Letter from Jihlava

By Rajesh Thind

totally-personal-nedzad-begovic.jpgTotally Personal, 2005

The dynamic Czech documentary festival is tracking a changing Europe

I left my room key with the young Czech girl behind reception at the Hotel Jihlava early on an October morning, and wandered down to the main venue for the Jihlava International Documentary Festival. When I returned late that night, or rather early the next morning around 6am after a day of documentaries, and a night of meeting filmmakers from across the region, united in enjoyment of the plummy delights of Slivovich, the same young Czech girl was there, asleep in a chair behind the counter. "Twenty four hours," she said when I asked her how long her shift was, handing me my room key.

The overriding impression you come away with after visiting the small Czech town that hosts one of the largest film festivals for East and Central European documentaries, is of this kind of relentless youthful energy, bittersweet yet also impressive. Young filmmakers and young audiences coming together to create something remarkable from within a context that demands everything from the artists to make their visions come alive, yet in doing so seems to fill the air with ever more enthusiasm. And it is this that seeps into you when you come to Jihlava.

There is a feeling here of new meanings emerging, and old ones being re-examined. In Czech director Linda Jablonska's Left, Right, Forward (2006), we follow members of both the Young Conservatives and the Communist Youth Union, young Czechs living in the shadow of competing ideologies, taking them on without necessarily questioning the ideas they have absorbed. Are these the future leaders of the Czech Republic and if so how different is that future from the past? We feel how ideology is far from dead and has instead simply adopted new forms that mirror the old.

totally-personal-nedzad-begovic-2.jpgTotally Personal, 2005

The wars of the former Yugoslavia are still being examined, but there are new stories now, stories of lives ten years later such as those of Ivana Miloševi's Never Been Better, in which, having become a Bosnian émigré to Prague, she returns to the country she fled in the last months of the war. She finds a place where the fissures of conflict go deep, but also people moving on with their lives, even in the shadow of the past.

In Nedzad Begovic's Totally Personal, winner of the Award for Best World Documentary, the filmmaker creates a wry and idiosyncratic stream-of-consciousness portrait of his life in Bosnia and Herzegovina. "With this film, like Andrei Rublev by Tarkovsky," he tells us, "I want to make my bell." Begovic shows, it seems, everything: buying the camera he uses to make the film; his life history via Tito’s Party through war and into low-budget filmmaking, including his vexed and absurd attempts to extract money from Coca-Cola and Nike in order to complete his opus. "Is there a way for a guy with no money, like me, to make a film ever?” asks Begovic. Thankfully, it seems there is, and Jihlava bears witness to the fruits of such irrepressible energy emanating from the East.

Rajesh Thind is a film-maker