DOK Leipzig: Documentaries against ignorance | Film | DW | 29.10.2015
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DOK Leipzig: Documentaries against ignorance

Documentary films are gaining popularity worldwide, but this festival in Leipzig is the one with the longest tradition - and its social and political mission is more essential than ever.

Founded in 1955, the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film - shortened to DOK Leipzig - is the oldest documentary festival in the world. Right from the start, animated films were part of the program and it now includes web documentaries and cross media art.

Held for the 58th time this year from October 26 to November 1, 2015, the festival includes 12 special programs, over 300 films and 60 interactive works from 62 countries. This year's theme is "Borders and Identities."

Clashing identities

Leipzig is renowned for its pivotal role in redefining Germany's borders and is still in the process of finding its new identity.

In 1989, the weekly protests in the East German city initiated a movement which would spread and lead to the fall of the Wall.

Now, the festival itself stands for diversity and tolerance, yet its organizers were confronted with a more prejudiced side of the city, as an anti-Islam LEGIDA demonstration was held on the opening night of the festival.

"No matter how loud they shout, they do not represent the atmosphere in Leipzig," said festival director Leena Pasanen, reacting to their presence in the streets.

Migration, past and present

The documentaries shown at DOK Leipzig offer a welcome alternative to this mindset.

The opening film, "Time Will Tell" (pictured above), is the sixth part of Andreas Voigt's "Leipzig-cycle." It portrays people who originally came from Leipzig and moved on with their lives, landing all over Germany. It's a film which goes beyond the usual stereotypes about post-reunification.

While these former citizens of East Germany can be considered economic migrants, the current global crisis which is drawing countless refugees to Europe and Germany is also a focus of the festival this year.

Film still The Longest Run - Copyright: DOK Leipzig 2015

"The Longest Run": Yasim and Alsaleh are underage refugees in a Greek prison

In-depth refugee stories

Among the films which explore these issues is "Lampedusa in Winter" by Jakob Brossman. The Austrian filmmaker observed the chaotic situation on the small Italian island of Lampedusa, reached by many refugees when they cross the Mediterranean.

"The longest run," by the Greek film director Marianna Economou, shows the fate of two underage refugees from Syria and Iraq who were captured at the Turkish-Greek border. They are accused of human trafficking, as they were forced by the actual smugglers to guide a group of refugees across the border - while the organizers of the scheme could stay hidden.

Documentaries to heal ignorance

Documentaries and animated films compete together for the "Golden Dove" award, which will be given out at the end of the festival. The festival offers altogether 75,000 euros (over $82,000) in prizes, with special awards granted for films about working conditions and democracy.

But beyond the competition, this film festival plays an essential social role. As the director Leena Pasanen said on the opening night of DOK Leipzig, documentaries are the best way to heal ignorance.

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