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DOK Leipzig 2010

DOK Leipzig: A festival with a great spirit

The 53th edition of DOK Leipzig, the second largest European documentary festival, was held between 18th-24th October. Our Indian friend Sophy V. Sivamaran was there too. She covers the festival for DOCUMENTARIST doc_gazete giving a glimpse into the fest atmosphere.

Sophy V. Sivaraman


When you arrive into Leipzig, you land at this train station which is a mix of the old and the new... The structure looks old from the outside, with its myriad shops selling the latest designs and that sets the trend for the rest of the city. You are in the midst of history - the buildings speak it. But there’s also the Burger King at the corner and the cafes and the shops in the market place. A compelling mix of ancient and modern. An important city in its communist era, representative of an earlier divided Germany

The first thing that hits you are the black and white posters of the festival on the road and then the red box selling festival merchandise bang in the middle of the market place. A bright colour taking over the market place. The tickets are sold at a venue across  the cafe counter which is laden with cheese on toast, liberally laid out for all the festival guests. DOK Leipzig is held in a beautiful city, amongst great people and with efficiency and kindness rolled into one.

The festival center is the heart of the festival, especially for the those who want to conduct business, with its meetings at every table and deals being struck all around. A very thoughtful touch is the ‘Shiatsu Massage’ being offered in one corner for the weary. It is a heady mix of relaxation and business. The Dok Market took my breath away. It had 400 films for viewing. To be honest, it was the first Dok Market that I had attended and after the initial nervousness faded away, I realized that the easy accessibility to films, keeping both the director and the buyer in mind, was very educative. Congratulations Susanne!

The carefully planned workshops on crowd funding gave a taste of the way the world is changing and the new ways of looking at distribution and marketing with the emphasis on working with the internet, rather than against it.

A local market place around the corner which had German road side food was a delight. You could have your pick of fish or sandwiches and adding to the ambience is the Nikolai church, which is within walking distance. You come out of the festival center at night, all wrapped up as it is seriously cold, your hood pulled over your eyes. You turn the corner and the street is empty. Each building is beautifully and uniquely lit. I was told that most of these buildings had escaped the bombing, unlike Berlin, so they retain a lot of their originality. Suddenly, a Saint Nikolai look-alike with his long robes and beard, holding a lantern and sword or axe of some kind comes into view. He is leading a group of tourists around. All of this adds to the night-time flavor of the city.This is the city that gave the world Richard Wagner and you almost remember faint notes of Bach in your head.

Back at the festival; the selection of films were varied and international each one bringing its own cinematic language to the viewer, they lean on the political there were films from Iraq/Israel/Palestine/Afganistan /USA to name a few in keeping with the conflict that exsit in our times. We each had our favorites and waited to see who got the award money and acknowledgment of work well done. An animation section with fun elements thrown in like who is a better animator man or woman? The boxes allocated for each individual made life simple. This allowed one to meet people who you didn’t know. It was such a useful tool for people to get in touch with each other or be invited for dinner .I was Box No. 404… “Excuse me- is there anything for 404?” you ask and then the notes are handed across and you think "Ah! The game is afoot, Watson".

One remembers details like the rack where one could access any advertising material of companies and films, a catalogue which gave the synopsis and details of the film, with of course the festival bag which later worked as a shopping bag when one took a quick getaway to shop for folks back home.

In the end, what is important is the detailing of a festival, the little things and I was impressed with the way everybody’s needs were thought of and met whether itdistribution/funding/networking/viewing or partying.

It is not a maddeningly big festival, with a million people running around. It is small enough to be able to form relationships quickly and effectively and yet, large enough to disappear into if you don't want to be found. This is a festival that cannot be spoken about without mentioning its venue. The festival and the city of Leipzig go hand in hand -each compliments the other.

The pitching forum came with its seriousness and sobriety. It was held at the documentary campus which had buildings that looked like barracks from the outside, with a large water space in the center. Luckily for me, the sun hit it at that perfect time in the afternoon when we broke for lunch, spreading warmth. It was a pleasure to watch the scripts being pitched and understanding the interests of the television channels. One got an insight into German documentaries, it was good to be able to see the faces whose names you had only heard of or read about. It was cozy and not hard hitting as I thought it would be. Everybody was encouraging each other and the incorporation of the ‘surprise pitch’ was a good touch. A box was passed around and anybody with a future project could put their card inside; after which, admist much fanfare, a card was blindly picked and the person could pitch his project with the other selected scripts. A wonderful chance and a wonderful touch adding an element of anticipation and surprise.

A festival is only as good as its festival director and Class's generosity, hospitality and professionalism permeated down to every individual working for the festival .A humble man with his down to earth attitude, the way he rode his bicycle across town, keeping track of things and solving problems was a pleasure to see. Congratulations Class! Truly a festival with a great spirit and vision in a beautiful city. One came away from the festival wearing a badge bought at the bright red kiosk which says "I Love DOK".







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