From hulks of collective ruins to immigrant family struggles, marginalized communities and climate crises, the 27th Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival wrapped Saturday with honors for work from diverse perspectives on a myriad of pressing subjects.
The Opus Bonum main prize went to Elvis Lenic’s Croatian doc “Ship,” an exploration of an unintentional monument to socialist worker collectives in the form of the Uljanik shipyard, once the country’s largest. Now an industrial graveyard, the vast port facility is closing down after 160 years, a moment Lenic filmed with powerful imagery in a story that reminds viewers of the fates of those who built the now ghostly cargo vessels and their docks.
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The Ji.hlava audience prize went to Czech doc “Is There Any Place for Me, Please?” Jarmila Stukova’s powerful portrait of a woman who survived an acid attack by an ex-boyfriend, which connected with viewers in a way that set it apart from the more than 350 other films at the fest this year.
The fest’s activist reputation shone through at the ceremony, with a top Czech chef cooking locally sourced soup for all guests while prizes, honorees and cameras shuffled around him. Meanwhile, the closing gala took on humanity’s growing anxiety about AI, using the platform to generate bizarre images to project behind honorees and playing artificially generated music over clips of festival sections.
Among other major filmmaker figures visiting Ji.hlava this year, Hungarian art film icon Bela Tarr was honored for his contribution to world cinema.
After joking that filmmakers are people who shoot on freezing mornings with hungover actors and “you never believe somebody’s watching this shit,” the Berlinale-winning director of “Turin Horse” offered up a more sincere explanation for why directors do what they do: “You are transformed yourself and you have a feeling you have to share with others.”
The section’s Central and Eastern European doc prize went to Polish entry “Distances” by Matej Bobrik, an intimate portrait of an immigrant Nepalese family who have discovered life in Europe is no guarantee of security and success. Slovak entry “The Third End of the Stick” by Jaro Vojtek likewise explores with stark footage a community facing economic hardship and a form of double social isolation, gay Roma, and won the Visegrad region prize.
The Czech/Slovak tribute to the remarkable artist Jan Mancuska, “You Will Never See It All” by Stepan Pech, won the best debut prize for its depiction of the sensational and innovative artist who died at 39 in 2011.
Argentine doc “East Wind” by Maia Gattas Vargas won honors for original approach with its lyrical imagery and another form of memorial in a quest by a woman to the West Bank in search of understanding about her long gone father.
Another visually expressive Czech doc, “La Reine” by Nikola Klinger, won the Opus Bonum student jury prize with its chronicle of a 73-year-old nonconformist now facing his fate with his usual unconventional approach.
In the fest’s Czech Joy section, Slovak/Czech/Ukrainian co-production “Photophobia” by Ivan Ostrochovsky and Pavol Pekarcik moved jurors to award the top prize for its exploration of students forced by Russia’s war on Ukraine to attend schools held in underground metro stations in Kharkiv. Jurors credited the film for “establishing the unbreakable will of the Ukrainian people.”
Special mention went to Czech doc “My Paradise Is Darker Than Your Hell,” an account of the daily lives of those close to an artist who ended his life, by Katerina Dudova, while the editing and sound design prizes went to “Satan Among Us,” a meta-film by Martin Jezek that deconstructs the Czech biographical film “Arved.”
The Czech Joy cinematography prize went to “Bedwetter,” an exploration of a “crisis of masculinity,” filmed by Patrik Balonek with fluid and fresh imagery and directed by Jan Husek.
The sci-fi philosophical essay ”Notes from Eremocene,” a Czech/Slovak doc by Viera Cakanyova won honors for original approach, while the student Czech Joy jury awarded “The World According to My Dad,” an affectionate portrait of a scientist by his daughter, Marta Kovarova, as he tries in vain to interest leaders in a plan to combat global greenhouse gases.
The Ji.hlava Testimonies section, focused on films exploring global issues and crises, was won by French/Greek doc “Mighty Afrin: In the Time of Floods” by Angelos Rallis, an exceptionally lush and poetic account of a young girl’s quest as she faces deadly rising tides on the Brahmaputra River.
The experimental film section Fascinations honored Japanese doc “Silhouette,” a film adapted from LIDAR computer scans by Yoshiki Nishimura, while the Exprmntl.cz prize went to “The Commodity Catalogue,” an essay on the valuing of images by Zbynek Baladran.
27th Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival winners
Director: Elvis Lenic
Central and Eastern European documentary
Director: Matej Bobrik
Film from the Visegrad region
The Third End of the Stick
Director: Jaro Vojtek
You Will Never See It All
Director: Stepan Pech
Director: Maia Gattas Vargas
Director: Nikola Klinger
Directors: Ivan Ostrochovsky, Pavol Pekarcik
My Paradise Is Darker Than Your Hell
Director: Katerina Dudova
Satan Among Us
Director: Martin Jezek
Satan Among Us
Director: Jan Husek
Cinematographer: Patrik Balonek
Notes from Eremocene
Student jury award
The World According to My Dad
Is There Any Place for Me, Please?
Director: Jarmila Stukova
Contribution to World Cinema
MIGHTY AFRIN: In the Time of Floods
Director: Angelos Rallis
One Of The Thousand Hills
Director: Bernard Bellefroid
Not That Kind of Guy
Director: Signe Rosenlund-Hauglid
Director: Yoshiki Nishimura
Director: Violena Ampudia
Director: Maxime-Claude L’Ecuyer
The Commodity Catalogue
Director: Zbynek Baladran
But Not for Ever
Czech Republic/Portugal/Sao Tome and Principe
Directors: Anezka Horova, Klara Trskova
One Sol in the Life of Curiosity
Director: Vit Ruzicka
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