Marking its 25th edition later this month, the Czech Republic’s Ji.hlava Intl. Documentary Film Festival will celebrate its silver anniversary with an expanded slate, a streamlined number of sections and pointed focus on renewal and wellbeing. As it runs from Oct. 26-31, this year’s in-person edition will screen 300 films, including 54 world premieres spread out across five competitive sections.
“Over the 25 years of its existence, [Ji.hlava] has confirmed its position of the leading European documentary festival, known for its trailblazing approach and innovative program,” said festival director Marek Hovorka. “Therefore, we have upgraded the competitions as well as the structure of the awards in order to highlight the complexity of documentary cinema.”
Alongside the 19 local productions screening in the Czech Joy competition, 10 out of the 15 titles selected for the Opus Bonum section – the festival’s competitive category for international projects – will be world premieres. Among them are Rikun Zhu’s Mandarin-language portrait of romantic ennui “No Desire to Hide,” Sebastian Mihăilescu’s historical re-enactment project “You Are Ceausescu to Me,” and Marta Pulk’s “Tell Me” (pictured), an Estonian-Jordanian co-production that evokes the recent lockdowns from the perspectives of 15 international filmmakers who all met at a Werner Herzog-led workshop in the Peruvian jungle.
In non-competitive sections, the festival will offer retrospectives to the films directed by cultural critic Susan Sontag and musician and photographer Karel Plicka, while putting experimental Romanian docs under the spotlight. As part of its Inspiration Forum — a program connecting the film world to outside areas of study – Ji.hlava will host theorist Judith Butler and ecologist David Abram.
Highlighting Andrea Arnold’s “Cow,” which will screen in the best-of-other-fest Constellation section, and Flore Vasseur’s “Bigger Than Us,” which will screen as a special event, the festival director points toward a trend in ecologically minded projects.
“A distinct focus is on the environment and the relationship between humans and nature,” says Hovorka. “Across continents, filmmakers deal with these issues more and more often, following protests, court cases and even observing the lives of animals. But the previous alarmist tone is now replaced by motivation for action and positive activism.”
The director also nods towards the dream-like visual identity of this year’s edition, presenting it as a promise of this edition’s intent. “We all need peace and rest after the hectic times,” says Hovorka. “And that is how we are approaching this year’s edition of Ji.hlava: we want to create a little wellness for the mind and soul for the visitors of the festival events. Even one of the Inspiration Forum days will focus on mental health and the importance of such care.”