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- 7.7.2014 9:32 -

The Tough Task of a Festival Juror


The jury is an inherent part of film festivals, just like the viewers. However, unlike them, it carries the heavy burden of responsibility, deciding about the new holders of prestigious film awards. What is it like to sit on a prestigious international jury? We have posed this question to DAFilms acquisitions manager Diana Tabakov, who has risen to the juror’s task at London’s Open City Docs Fest.

In the middle of June, you have sat on the jury of London’s Open City Docs Fest, which made all of us at DAFilms very happy! Where did the offer to participate in the festival in such a prestigious role come from?

I have been in close touch with Michael Stewart, the festival’s director, primarily due to the My Street Films project he founded in London 3 years ago. The project has been brought to the Czech environment by DAFilms.com portal. However, Michael had known Doc Alliance even before that, since Marek Hovorka, director of Jihlava IDFF and co-founder of Doc Alliance, has sat on the OCDF jury some two years ago. Our portal is also known for its selective content and careful programming of weekly film events. I think it is only natural that the London team decided to invite a member of the DAFilms team to their Grand Jury.

What are the duties of a jury member?

I think that the main duty is to have interest and certain humility. I have seen the OCDF competition films at other festivals, however, I watched them again with attention. Each of the jurors approaches the process in a different way. For instance, I like to read up on the director’s context, primarily his or her previous films. I am also looking up a lot of information about the given topic. In this respect, I would like to mention the film Shado’Man by Boris Gerrets capturing several physically handicapped homeless people from Sierra Leone, focusing rather on their inner worlds. The film may make the impression of a voyeur from the west preying on the suffering of others. However, Gerrets partially grew up in that city and the protagonists are victims of an 11-year civil war which has tormented the country. The film is not explicit in this respect; on the contrary, it’s very dark, just like the city whose infrastructure does not correspond to the growing population. The streets are pitch dark at night since there is simply not enough electricity. The film is like a dark Beckettian stage where you are waiting for something that never comes. To me, the task of the juror is to pay as much humble attention to the competition films as possible.

Who else has sat on the festival jury? Was it difficult to discuss and evaluate the films together?

The jury was chaired by famous director Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida). The jury further comprised artist and filmmaker Jeanie Finlay, programme director of DOK Leipzig festival, which is also a Doc Alliance member, Grit Lemke and commissioning editor Chris Wilson of UK’s Sky communications company. Our views of the films were very different, however, the debate was neither tense nor personal. It was interesting to observe the energy and rhetoric with which the other jury members reacted to some films. Nevertheless, I was lucky enough to be of the same opinion as the jury chair. My favourite did win the award in the end.

Which of the films from the festival programme has stuck in your mind most? Was it the main documentary winner Judgment in Hungary?

Yes. Judgment in Hungary documents a three-year trial in Hungary, capturing the prosecution of three right-wing extremists who have killed six Roma, including a five-year-old boy. The film was an observation of a claustrophobic courtroom, with reality giving rise to a film with all elements of drama; with all its protagonists, conflicts and little stories. What is also interesting to follow is the media interest in the process in general; the courtroom was empty during the process, only attracting viewers and the media at the beginning and at the end of the process. The film thus covers the part of the cases which has never been covered by mainstream media.

What are your main impressions of the festival regarding its social atmosphere and other festival activities, which are really varied in case of OCDF?

The festival has made a very pleasurable impression on me. I think they’re bringing the good things made in Europe to the slightly isolated Britain. However, I’m looking forward to the upcoming editions where they will discover unknown films themselves and their festival will become London’s meeting place for documentarists from across the globe. I believe they are well on their way to it!

Thank you for your time, Diana, and we are happy about your success as a grand juror!

Andrea of the DAFilms.com team

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