The 23rd edition of the Czech Republic’s top docu fest, Ji.hlava, launched Thursday with a sharp focus on the climate crisis and the unveiling of a new award for filmmakers created by Ai Weiwei, the Chinese dissident artist.
Ji.hlava fest president Marek Hovorka said the award, made of white Lego bricks shaped into a fist with its middle finger raised, symbolizes “courage, critical thinking and standing up to social conventions.” The prize was in part inspired by Ai’s photo series “Study of Perspective,” which celebrates free speech and independence by displaying his hand in the foreground of images of powerful institutions around the globe, seemingly flipping them off. The White House, Trump Tower and Tiananmen Square all get the treatment in the photo series, shot from 1995 to 2017.
The first winner of the custom art work, Ingrid Pokropek of Argentina, was honored for her short film “Shendy Wu: a Diary,” which won an online vote by viewers to take Ji.hlava’s Short Joy trophy. The film, a personal docu about writing diaries and finding a lost childhood friend who moved back to her native China, is made up of static street shots in a Chinese metropolis contrasted with retrospective scenes from Argentina.
The Ji.hlava fest opening film, screening at the Cold War-era community center DKO, was a world-premiere look at one of the most original cinematographers of the Czech New Wave, Jaroslav Kucera, and his wife, director Vera Chytilova: “Jaroslav Kucera A Journal” by Jakub Felcman. The cinematographer-director couple would have turned 90 this year. Hovorka said: “We are very happy that we can pay tribute to their anniversary with this personal and revelatory movie.”
He also commended Felcman’s balancing of scenes of family life with “visual experiments and tests” adding it “resembles a message inserted in a bottle for many years – until we discovered it.”
Audiences who filled the auditorium space, witnessed plastic bags raining down throughout the ceremony – a stark reminder of what presenters called the struggle for “us staying on the planet as a species.”
Films in widely ranging forms will screen over the next six days on subjects ranging from climate change to women’s struggle for parity alongside stories of government malfeasance and globalization perils in sections called Climageddon, Women in Change, Re:Democracy, God & Co. and Made in China.
The fest, running through Oct. 29, will feature dozens of speakers intended to inspire docu makers, displays of virtual reality work and workshops dedicated to works in progress plus a celebration of emerging international docu producers.
Ji.hlava attendees will also be invited to join in the planting of an orchard of apple, pear, plum and walnut trees.