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Programme Review

DOCU/ART: Remembering the unknown is scary, but funny, but horrifying

22 April 2024

At school, regular history lessons were not exactly a hit among all students. You always needed to try and remember something, or, if we’re being honest, just memorise it before a test, without worrying about looking for connections between causes and effects. Not to mention the “special editions” dedicated to memorable dates (usually tragic and traumatic ones), which, according to the teachers’ handbook, encourage us to “remember the past so that we never repeat the horrible mistakes of history again.” We gradually grow up, and as we age, the demands on our memory grow as well. Now we need not only to remember our parents’ birthdays, three capitals of the Hetmanshchyna, and the different prices of instant noodles in different kiosks, but also to face the limitations of the process of memorising.

Short-term and long-term memory is the subject of popular science films, but creative documentaries explore something more abstract: how people take responsibility for the search for the memory of the unknown, how they overcome oblivion.

Governmental archival footage, old voicemail, scribbles on the margins of other people’s notebooks, photos from the trenches, journals of writers — we cling to any artefacts that carry history which we are only witnessing indirectly, thanks to the presence of others in the significant moments of the past. Because a testimony of an event, documented and preserved for the future, leaves no room for doubt or uncomfortable questions which we may never find answers to. But we are not always that lucky.

This year’s DOCU/ART programme offers us to look for fragments of memory — lost, recalled, recreated — together, and occasionally ask ourselves if we are prepared to take responsibility for their preservation.



The history of the Second World War was coming to an end when Nathan Hilu, a son of Syrian Jewish immigrants and a soldier in the US Army, was ordered to guard the worst people on the planet as of 1945: the leaders of Nazi Germany who were waiting for their sentences during the Nuremberg Trials.

Elan Golod, the director of Nathan-ism, finds Nathan seventy years later. Having survived the past and preserved its trauma, the former soldier has been going back to the times of his youth his entire life. Over and over again, he depicts the experience of being near the people for whom he would be the first on the list for destruction and creates a fanciful reality: “outsider art” intertwined with an attempt to re-conceptualise his own past.


A still from the film Nathan-ism

The director shapes a friendly space for the protagonist, full of humour and trust. But the film crew gradually develops a suspicion: does the recurring cycle of forgetting and recalling really remain truthful every time?


In Kim’s Video, the directing duo of David Redmon and Ashley Sabin launch a veritable documentary investigation which is born out of an innocent question: “What happened to the collection of a beloved video rental store after it closed?”

Whether it is due to nostalgia for the good old times or due to the desire to find the tapes that are so valuable to them, the filmmakers go on a journey around the United States, Italy and South Korea. Another possible motivation is to learn more about the mysterious Mr. Kim, whose rental store owned 55,000 movies, from popular hits to rare eccentric experiments.

A still from the film Kim’s Video

Like true cinephiles, David and Ashley pay homage during their filming and editing process to numerous cinematic genres they grew up with. In fact, the customers of Mr. Kim’s rental store can be seen as a generation whose memories are not always their own: who knows if your mind brings up a scene from a family celebration or just a scene from a film which you watched half a year ago on a friend’s VCR.

The National Security Council of Brazil, which gained power after the military coup of 1964 and is led by President Artur da Costa e Silva, makes the decision to implement the Institutional Act 5. Suspending the Constitution and establishing political repression at the governmental level are only a small fraction of the human rights violations that resulted from the Act, which entrenched the military dictatorship in the country.


João Pedro Bim, the director of Behind Closed Doors and a researcher of archival footage, finds previously top-secret, and therefore unknown to history, recordings from the Council meeting that was definitive for Brazilians. João only has an audio track of speeches by ministers and generals, but the filmmaker combines it with a video sequence edited together from archival propaganda.

A still from the film Behind Closed Doors

Daily newsreels from various areas in the country, TV stories on the basics of dictatorial nationalism, reports from military training operations against uprisings: colourful pictures of the promised future only emphasise the horror of the succinct and articulated reports to the President regarding the strategies for preserving power. From the perspective of the present, we know that these horrors will come to an end. But will history punish the villains?


Main photo: a still from the film Kim’s Video.

Техт: Polina Yakovleva, Docudays UA programmer

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The 21st Docudays UA is held with the support of the Embassy of Sweden in Ukraine, the US Embassy in Ukraine, International Media Support, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ukraine, the Embassy of Estonia in Ukraine, the Polish Institute in Kyiv, Institut français d'Ukraine, Danish Cultural Institute, the Czech Centre in Kyiv, and the Embassy of Hungary in Kyiv. The opinions, conclusions, or recommendations do not necessarily reflect the views of the governments or organisations of these countries. Responsibility for the content of the publication lies exclusively on the authors of the publication.

21 INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL
 31 — 9 
May
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