“COVID-19 does not define what we watch, only how we watch”

Kati Juurus, the artistic director of DocPoint – Helsinki Documentary Film Festival, introduces the programme  of the 20th edition of one of the biggest documentary film festivals in the Nordics.

While the world’s been halted and we’ve retreated into quarantine, I’ve been walking by ocean shores as a guest of the Caiçara community (No Kings). I have danced the rumba in Kinshasa (Rumba Rules, New Genealogies), schmoozed with Russian men in garages (Garage People), and looked on as a tiger born in captivity learns how to be a wild animal (Maya).

I have also witnessed what a fighter pilot sees when shooting at ”targets” – Taliban? Civilians? They are all human beings (There Will Be No More Night). I’ve felt ill, sensing the wet chaos and entwined limbs, life vests, and clothes, screams and howls of distress, when a boat carrying refugees sinks (Purple Sea).

Garage People

I chose the films for the 20th annual DocPoint Helsinki Documentary Festival, a responsibility I am very grateful for. Every documentary makes an impact, educates us about the world and about people around us. I genuinely believe that by watching documentaries, one becomes a bit wiser, a bit more understanding, and surely a bit more compassionate.

Documentaries transport us to places where we would not go, introducing us to people we would not otherwise encounter. Look to how conflict between a Europeanised Iranian father and a mother captivated by the Islamic revolution affects their daughter caught between two cultures – and how magnificent the movie which that girl, its director Firouzeh Khosrovani, created about the rifts in the family (Radiograph of a Family, which recently won IDFA’s main prize). Or how a hopeful girl, Ninosca, madly in love, is beaten into a badly treated wife and then, finally, becomes the hero she always needed to be (Ninosca).

 

Gunda

The 20th edition of DocPoint should reflect the diversity of the world and of documentary as a medium. In this year’s selection quite a few films are hybrids of documentary and fiction: while viewing them, one can only wonder if the division between documentary and fiction is even necessary. Wild experimentation is offered in the domestic series (New experimental shorts from Finland). Gianfranco Rosi’s retrospective is pure and masterful documentary art. And Viktor Kossakovsky shows how with the help of documentary cinema, one can even empathize with an animal (Gunda).

 

Africa is a treasure trove for documentarists, but so often those gems have been sought out by western directors. This time around, DocPoint will be showcasing new African documentary and asking the question: do the viewpoints of African documentarists differ from those of western documentarists focusing on Africa and African subject matters?

What about indigenous people? How are their destinies seen in the most recent documentaries? The fight of the Lakota Nation against an oil pipeline (End of the Line – the Women of Standing Rock); the Samí peoples’ experiences of the exploitation of their lands (Eatnameamet – Our Silent Struggle); elimination of the Paraguayan Ayoreo peoples’ cultures (IDFA’s opening documentary Nothing But the Sun) – sorrow and rage are natural responses while viewing these documentaries.

Over 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by the sea. We come from the sea. Without water we wouldn’t exist. DocPoint highlights films where documentarists study our relationship to this essential entity; beautiful, ferocious, polluted and taken for granted: water systems as an ecological, aesthetic and social element – a living environment.

To honour this 20-year-old celebration, DocPoint is becoming a competitive international film festival. Jurys comprised of international and domestic specialists will decide which domestic and international documentaries receive the 5000 € award sponsored by Yle. I am especially happy that the first international competition series in DocPoint’s history features so many rousing debuts from innovative directors: The Other One, Purple Sea, The Metamorphosis of Birds, Fish Eye, and Acasa, My Home. In the Finnish selection, the festival’s opening film, Walk the Tideline, is director Anna Antsalo’s first feature movie.

Documentary is doing outstandingly well, and not even a pandemic has kept great productions from completion. Documentary is a slow art form. That is why COVID-19 won’t show in DocPoint’s 2021 repertoire. Or maybe it does: when I was searching for movies for the festival it felt like surprisingly many interesting films would study a relationship of an individual to their community, to other individuals or a lack of these relationships. When COVID-19 decreased encounters between individuals, perhaps films focused on community and loneliness feel particularly meaningful? From this we derive the theme: Alone/together.

COVID-19 does not define what we watch, only how we watch documentary movies in this year’s DocPoint. This year, we are not able to meet each other in movie theatres. We won’t sense the excitement and joy of the directors at a premiere. We won’t communally feel that awakening after the film, when we step out into a dark winter night in Helsinki.

A good documentary works, overwhelms, jolts and affects even when watched at home on a couch. I know it: I have chosen the documentaries for the year’s DocPoint Festival from my own!

DocPoint’s repertoire includes documentaries from 38 different countries. All of these countries have been living under the shadow of the pandemic for the past year. The year has been horrible to many, but humankind has experienced the same horror together.

We are one, and this year’s DocPoint films tell the stories of our communal experience.

Kati Juurus (Translated by Elina Huttunen and Em Seikkanen)