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Ji.hlava Docu Festival Opens With Focus on Migration, Memory

Launching its 22nd edition with an ambitious, expanded program, the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival opened Thursday in the Czech Republic, embracing the theme of memory as it marks the centennial of the founding of Czechoslovakia.

The nation, formed at the close of WWI, lasted through 1993, when it was broken up into Slovakia and the Czech Republic, two nations that these days each contribute strongly to documentary presence at the fest and beyond. The breakup turned millions into migrants overnight, providing the seed for the Ji.hlava fest’s main focus this year: migration.

Fest founder Marek Hovorka, speaking in the city’s communist-era community center known as DKO, presented to an international audience the fest’s three sections covering work on migration: Foreigner Looking for an Apartment, about émigrés settling into life abroad; a focus on the region of Carpathia, “sort of a mythological part of the country where time goes slowly”; and the Fascinations section on experimental docs, which will screen archival and art films covering refugee experiences worldwide.

The fest’s main international section, Opus Bonum, will be juried by 79-year-old Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi, who joked at the opening gala that he sees the world in “Jurassic” time because of his age. Asked to recall his first memory, the seminal filmmaker recounted being a child in WWII, when he learned under Nazi occupation that “the good boy lies” to protect his family – a confusing moral quandary for a toddler, he said.

The fest also announced the expansion of its Inspiration Forum, in which leaders in social justice and human rights issues worldwide are invited to Ji.hlava to inspire filmmakers.

The Ji.hlava organizers also recognized strong local investigative journalism work by Czech TV exposing Russian influence in Czech politics, before screening the campaign documentary “We Can Do Better” by Robin Kvapil and Radim Prochazka. The film explores the failed bid by candidate Michal Horacek to replace the ethically challenged president Milos Zeman in the election of 2016.

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