The Look of Silence, 2014. Director: Joshua Oppenheimer (Denmark, Indonesia, Norway, Finland, England)

Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival CPH:DOX 0

Lizete Riņķe from Copenhagen

Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival
Copenhagen, Denmark
November 6 - 16, 2014

It is once again time for all documentary film lovers and film lovers in general to rush to Copenhagen’s cinemas, as the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, CPH:DOX, kicked off on Wednesday evening, November 5th, with an opening gala at the DR Concert Hall. It also marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with the world premiere of 1989, by Danish documentary film director Anders Østergård. The film is a dramatic rendering of the events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall and its human costs, created through reconstructions, archival footage and the testimonies of eyewitnesses. As last year’s record of 70,100 visitors indicates, interest in documentary film is growing rapidly. Since its establishment in 2003, CPH:DOX has rapidly grown into the largest of its kind in Scandinavia, with over 200 international films on program, as well as increased international attention.

The festival has succeeded in reaching out to the general public with its comprehensive program, which covers a wealth of subjects and genres demonstrating the vast diversity of documentary film today. Since the beginning, a distinct feature of CPH:DOX has been its interdisciplinary approach, where the aim is to build a bridge between film and other art forms. CPH:DOX has become one of the largest platforms for ‘hybrid documentaries’ – films which balance reality and fiction, in which documentary filmmakers use different narrative techniques, special effects and other elements from fiction films. Last year’s winner of the DOX:AWARD, Bloody Beans, by Narimane Maris, and Anna Odell’s TheReunion (which was the most viewed film at last year’s festival, and is once again included in this year's program and nominated for the Doc Alliance Award), are examples of hybrid documentaries. Latvia is also represented this year with a film by Davis Simanis, Escaping Riga, which will have its world premiere at the festival, in addition to also belonging to this new genre.

Contemporary art has a central part in the concept of the festival, and has been given a separate category – Art & Artists – among the eight other categories that make up the program. The films in this category are boundary-pushing experiments created by, among others, artists working within different fields of art, and have a character that is seemingly more like a work of art than a documentary, and therefore pose a particular challenge to the concept of documentary. A number of films in the category have been nominated for the NEW:VISION AWARD.

Apart from the aforementioned DOX:AWARD, NEW:VISION AWARD and Doc Alliance Award,  prizes will also be awarded in the categories NORDIC:DOX, F:ACT AWARD, Doc Alliance Award, and Politiken’s Audience Award.

This year’s ‘Artist in Focus’ is the Israeli-born and New York-based artist Keren Cytter. “We have followed Keren Cytter for many years. A number of her earlier works have been presented at CPH:DOX. She is an artist who works in a field that we are very interested in – that is, contemporary artists without any real cinematographic background, but who work with film and video”, explains Niklas Engstrøm, the program director at CPH:DOX. Cytter herself will be present at the festival for her ‘Artist Talk’, and a number of her films will be shown; also included in the program is an audio-visual performance by Cytter, which will be held at Kunsthal Charlottenborg. In addition to this, and in cooperation with Kunsthal Charlottenborg, CPH:DOX will be presenting an exhibition of Cytter's work at the same venue.

The American filmmaker, journalist and artist, Laura Poitras, is this year’s guest curator, and has curated the film program ASTRO NOISE, which focuses on surveillance – one of the themes of this year's festival. Poitras will also be present at the festival with her brand-new film, Citizenfour, which is about the notorious whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

CPH:DOX is not just a film festival. It has become a major event in Copenhagen, packed with different events, parties, concerts, talks, seminars, conferences, workshops and, of course, film; it also offers festival-goers the opportunity to meet a large number of visiting filmmakers who are behind the films being featured. Moreover, it is an important platform for industry professionals and creative minds from different fields to meet each other, exchange ideas and develop new ones.

As a new initiative, this year's CPH:DOX is going on tour with selected films and events throughout the region, so that those living outside of Copenhagen do not feel left out. DOX:ON:TOUR will take place from October 21st to November13th had the chance to ask Niklas Engstrøm a few more questions about this year’s festival, and about documentary film in general.

What is the focus of the festival this year?

Our main focus is the potential for social change through art, and of course, documentary film as an art form, in particular.

Are there any new initiatives this year on which you would particularly like to put an emphasis?

There is our new initiative, MEGATRENDS, the precise purpose of which is to create social change – to engage the public, to make them active participants instead of passive spectators, and to give them a desire to go out there and do something with this damned real world. We have recognized five so-called megatrends – major trends in society which are about to change the world around us: sustainability, a new decentralized economy, massive technological progress, increased polarization, and social disparity, all of which we are already witnessing today.

Storm Children – Book One, 2014. Director: Lav Diaz (Philippines)

Politics and art are, again, central to the festival's program. CPH:DOX seems to have the goal of merging these two worlds – with the thought that art can change the world. Is this one of the reasons why Laura Poitras was invited as a guest curator? Much like last year’s guest curator, Ai Wei Wei, she is an artist who actively strives to engage in politics.

Yes, this is definitely one of the reasons why we have invited Laura. She is an outstanding example of a person who is able to be an artist, journalist and activist in one, and at the same time, without losing any integrity. I think that should serve as inspiration for many people today.

Encounters across different fields has, from the beginning, been a high priority for CPH:DOX. What is the idea behind this strategy?

From the beginning, CPH:DOX was based on the idea of building a bridge between documentary film and other fields of art, particularly film and other media. We think that it is through this encounter and exchange between different fields that the most interesting cultural development happens. We try to bring together innovative people with remarkable ideas – filmmakers, artists, scientists and many others. It is, in a way, a very experimental approach – you can never be sure about the result, but this unpredictability is what makes it so exciting as it opens up new possibilities.

CPH:DOX has a special focus on hybrid-documentaries, and films specifically from this genre also received the most attention last year. Many of the films can actually be difficult to define as documentaries. What is it that these films can achieve, as compared to documentaries that are more traditional in their form?

It is extremely interesting to work within the framework of a documentary film festival that has more experimental films that also carry increased artistic freedom. A film is able to relate to reality in a variety of ways, and because we believe in the documentary as an art form, we also have to defend artistic freedom. In this way, it will hopefully make you, as a spectator, see the ‘reality’ in a film like The Reunion, which portrays a common problem, namely, the consequences of bullying.

The Reunion, 2013. Director: Anna Odell (Sweden)

Has documentary film become the field in which innovation within the medium of film is now most prominent?

Yes! I would say that that has been the case for some years already. Many contemporary filmmakers have worked with this suspense that is created when a film relates to some real event; they have, in this way, made some outstanding films. Today, there is maybe also a growing desire to engage in the world around us, which is a good sign.

What are the latest trends in the documentary genre? Are there any films in the program that are particularly representative of this?

I would once again highlight a film like The Reunion as an excellent example of how a film can relate to reality because it actually intervenes in it. There are a number of new films this year that also do that, such as, for example, We Come as Friends, by Austrian filmmaker Hubert Sauper; in cooperation with Cinematheque, we're going to present it as a Documentary of the Month. One can say the same thing about films by Joshua Oppenheimer. This year he's presenting a new film [The Look of Silence – L.R], a follow-up to The Act of Killing, which also builds upon ‘interventionism’.

What is the current situation in terms of Danish and Nordic documentary film?

The Danish documentary has experienced a Golden Age since the turn of the century – it is going to be interesting to see if its documentary filmmakers will be able to grow and to maintain the same high standards – I certainly hope so. The Nordic documentary is absolutely at the top of the international hierarchy – the Swedish documentary has been very strong for years, so has the Finnish, and the Norwegians have, in the last couple of years, provide some truly powerful documentaries. I think they have been a bit inspired by the success of the Danish documentary.

In the Basement, 2014. Director Ulrich Seidl (Austria)

There are also a number of international co-productions in the program, and CPH:DOX participates actively in fostering cooperation across borders. Does it still make sense to talk about national characteristics in the documentary genre?

There is definitely an international documentary film language, and there are loads of different trends around the world, such as the hybrid-documentary, which has been going strong for the past five or six years. Nevertheless, it is crystal clear that there is a huge difference between the films that are made in the USA, the Philippines, or Denmark, for example. It is no coincidence that Ulrich Seidl is from Austria, which is known for a long tradition of cool and scrutinizing art that reflects on the absurdities of existence.

What are the highlights of this year’s program – those that absolutely should not be missed?

Storm Children by Lav Diaz, which I would definitely call a masterpiece, and, of course, Citizenfour, which also shouldn't be missed this year.

CPH:DOX 2014