» ZagrebDox, last episode

Tell me it ain’t true! You’re here? On a Saturday? What a loyal readership you are. I’m flattered.

When I woke up this morning, I was not alone. There it was, sitting on the rim of the bed, that faithful companion, the relics of my catholic upbringing: my guilty conscience. She (you didn’t think I would have a male conscience, would you?) looked at me with dark eyes and said:” How did you dare to take it easy, yesterday? Aren’t you ashamed, you lazy, good for nothing bastard? Is this why you have been put into the world? How are you going to make up for this?”. I cunningly took her under the shower with me and together with the bubbles she disappeared in the drain, but her words stuck in my brain and I decided to do a double shift today.

The day started with the pitching session of the Reality Check Workshop. Over a period of 3 days, tutoring veterans Leena Pasanen and Stefano Tealdi have been working with the producers and directors of 13 selected projects, discussing content, style and presentation of their proposals. Today the poor participants were thrown to the lions; a fierce group of commissioning editors, sales agents and representatives of regional film centres. Their roars could he heard from far, eager as they were to get the best bits. As always it was a pleasure to see the teams at work, showing different degrees of nervousness but without exception doing a great job. I couldn’t sit in on the individual meetings that took place in the afternoon, but I have no doubts that quite a lot of the projects were met with great interest. Hopefully we’ll see the result during ZagrebDox 2015.

And after the real people it was back to she pixels.

The first screening I attend was Bart Laytons The Imposter.  A documentary I’d like to compare with a balloon. Like a child I was longing for it. I saw how it was expertly inflated until it got the perfect form. It was colourful and glittered in the sun and for about an hour it drifted along the slow wind, nice to look at but nothing to get really excited about. But then it was picked up by a whirlwind and started to perform the wildest moves. It went from left to right, up and down, promising a grand finale and it had my full attention until… it exploded and left me with nothing, except the feeling that I had been had. A pity for the film maker certainly knows how to tell a story.


About the second documentary I am going to keep my clap shut, out of respect. How could my poor vocabulary do justice to Kim Longinoto’s wonderful and moving Salma? In comparison to other films we saw here, some even Oscar-nominated, this documentary might look old-school, but it’s so wonderful to look at real people, in real situations, dealing with a subject that matters, and to be immersed in carefully composed shots that lasted longer than 3 seconds. The lack of any editing tricks or post-productions gimmicks was ointment for the weary eyes of the tired festival-goer. I also loved the very modest and moving soundtrack. The old (sorry, Kim, figure-of-speech) master has lost nothing of her skills.


The third dish on the menu was called Detropia (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady). How should I call this? I’d say: a declaration of love to a town in decay and to the courageous inhabitants who refuse to give in to the general feeling of depression that seems to reign in so many American cities. The subject is treated in a rather traditional way but it works. For me, the main reason why it works is the powerful casting. The directors picked the right people to tell the story. My favourite was the former teacher and now-bar owner who not only seems to be a very nice person, but whose acts and statements really made me think. Between the lines there’s also a warm argument in favour of the arts. Even in the darkest misery there’s a place for beauty for those who are willing to see it. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s high or low culture, in both cases it brings hope and consolation. And hope there is, for the end of the documentary hints to a better future. And who am I to disagree with that?


I ended the evening in a brothel. Or actually not, for the title of Kitty Green’s documentary is: Ukraine is not a brothel. The documentary brings us closer to the activist group Femen, a group of women  who – I have to admit it – never could count on my sympathy. Their very first action that I was made aware of – flashing against the sex tourism during the European Soccer Championship – was absolutely OK, but soon after that I got suspicious. This documentary did not change my opinion. Some claim that this film expresses an independent point of view and dares to be critical towards the ladies of Femen, but I beg to differ. Even if the film deals quite openly with the fact that for a long time the activist women were actually trained and managed by a (the rather weird and manipulative) Victor Svyatski – thereby accepting the same kind of slavery they claim to oppose – it stealthily turns the current leader, Inna Shevshenko, into a hero and a role-model. Which in my opinion she isn’t.

The good thing about visiting several festivals is that they can serve as an eye-opener. A couple of weeks ago I saw Every Day Rebellion (the Riahi Brothers), a documentary in which the very same Inna plays a prominent role. Both films have clearly been shot in the same period, but I see a completely different Inna, who adapts her behaviour to the camera she’s in front of. Green’s film ends with an emotional Inna, who has decided that she has to get rid of Victor; she acknowledges that she still has a lot to learn before she will become a strategic thinker like him, and who is happy that she has been invited by a group of women in Paris who want to create Femen France. In Every Day Rebellion we are offered the image of a persecuted but very confident Inna (she indeed was facing criminal charges at the time) who had been the leader of the group for a long time and who now – head over heels – had to leave Ukraine to avoid being imprisoned. My opinion about Inna is of course irrelevant, and it would have been even more if Ukraine is not a brothel would have been a documentary that impressed me, but alas it didn’t.


And with this final blog I’m coming to the end of this adventure.

Thank you, Zagreb Dox, for having invited me and for having given me the opportunity to see and to enjoy a load of great documentaries. Thank you for the excellent care you took of me and good luck for the next edition.

Maybe I should offer my apologies to the film makers whose films I might have been criticizing in too strong terms. Of course the opinions I expressed are my very personal ones, but isn’t that what documentaries should do: provoke the expression of opinions and stimulate debate?

Dear readers, I hope I didn’t bore you too much. It was great to spend the last hours of every day with you and I will miss this daily contact. Maybe I’ll pick the blog up again during one of my next business trips, unless of course a petition against it would be served at the EDN office.

Good night and good luck.

Paul Pauwels

(I’m the person on the left!)

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