Nature vs Civilisation

in 16. International documentary film festival „ZagrebDox“ by Igor Angjelkov

After last year’s debut in September as a member of the FIPRESCI jury at the Drama International Short Film Festival, Greece, the second selection soon arrived, this time at the prestigious ZagrebDox International Documentary Film Festival, scheduled for March 15-22. However, we know what happened in the middle of that month, which at this moment seems so far away from us. The diligent organizers wisely awaited the fall and moved the so-called “special edition” of the festival from October 4 to 11. To the email, whether I remain a member of the jury or not, I certainly answered affirmatively, although the desire to explore Zagreb during the seven days of the festival, apart from watching good movies, will remain for the future.

The 16th edition of “ZagrebDox” was held live at the Student Center with a reduced audience, local guests, and those, the international ones, were actively present at the festival debates and presentations addressing through the online platforms. In fact, as well as the FIPRESCI jury, in which together with my colleagues Marijana Jakovlјevic from Croatia and Zane Balčus from Latvia, we decided which of the 14 documentaries from the regional competition deserved the award of the oldest association of film critics in the world, certainly, online.

The ZagrebDox program offered a bunch of documentaries from all over the world. In fact, the organizers, led by director Nenad Puhovski, have gathered the best documentaries from the past period. The international competition contained 16 films, the selection entitled “The Best of the Rest” with one more film, and the regional competition consisting of films from our “cursed” Balkan, had 14 titles in the race for the awards. In my short list of the favorites, I singled out six titles I discussed and fought for their quality with my colleagues. Three of them were in the folder I named „Nature“, or, „Nature vs Civilization“, one was in the „Аrt“ folder, and two of them were related to the relationship „politics – health“ or „politics – life“.

The titles in the „Nature“ folder were „Acasa, My Home“ by Radu Ciorniciuc (Romania), „Siddhartha“ by Damiano Giacomelli and Lorenzo Raponi (Italy) and „Then Comes the Evening“ by Maja Novaković (Serbia). Why did I like them? First of all, because in many elements they resembled the Macedonian documentary „Honeyland“, which this year received a double nomination for an Oscar. Of course, I’m a bit subjective, but in general, I like when filmmakers treat this subject of nature as opposed to civilization in their films. At a time when pandemics are alienating people even more, I think it is important to talk about returning to nature through stories like these, which are becoming increasingly rare. Of course, all films are unique in their own way, and they were worth discussing.

The only movie in my so-called „Аrt“ folder were „The Euphoria of Being“ by Réka Szabó (Hungary). To me the story of the old Jew who survived Auschwitz is fascinating because it gives us the will to live in these times in which we live. The simple message “you are alive and it’s an euphoric experience”, and of course, the way the film is made, is worth discussing.

And my last, but not least folder, contains the movies „Collective“ by Alexander Nanau (Romania) and „Daughter of Camorra“ (Slovenia) by Sinisa Gacic.  Both films look life directly in the eyes,  through the story of the collapse of healthcare in the Romanian transitional system, something we also live here in N. Macedonia,  but also through the story of the re-socialization of the former prisoner, a member of the Camorra, who must cope as she knows how in a society that has not yet destroyed the mafia.

In the end, after an hour-long discussion, we decided to give the FIPRESCI Award to the Romanian documentary “Acasa, My Home” by Radu Ciorniciuc, who also won the award from the festival jury for the regional competition. The explanation of our FIPRESCI jury for the winning film, presented via video link at the awards ceremony was as follows:

„For the film that touches upon a variety of issues dealing with contemporary society – what life model to choose, which place to call home, how to adapt to new circumstances. While exploring these themes, the filmmakers leave open space for the spectators’ own reflections and opinions. From the long observational process, we are presented by a strong storytelling, which draws us into the characters’ lives and allows being present at the turning moments, enhancing the experience of emotional attachment“.

The short synopsis for FIPRESCI winner “Acasa, My Home” is as follows:

For two decades, the Enache family, nine kids and their parents, lived in a shack in the wilderness of the Bucharest Delta: an abandoned water reservoir and one of the biggest urban nature reserves in the world, with lakes and hundreds of species of animals and rare plants. When the authorities decide to reclaim this rare urban ecosystem, the Enache family is evicted and told to resettle in the city, a reality they know nothing about. Kids that used to spend their days in nature, have to learn about city life, go to school instead of swimming in the lake, and swap their fishing rods for mobile phones. Their identity is put to the test and transformed, along with their sense of freedom and family ties. Ciorniciuc’s debut is a thoughtful study of gentrification, seen through the eyes of a family trying to adapt to the new life they never asked for. Is it better to go back to their “paradise lost,” where life is free yet harsh, or become part of the society that provides comforts but comes with pressure and conflict attached?

The Director Radu Ciorniciuc co-founded the first independent media organization in Romania, Casa Jurnalistului. He works as a writer and undercover investigative reporter, focusing on human rights, animal welfare and environmental issues across the globe. His work has been published on Channel 4 News, the Guardian and Al Jazeera and has received numerous international awards from institutions including Amnesty International, the Royal Television Society, and the Wincott Foundation.

All in all, although online, the participation of “ZagrebDox” was a particularly valuable experience for me, because I got a good insight into contemporary documentary, and met two new colleagues with whom I hope to meet in person on one of the European festivals next year.

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