immer noch (...Then They are Living Happily Ever After) and chronicling the paths of life of male children in the class — is reported to be close to completion. Bravo, Barbara and Winfried Junge — perhaps The Children of Golzow, now 46 years in the making, will turn 50!

Another Special Screening honored DEFA documentarist Karl Gass. To commemorate the filmmakers 90th birthday, the German Film Archive programmed his compilation documentary about Das Jahr 1945 (The Year 1945) (GDR, 1984). But just as important was the screening of his previously shelved Asse (Aces) (GDR, 1965) in the Retrospective Program. A straight-forward chronicle of the working-mans world, Aces, filmed over a period of months at a Schwedt construction site in East Germany, set high standards for documentary truth. Upon completion, however, the film was shelved by Party officials, apparently due of its true-to-life, down-to-earth, realistic sequences. Thus Aces had to wait until Leipzig 50 to draw the critical praise it deserves. Karl Gass also deserves recognition as the founder, back in 1955, of the Leipziger Dokumentar- und Kurzfilmwoche, the forerunner of today’s DOKfestival.

This year’s International Competition was noteworthy for challenging the limits of the documentary portfolio. Andreas Tonacci’s Serra da Desordem (The Hills of Disorder) (Brazil) is as much fiction as it is documentary in recording the fate of an Indio in the Amazon jungle. Markku Lehmuskallio and Anastasia Lapsui’s Matka (Travelling) (Finland) is to its core an ethnographic and anthropological documentary about the life style of nomadic Laps in the tundra. Programmed as a double-bill, Franceso Uboldi’s Jean Paul (Italy), about a man in the Cameroon left to starve to death by being chained to a tree without food or water, and Paul Watson’s Rain in My Heart (UK), an account of alcoholics fighting and losing their withdrawal from drink, border on the voyeuristic and question how far a filmmaker can go as a responsible documentarist. The same is pretty much true of Adina Pintilie’s Nu te supara, dar... (Don’t Get Me Wrong) (Romania), awarded the Golden Dove for Best Long Documentary. A film that sparked as much critique as it did applause, Don’t Get Me Wrong depicts in unadulterated terms the daily routine of schizophrenics over a few days in the Calugareni Neuropsychiatric Centre in Romania. Whether or not one is intrigued or depressed by the choice of subject is beside the point. This 50-minute documentary, a debut film shot on Beta SP, would have fared better with the audience had it be entered in the Generation Competition.

For my taste, Barbet Schroeder’s L’avocat de la terreur (The Terror’s Advocate) (France), previously screened at Cannes, scored as the best documentary presented in the International Competition. The story of Jacques Vergès, a French defence attorney whose stellar success record began as a court lawyer for native terrorists during the Algerian War and carried all the way up to the Klaus Barbie trial that unearthed French collaboration during the German Occupation, The Terror’s Advocate draws its power from some fascinating interviews with Jacques Vergès and people who know him intimately. Whether you like the man or not, you cannot help but be impressed by his legal methods of defending people who openly espouse the principles of terror.

Along the same lines, Alexandru Solomon’s deftly researched Cold Waves (Romania/Germany/Luxembourg), presented in the International Program also drew a packed house for its news-and-interviews documentary approach. In Cold Waves — read: »radio waves during the Cold War« - the focus is on the fumbling efforts of the Ceausescu regime to halt the Radio Free Europe broadcasts from Munich by prominent Romanian dissidents, who had daily delivered news on timely Romanian (and international) political and social affairs. Their broadcasts so unnerved Ceausescu that he ordered his State Security Police to organize an »airwaves« offensive to snuff out the voices of Noel Bernard, Vlad Georgescu, and Monica Lovinescu by whichever means possible. Indeed, the mysterious deaths of Bernard and Georgescu hint that the »Securitatea Statului« did, in fact, succeed in their high-priority mission. New evidence provided by the Alexander Litvinenko case points to the possibility of radiation poisoning.

For more information on the 50th anniversary edition of the Leipzig International Festival for Documentary and Animation Films, click Or catch up on the past two years when you attend DOK Digital at 51st DOKfestival, scheduled 27 October to 02 November 2008.

Ron Holloway


International Competition:

Golden Dove, Long Documentary:
Nu te supara, dar... (Don’t Get Me Wrong) (Romania), dir Adina Pintilie
Special Mention:
Surya (Surya — From Eloquence to Dawn) (Belgium), dir Laurent Van Lancker
Silver Dove, Long Documentary:
Kinder. Wie die Zeit vergeht (Children — As Time Flies) (Germany), dir Thomas Heise
Golden Dove, Short Documentary:
Moujarad raiha (Merely a Smell) (Libanon), dir Maher Abi Samra
Special Mentions:
Doel leeft (Doel Is Alive) (Belgium), dir Tom Fassaert
Dirty Pictures (Hotel Diaries 7) (UK), dir John Smith

German Competition:

Zweitausendeins Film Prize:
Nach der Musik (A Father’s Music), dir Igor Heitzmann

Generation Competition:

Talent Dove - Medienstiftung der Sparkasse Leipzig:
Someone Like You (Denmark), dir Nanna Frank Møller
Special Mentions:
One Day (Denmark), dir Ditte Haarlev Johnsen
Ugolnaya pyl (Coal Dust) (Russia), dir Maria Miro

International Animation Competition:

Golden Dove:
Életvonal (Life Line) (Hungary), Tomek Ducki
Silver Dove:
Kafka Inaka Isha (Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor) (Japan), dir
Koji Yamamura Special Mentions:
Le Pont (The Bridge) (Belgium/France), dir Vincent Bierrewaerts

Other Awards:

MDR (Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk) Film Prize for Eastern European Film:
La Mère (The Mother) (Switzerland/France/Russia), dir Antoine Cattin, Pavel Kostomarov
DEFA Grant Prize:
Heinz und Fred (Heinz and Fred) (Germany), Mario Schneider
ver.di (Media Trade Union) Prize:
Rain in My Heart (UK), dir Paul Watson
FIPRESCI (International Critics) Award:
Juizo (Behave) (Brazil), dir Maria Augusta Ramos
Ecumenical Jury:
Kamienna cisza (Stone Silence) (Poland), dir Krzysztof Kopczynski
Leipzig Youth Jury Prize:
Draussen bleiben (Run Out) (Germany), dir Alexander Riedel
Discovery Channel Audience Prize:
Sportsfreund Lötzsch (Sportsman Lötzsch) (Germany), Sandra Prechtel, Sascha Hilpert
Mephisto-97.6 Audience Prize:
Ubornaya Istoriya — Lyubovnaya Istorya (Lavatory — Lovestory) (Russia), Mikhail Adashin, Oleg Uzhinov — Animation