Starting this Sunday, February 24 and running through next Sunday, March 3, Croatia’s documentary festival, ZagrebDox, holds its ninth edition. The event screens over 180 films, of which more than half are new or recent feature-length docs, with the balance consisting of shorts and retrospective programming. The festival balances a lineup representing a selection of familiar titles that have screened at higher-profile festivals such as IDFA, Sundance, and CPH:DOX, with lesser-known fare, including an impressive number of films from Croatia and its neighboring countries in the region. If I were to attend, the latter would be my priority, as noted in my brief highlights below:
Nearly two dozen feature docs (plus an assortment of shorts) are eligible for ZagrebDox’s two competitions, split into Regional and and International categories. From the former, I’d check out Nebojša Slijepčević’s GANGSTER OF LOVE (pictured), following the efforts of a male matchmaker to find a Croatian husband for a Bulgarian single mom; Slaviša Mašić’s CLOSE-UP IN TOTAL, a kaleidoscopic portrait of Bosnia and Herzegovina through 500 of its people; Youlian Tabakov’s TZVETANKA, in which an octogenarian Bulgarian reflects on her life under monarchy, socialism, and democracy; and Ed Moschitz’s MAMA ILLEGAL, about undocumented Moldovan workers who leave their children behind to provide for their families in wealthier countries.
The International Competition includes a refreshingly eclectic assortment of recent international work, from Sundance winner Tinatin Gurchiani’s THE MACHINE WHICH MAKES EVERYTHING DISAPPEAR to Joshua Oppenheimer’s controversial THE ACT OF KILLING. There are three titles here that I’ve yet to see: Ben Rivers’ TWO YEARS AT SEA (pictured), Petra Costa’s ELENA, and Aleksei Vakhrushev’s THE TUNDRA BOOK. A TALE OF VUKVUKAI, THE LITTLE ROCK.
The non-competitive Official Programme is broken up into nearly a dozen sub-sections, focusing on everything from music docs to biographies, youth audiences to auteurs, and current affairs to controversy. The Biography Dox section includes recent projects covering subjects from technological innovators to porn stars, Camelot to Amsterdam’s red light district. Among the lesser-travelled projects here, I’d point to Ruaridh Arrow’s Gene Sharp portrait, HOW TO START A REVOLUTION, and Sophie Huber’s HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION. The fest’s Happy Dox section spotlights expressly lighter or entertaining films, including Dušan Šaponja andDušan Čavić’s BATTERY MAN (pictured), about Serbia’s human conductor and his world-record dreams; and Ivars Zviedris and Inese Kļava’s DOCUMENTARIAN, on the love-hate relationship between a Latvian filmmaker and his unwilling subject.
Controversial Dox offer an assortment of films on button-pushing topics, from government lobbies and economic corruption to the failure of global poverty-relief organizing, including Friedrich Moser and Matthieu Lietaert’s THE BRUSSELS BUSINESS (pictured), an investigation into lobbying on the European Union; Bosse Lindquist’s WHY POVERTY? contribution GIVE US THE MONEY, exploring the persistence of poverty despite the efforts of celebrity-led relief campaigns; and Michael O’Neill’s THE GRAMMAR OF HAPPINESS, the story of an Amazonian tribe turning the tables on a Christian missionary and linguist. Many of the films in ZagrebDox’s State of Affairs section share a focus on controversial subjects, such as Andrey Gryazev’s TOMORROW, about the Russian artist/activist collective Voina; and Mahdi Fleifel’s A WORLD NOT OURS, a look at the experiences of Palestinians in a Lebanese refugee camp.
ZagrebDox’s ninth edition also features a number of retrospectives, including a showcase of the work of acclaimed Russian director Victor Kossakovsky (¡VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS! (pictured)), and highlights from three institutions: The UK’s National Film and Television School, Croatia’s Imaginary Academy, and the Scottish Documentary Institute.