The DOK Leipzig 2021 brings: Israel, escape, digitization

MDR KULTUR: DOK Leipzig 2021 is the second festival edition under your leadership. Does the DOK Leipzig already feel normal to you?

Christoph Terhechte: Normality is difficult to define – especially in these times. I also do not hope that we can now simply speak of a return to normality, even if we can return to a lot of familiar things this year: We can fill cinemas to a greater or lesser extent or talk to filmmakers in Leipzig – that is, create a festival atmosphere. But the new normal that will eventually emerge will look different from the old one. With last year’s hybrid edition and this year’s edition, which combines many different elements, there is a contribution to finding this new normal.

This year there will be a digital extension with offers on the net for the two weeks after the end of the festival. What is the idea behind it?

That is part of this new normal: that the digital can no longer be completely imagined. We will have to and may continue to talk professionally or privately on Zoom. Festivals will remain hybrid, so that professionals come to the festival who might otherwise be too busy but can participate online for a short time. We believe that we can extend the festival online beyond the short festival period, be more effective and at the same time give you the opportunity to follow the festival when you are not in Leipzig. It is very important that we think further both in terms of time and space than just beyond this one week in Leipzig. It will certainly be a new normal at many festivals in the future to also design a part for the Internet.

The festival opens with the film “The Rhine flows into the Mediterranean”. Geographically, of course, that is not correct. What’s behind the title?

That is meant metaphorically. The filmmaker Offer Avnon is an Israeli who lived in Germany for ten years – in Cologne on the Rhine. After learning the German language perfectly and feeling very comfortable, he realized that in order to gain German citizenship, he had to return his Israeli passport. Suddenly he got a remorse and went back to Haifa. Therefore, for him, the Rhine flows into the Mediterranean. The film is the résumé of these ten years and the reappraisal of everything that happened to him here as a Jew in Germany.

His father is a Holocaust survivor from Poland and in his film Avnon meets Holocaust survivors from the region, for example an old man from Görlitz who now lives in Israel. But he also meets non-Jewish Germans, who range from anti-Semites to outspoken philosemites. This is an exciting search that is often conveyed through landscapes and objects. Therefore, it is also very visually appealing. It was the perfect film for us to open our program, which will feature other Jewish themes and Israeli films.

This includes a homage to Avi Mograbi. The Israeli filmmaker has already been recognized in other places. What’s the new point?

I have known for years that Avis mother was from Leipzig. In the 1930s, after she was beaten up on the street by the Hitler Youth, she emigrated to Palestine. She was lucky enough to be able to escape. And if the Holocaust hadn’t happened Avi Mograbi would be Leipzig. That is reason enough for me to bring Avi Mograbi to Leipzig as a guest of honor in the first year in which I can invite guests.

His films are certainly worth it because he is a unique documentary filmmaker. In all of his films he also stages himself and assigns himself a role. After a film about Ariel Sharon, he noticed that if I bring in my personality, a semi-fictional personality, then I can ultimately tell something completely different: namely about the helplessness of a filmmaker who tries to understand and change his reality.

In Germany we talk a lot about crises, the climate and democracy. Is there a topic that drives filmmakers around the world?

The question would be: How do you film the climate? How do you film democracy? There are very difficult questions to answer. There are also interesting approaches. But in fact there are far fewer films about the climate or democracy than about flight and displacement. This is one of the main topics for us, because it is specifically about people and the effects on people who you can see and observe today. This ranges from documentaries that accompany a trek across Mexico to the American border, to Camp Moria on the island of Lesbos, where Afghan refugees have to live under inhumane conditions. Another really interesting and important topic is the still unresolved colonial era. This also affects us Germans, even if we lost our colonies again early on – fortunately. But precisely because of this, the reappraisal has taken place here much less than in other countries.

Dok Leipzig is primarily perceived as a documentary film festival, but it is also an animation film festival. What have you planned for this year?

We hope we will change this fact of forgetting by putting more emphasis on long animated films next year. This year, for example, we are showing the film “Flee”, which is again about escape. It is certainly one of the most moving animated films of the year. But we also have an extremely large number of very diverse forms of animation films: The spectrum ranges from desktop animation to classic drawn animation and computer animation. We also have a program that deals with topics related to animated films, such as sound design or music. This culminates in an evening at the Schaubühne, where we will also work with a video installation and a DJ situation.

What is always well received in Leipzig and the festival is also open are the demonstrations at the main train station. For one thing, they’re free. On the other hand, I noticed that the filmmakers like to come there so that they can talk to the audience afterwards. Why?

I also believe because this audience is not one that already knows from the start what it actually wants, but an audience that is also still open to a medium that it may not experience every day. This transit situation is great. Someone comes out of the hall of the train station or goes in and suddenly sees: Ah, there is something, now I’ll just stand here. The idea behind it is discovery and chance encounter. I think the filmmakers are happy to see how our films are actually received by those where we don’t preach to the believers but are confronted with people.

On Monday evening, the opening film will run parallel to the opening event with invited guests and in the main train station. I’ll go there with the filmmaker Offer Avnon and talk about the film. Then there is a different film from the program every day. On Wednesday, for example, a co-production by MDR: “The Cars We Drove into Capitalism”. It’s about people who still maintain their cars from socialist production today. So we will also celebrate a bit of amusing Ostalgie.

The interview was conducted by film editor Stefan Petraschewsky for MDR KULTUR.

additional Information
The Dok Leipzig festival will take place from October 25th to 31st at various locations in Leipzig.