Almost a decade ago, organisers at the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival launched Dok revue – a journal aimed at promoting increased analysis and discussion of documentary films. The project, both in print and online, is going strong and this week Radio Prague caught up with co-founder Andrea Slováková and editor Tereza Hadravová.
“It was established in 2005 and it was started by the organisers of the Jihlava International Documentary Film festival. Originally it was published monthly and included with the important cultural weekly Literární noviny. Today it still comes out periodically in another important journal, Respekt. The reason why the festival established Dok revue was because there was almost no reflection on documentaries in the media. We felt the need to discuss the films, context, and what was happening, more deeply.”
Do you remember which films or filmmakers were highlighted in the first issue?
“It’s a little bit hazy but I can say this: one of the formats offered was the interview and we sat down with people like Karel Vachek or Helena Třeštíková. We didn’t just want to interview the filmmakers but other important people involved: producers and distributors. These channels were not being discussed nor what was going on in film schools.
“It was also important that we could create a space for filmmakers more on the margins of documentary, people who deserved attention but who were being left out. An example is someone like Helena Papírníková, who made films about the Czech underground and followed the lives of the main protagonists. She is a great filmmaker but no other media was giving her space, her unique but also a little difficult films. This was also an important element: to create room for those who would otherwise be left out.”
How do you explain the initial lack of interest by critics in reporting on documentary?
“This was a question we addressed at the Jihlava film festival back in 2003 and we took steps to try and improve the situation, even before Dok revue was founded. We invited critics, producers and others to take part in the discussion. The outcome was the sense that critics did not think some documentaries were for them to address: if a film dealt with a social or political issue, it should be addressed by those the film confronted. We tried to change that, to re-introduce documentary into the film discourse.
“At the festival we took several steps towards this: we began publishing anthologies, some of them were translated, some were in Czech, some of the articles were commissioned by us. We tried to get people thinking more about documentary. We also introduced a workshop for students of film theory and journalism to help them write about documentary film.”
Have things come full circle now? Has the situation improved?
“The situation has improved a lot since 2005. Across the board: last year we saw 15 documentaries entered into mainstream cinema distribution. They got a lot of attention in both online and print media. It’s very different from what came before. Another thing which has changed is audience expectations: audiences have come to expect documentaries which are aesthetically more interesting, not just the topics.”
If we look at a recent issue of Dok revue – a question for Tereza Hadravová – what are some films or elements which were discussed?
“Let me put it like this: one of the most interesting formats which we offer is the ‘situational review’ which brings a different perspective than a classic review where a single critic offers a qualified opinion. The editorial board decides on guests who they think may have differing opinions, generating discussion, and then sits them down to view this or that film. Recently, we did this with the Slovak film Velvet Terrorists and it generated a lot of ideas and was one of our most read articles.
“The film itself is fascinating, made by three authors. Each tells the story of people who committed so-called terrorist acts under Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime, for which they were imprisoned. But they are all, in a way, hilarious. We don’t really consider them to be dissidents, at least in the sense that we are used to discussing or thinking about dissent in the Communist period. They are not intellectuals, etc.
“But we don’t really know the motives or the real intentions of the directors: whether they are sort of ‘laughing’ at our past or our ‘heroes. Or is it a serious reflection of the past? Is it even about the past or is it more about how the past is interpreted. Those are some of the points of contention among the reviewers.
“The questions don’t end there, they go further. The huge point of contention is whether the film is a documentary at all. Viewers have their doubts, there are moments when you feel the words of the protagonists are not their own. On the panel was documentary filmmaker were Tereza Reichová, filmmaker Štepán Benda, based in Berlin, and Jaromír Typlt, a Czech poet with a very strong aesthetic and strong opinion about the arts.”
Generally-speaking, what is the state of Czech or Slovak documentary today?
“We are seeing a very strong generation of filmmakers with stronger visions and strong visual styles. Director now are emphasizing the form more, and are developing their own styles. In the past filmmakers, who were for example socially or politically engaged had more conventional approaches. That has changed quite a bit when you look at filmmakers like Petr Hátle or Klára Tasovská they have their own ‘handwriting’, so to speak.”
Let’s touch a bit upon film itself as a material – compared to digital – what qualities does it have that remain important for any beginning filmmaker?
“Of course you can do digital but film forces you to consider aesthetics more and forces you to decide exactly what you want to shoot, whereas digital you can shoot everything.”
“It seems to me that the medium itself give your expression form, which can be used in different ways. Restrictions are very inspiring, because you want to shift them and push the boundaries somehow. If you don’t have any restrictions at all the creative act itself becomes much more difficult. The way people begin thinking ‘through’ film, I think they should be limited as much as possible, at the very least at the very beginning. Otherwise, I think it takes a very strong personality to cope with the freedom.”
Tereza, you are the new editor of Dok revue: how have you found the experience so far?
“What I like about Dok revue is that it is not a hierarchal organization, we work as a team. There is no one person who would decide on each and very article. And of course we have an editorial board with important personalities – Andrea Slováková, Marek Hovorka and Petr Kubica – have been involved in documentary for many years and have a great eye for interesting topics. Most of the topics come out of our discussions and collaborative decisions and that is a way of working which I really enjoy. We also have a strong network of talented writers who make Dok revue the successful project I believe it is.”
For more information visit http://www.dokrevue.cz where you can read articles in both Czech and English.