Docville film festival arrives early with author-driven cinema


Belgium’s biggest documentary film festival returns to Leuven with a selection of documentaries that showcase their directors’ unique vision and cinematographic approach

Eye on the world

Docville, Leuven’s documentary film festival, has arrived two months early this year, running from 22 to 30 March rather than its usual spot in late May. The main reason for this change is the weather.

“Last year we had sold-out screenings with entire empty rows in the cinema because of the first rays of sunlight,” explains An De Winter, the festival’s press officer. “We decided to move to a period with more ‘cinema weather’.”

Otherwise the festival remains unchanged, with a programme of some 75 documentaries that stand out because of their cinematographic approach, their author-driven narratives or their personal views on the world.

The opening film is I Am Not Your Negro by Raoul Peck, a history of racism in the United States through the eyes of 20th-century writer James Baldwin, which was nominated for an Oscar this year. And the festival closes with Liberation Day, an account of how kitsch Slovenian industrial rock band Laibach became the first western group to play in the dictatorship of North Korea.

Chess masters, giraffes and arms dealers

Other eye-catching films from the international selection include Tower, an exploration of a 1966 campus shooting in Texas that combines archive footage and animation, and Tokyo Idols, about young girls in Japan who court celebrity and the middle-aged men who worship them.

Highlights from the national selection include Shadow World (pictured), an exploration of the international arms trade by the always inspiring Flemish director Johan Grimonprez (Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, Double Take). Andrew Feinstein, the author of the book behind the film, will speak after the screening.

Closer to home there is Stille wildernis (Silent Wilderness) by Mathijs Vleugels, a poetic account of a Flemish couple whose adopted son disappeared in Hungary 13 years ago, leaving an unfillable gap in their lives. And Grands travaux by Olivia Rochette and Gerard-Jan Claes, which takes us inside the troubled Instituut Anneessens-Funck, a Dutch-speaking vocational school in central Brussels.

Last year we had sold-out screenings with entire empty rows in the cinema because of the first rays of sunlight

- An De Winter of Docville

Also keep an eye out for Stranger in Paradise, by young Dutch director Guido Hendrikx, in which Flemish actor Valentijn Dhaenens (Albert II) confronts refugees arriving in Lampedusa with the hard truth of what awaits them in Europe and what Europeans think about them. Set entirely in a classroom, this genre-crossing documentary has a strong flavour of Lars Von Trier.

More traditional films with social themes appear in the Conscience section. All Governments Lie looks at independent journalism in the US, from IF Stone in the 1950s up to Michael Moore and Glenn Greenwald in the present. Free Lunch Society investigates the idea of universal basic income, while Waiting for Giraffes recounts the struggle to repopulate a zoo in the Israeli-occupied territories.

The festival also has a focus on food, with films on exotic fruit hunters and wine fraud, amongst others, complemented by debates, tastings (wine, fruit, BBQ) and cooking workshops. Other activities include virtual reality films, a speed-chess session for kids – after a screening of Magnus, about a Norwegian chess prodigy – and a performance by tribute band Glitterpaard following The Sad and Beautiful World of Sparklehorse.

22-30 March, across Leuven