The World Awakens

A year ago, Poznan joined the club of the cities that host the Millennium Docs Against Gravity. The local audience will finally get their chance to view the latest documentaries from around the world on large screen in what is Poland's biggest film festival. Its 18th edition will be held on 3-12 September under the slogan "The World Awakens".

Picture of a girl in braids who is looking into the camera. Grey background. - grafika artykułu
"I am Greta", photograph courtesy of film distributor

The opening film I am Greta tackles activism, which this year will also be addressed in one of the new sections of the 18th edition called DYI Protest. In the two years taken to shoot this documentary, Nathan Grossman followed Greta Thunberg around in her daily life, which included the part portrayed in the media as she pursues environmental causes as well as her ordinary life behind the scenes, which is perhaps equally challenging and in which the teenager not only prepares for public appearances but also grapples with doubts and difficult emotions. In another movie, titled Courage, Aliaksei Paluyan explores the fate of the underground Belarusian Free Theatre of Minsk, whose rebellious artists see civil disobedience as a moral obligation. They end up having their lives cut short by the authoritarian regime under which speaking out courageously is punished not only with a jail term but also with death. Finally, in another story, Valerie Taylor, the protagonist of Playing with Sharks, directed by Sally Aitken, confronts audience members with myths surrounding her shark friends. 

The Main Competition features a host of productions by renowned and highly esteemed documentary filmmakers. Notturno Gianfranco Rosi has spent three years in the Middle East traversing Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Lebanon and "shining a beam of light to penetrate the darkness of war." Rosi focuses on the daily tragedies of people harassed by civil wars, dictatorships, foreign invasions and the murderously violent ISIS. In contrast, Gorbachev: Heaven, directed by Vitaly Manski, pays a visit to the luxurious mansion on the outskirts of Moscow that is the retirement residence of the last leader of the USSR. The documentary filmmaker persuaded the life-weary 90-year-old to let him into his world of loneliness and frustration but also of a certain joy of freedom. The producers took the opportunity to join him in his "home" to watch the world from this seemingly narrow perspective. This precisely is what Paweł Łoziński did in the Balcony Film, an excerpt from which was shown in the TV series At Home, a pandemic-era production of HBO. Even as one stays at home, "anything can happen", as random passers-by strolling under the director's balcony are accosted, Anything Can Happen actually being the title of one of the films made by his father, Marcel. 

In the Polish Films Competition, the leading themes of this year's edition converge as if focused in a lens. In 7th of August, Michał Bolland takes a unique angle on the 7 August 2020 protests held in defence of the jailed activist Margot, showing them through the eyes of several of the spontaneous protesters who end up being detained. In Polish Self-Portrait, Jakub Drobczyński, Maciej Białoruski and Robert Rawłuszewicz, all of whom are students of Film Directing at the Łódź Film School, work in the confinement of their homes to produce a Covid-era portrait of Poles on the basis of 150 hours of footage provided by hundreds of their compatriots. In The Last Generation, Mikołaj Borowy bitterly alludes to the contemporary post-apocalyptic film about people fighting for scarce water resources, as he depicts climate activism in Poland from the perspective of the last generation given a fighting chance to reverse the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of humanity. 

Needless to say, a prominent place has been saved for stories about the great champions of Polish culture. In the movie Herbert. A Barbarian in a Garden, Rafael Lewandowski portrays an individualist, traveller and poet widely known as "the one from Mr. Cogito", celebrated by right-wingers and Catholics. Meanwhile, in Escape to the Silver Globe, Kuba Mikurda, a film expert seeking to become a filmmaker, attempts to defend the debatable thesis that Andrzej Żuławski's On the Silver Globe could have changed the face of science-fiction film around the world. Unfortunately, Janusz Wilhelmi, an apparatchik of Polish cinematography, stopped its production in mid-shooting. In effect, one can only speculate today on what this film would be like had it ever been completed. 

A new festival section named The Faces of Latin America offers insights into a continent that is relatively unknown in Poland and receives next to no media coverage. In Songs of Repression, Marianne Hougen-Moraga and Estephan Wagner visit Villa Baviera, a small German colony nestled in an enchanting picture-perfect part of Chile. Despite the idyllic surroundings, there is a dark side to it as well: once called Colonia Dignidad, the colony was founded by the sadistic Nazi Paul Schäfer. During Pinochet's authoritarian rule, it served as a government-sponsored place of torture. During the course of their stay in the country, which lasted one and a half years, the authors produced a grim story of violence, people control and fascism. In fact, religious fanaticism and extreme conservatism continue to thrive in Villa Baviera.

As in the previous year, Millennium Docs Against Gravity is set to be a hybrid event. Those who prefer to watch their movies at home while the pandemic lasts will be able to do just that at mdag.pl between 16 September and 3 October. The online part will include a retrospective of Helena Třeštíková, the creator of sociological cinema, known for her piercing portrayal of Czech society during the political transition classified as non-fiction cinema.

Marek S. Bochniarz

translation: Krzysztof Kotkowski

18th Millennium Docs Against Gravity

3-12 September, Muza Cinema in Poznań

16 September-3 October, online

© Wydawnictwo Miejskie Posnania 2021

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