The Ji.hlava docu fest is known for its embrace of new technologies, trends and platforms, so this year’s launch of an online section, Short Joy, with Internet viewers acting as jury, surely fits the fest profile.
About 2,000 viewers screened the 24 shorts in the curated program on DAFilms.com, the online streaming source for hundreds of indie docs that has partnered with the Ji.hlava fest since 2008.
DAFilms.com is powered by seven key documentary film festivals, says the platform’s Hana Silarova. “We were discussing what is the best form of promoting documentary films and wanted to do something special, so we came up with the idea of putting one section online even before the festival as an exclusive thing.”
Thus, one of the first film prizes announced at this year’s Ji.hlava fest was the Short Joy competition win, along with a 3,000 Euro ($3,422) prize, for Charby Ibrahim’s unsparing look at life in a juvenile detention center in Australia. Ibrahim, who worked at such a facility for three years while researching his film, chose a mix of animation and soundscape with an actor reading an interview transcript to convey the desperation and irony of a 16-year-old anonymous offender.
The boy describes life at home in a routine of beatings, hunger and humiliation as he and a brother witness their mother taking beatings from her partner – that is until the two boys decide to take action into their own hands.
Life inside isn’t that bad most days, says Ibrahim’s main character – at least there’s a bed, food and a shower. But, he soon adds, “It does kick off. Then it can happen quick – just like that. Over anything, man.”
Silarova says this year’s decision to put the Short Joy award in the hands of an online audience is an important first. “We thought that it is a great idea to involve the viewers in the process of decision-making and make them the jury.”
￼Ibrahim’s film faced tough competition from a diverse range of competing short docs from more than 20 countries and widely contrasting formats, with subjects ranging from a quest to an African enclave to time-lapse animal embryo footage, to intimate personal stories.
“There were many interesting films,” says Silarova, “but I think this one stands out with the form, and the topic is very important as well.”
DAFilms.com is powered by Doc Alliance, a creative partnership of doc fests in Europe: Jihlava, CPH:DOX, Doclisboa, Docs Against Gravity FF, DOK Leipzig, FIDMarseille, and Vision du Reel. The Prague-based Doc Alliance runs the streaming platform, which hosts some 1,700 docs that viewers access for a nominal fee, 60% of which goes to the filmmakers. Many use it as their main online distributor.
Doc Alliance also presents the Doc Alliance Selection Award for best European documentary each year, selected independently by each of the platform’s festival members. The individual festivals also nominate representatives of the jury, recruited from film critics from the festival countries. Within the Doc Alliance Selection section, each of the member festivals then screens at least three films nominated for the award.