UPDATE: ZagrebDox is being postponed and will not be held in March. The new festival dates are to be determined.
Croatia’s leading documentary film festival is back for its 16th edition with over 100 films including Oscar, Sundance and BAFTA winners. Curated categories from Eco Dox to Musical Globus include hard-hitters like docu-thriller Sea of Shadows, and a tender telling of Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen’s tragic love.
Along with such powerhouses, three special themes take the spotlight this year: stories of female fortitude, intimate looks into the lives of cinema’s doyens and new definitions of democracy. The stories of women who fought prejudice and won will be told, like that of the first woman to run a marathon wearing a hijab and an Auschwitz survivor and dancer who sold out an arena at age 90. The famous faces (read: Forman and Tarkovsky) behind the screen will make their way onto it. ZagrebDox will get unorthodox exploring new definitions and different faces of democracy, covering relations between Russia’s oligarchs and government, WikiLeaks whistleblowing and the rise of the Brazilian right. Read on for our overview of the films of passion that will dive into democracy, film masters and female savoir-faire this year.
Renowned Jewish-Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel, who spent her 50-year career fighting for the rights of Palestinian political prisoners, is the star of Advocate. Tsemel’s career was oft deemed controversial and subjected the lawyer to criticism from friends and strangers alike. Spearheaded by directorial duo Rachel Leah Jones and Phillipe Bellaiche, this take on Tsamel’s perseverance has received many awards, including Best Documentary at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, Tel Aviv’s Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival and the Kraków Film Festival.
The Euphoria of Being, by director, dancer and choreographer Réka Szabó, is the story of Éva Fahidi, who survived Auschwitz, where 49 members of her family were killed. 70 years after World War II, the 90-year-old superwoman performs onstage in remembrance with internationally renowned dancer Emese Cuhorka who is 60 years younger. The film won multiple accolades, including the Grand Prix in Locarno and Best Human Rights Documentary in Sarajevo.
Oscar winner Alex Gibney’s Citizen K follows Russian oligarch turned political dissident Mihail Hodorovski. Hodorovski was the richest man in Russia until he publicly spoke against Vladimir Putin and accused the Russian government of corruption, after which he found himself without wealth and facing a 10-year prison sentence. Now in exile, he continues to criticize Putin and the Russian government from London. By following Hodorovski, Gibney also explores the relationship between Russia’s oligarchy and government and the effects that relationship has on the democratic system.
Shown at last year’s Venice Film Festival, Anastasia Mikova and Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s Woman gathers the stories of 2000 women from 50 countries. By showing everyday injustices faced by women and their ability to persevere and change the world anyway, this film takes on perceptions of women as the “weaker sex” head on. Based on interviews, the film also explores the women’s personal thoughts about motherhood, education, marriage, financial (in)dependence and sexuality.
Directed by his son, Andrey Tarkovsky. A Cinema Prayer is a profound look into the life of one of cinema’s greatest directors. Primary sources used in the film are Tarkovsky’s personal audio materials and diaries, along with the director’s own memories of his father. Shown at the Venice Film Festival among many others, this movie is filmed at locations of importance to its subject.
Daughter of Camorra, directed by Siniša Gačić, follows Christina “Nikita” Pinto, a former member of infamous Italian mafia organization Camorra. After serving 24 years in prison for murdering three people, Pinto faces the challenges of reintegration into society and reestablishment of ruined family relations. The film screened at Sarajevo Film Festival and the Festival of Slovenian Film, where it won Best Documentary.
Through XY Chelsea, director Tim Travers Hawkins tells the story of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who leaked almost 750,000 confidential diplomatic and military documents from the United States to WikiLeaks in 2010. As a transgender woman, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in a male prison. In 2017, Barack Obama decided to release Manning, which caused much public controversy. Hawkins gives an intimate portrait of Manning as she struggles to re-enter society (note: since last year, Manning is back in prison for refusing to testify against Julian Assange). This film won a Cinema Eye Honours Award.
Winner of Best Feature-Length Documentary at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, In a Whisper is directed by – and centred on – childhood friends Heidi Hassan and Patricia Pérez. The two women grew up together in Cuba with Che Guevara’s communist ideals, but after experiencing disappointment, each emigrated and lost contact. The film follows (and itself fosters) Hassan and Pérez’s rekindled friendship through unrelentingly honest video calls during which the pair discuss freedom, friendship and their own plights with alienation and nostalgia for a country that ceased to exist.
That Which Does Not Kill by director Alexe Poukine addresses sexual violence through the letter of an anonymous female victim. Poukine gathers 12 young women and two young men, who, reading the letter out loud, are prompted to consider related experiences from their own lives. The readers, and viewers along with them, are offered an introspective look at this sensitive and still taboo topic. This film won Jury’s Choice for Most Innovative Film at the Visions du Réel festival.
Forman vs Forman is the nostalgic story of two-time Oscar-winning director Miloš Forman. Directed by Helena Třeštíková and Jakub Hejna, the film covers Forman’s traumatic childhood in Czechoslovakia, his rise to being one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and his way of using cinema as a means of resistance against oppression. This film was shown at many leading festivals including the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and Cannes Film Festival.
Little Star Rising, directed by journalist and reporter Slađana Lučić, tells the story of editor Nudžejma Softić, the first woman in Europe to run a marathon wearing a hijab and to participate in a half-Ironman triathlon. From a childhood marked by war, loss and exile to overcoming athletic challenges in an often-unfriendly environment, Softić’s is a tale of triumph.
Battle by Caio Castor, Guilherme Cerqueira, Cesar Clara Lazarim and Rica Saito began as an attempt to interview journalist Marilia Melhado following the 2018 presidential elections, which right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro won. After Bolsonaro supporters interrupt the interview, an unplanned protest of the political polarization of Brazilian society breaks out – all captured by the camera crew. Battle is part of director Caio Castor’s feature film about the rise of the Brazilian right, Yellow and Green (currently in postproduction).
Fat Front, by Danish directors Louise Detlefsen and Louise Unmack Kjeldsen, focuses on activist movements aimed at changing societal standards for the female body. Promoting body positivity, the film tells the stories of four young Scandinavian women who have tossed away the rigorous beauty requirements of today’s world.
Ksenia Okhapkina’s Immortal is an exploration of the effect of power mechanisms on the lives of citizens in northern Russia. Through the example of a Soviet military stronghold turned city, Okhapkina follows the interconnected issues of indoctrination, ideology, freedom and systematic oppression. The film was awarded Grand Prix for Best Documentary at last year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.