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Emmanuel Manny Durant in 17 BLOCKS by Davy Rothbart
Emmanuel Manny Durant in 17 BLOCKS by Davy Rothbart

The documentary competition at the 54th Karlovy Vary IFF will feature eight world and three European premieres. The selection includes Marc Schmidt’s In the Arms of Morpheus and Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11, compiled using unique archival footage from the first mission to the Moon’s surface. The renewed festival interest in Chinese cinema is illustrated by two films about the transformation of Chinese society: While The Fading Village shows the decline of the countryside, Confucian Dream focuses on the urban population’s exaggerated return to traditional ways of life.

In Spoon, Latvia’s icon of world documentary Laila Pakalnina creates a portrait of the paradoxical contradiction between the long production process and short lifespan of an ordinary piece of plastic – entirely without words but with a subtle sense of humor. Award-winning Czech documentarian Martin Mareček returns with his intimate road movie Over the Hills.


17 Blocks / 17 Blocks / Sedmnáct bloků

Director: Davy Rothbart
USA, 2018, 97 min, European premiere

The moment nine-year-old Emmanuel received his first video camera in 1999, he began to shoot a chronicle of the Sanford family, warts and all. Ten years later, filmmaker and journalist Davy Rothbart uses his material to tell a disarming tale from Washington, D.C., where the streets are ruled by poverty and violence just seventeen blocks from the Capitol.

Apollo 11 / Apollo 11 / Apollo 11

Director: Todd Douglas Miller
USA, 2019, 93 min, European premiere

Fifty years after the first lunar landing, NASA has opened up its extensive archives and released previously unseen material of amazing audiovisual quality, including a 70mm film of the launch from Cape Canaveral and intimate footage of the otherworldly calm that prevailed in the lunar module. The nine-day mission becomes more than just Armstrong’s iconic “giant leap for mankind,” growing instead into a fascinating space odyssey.

Chun Qu Dong Lai / The Fading Village / Mizející vesnice

Director: Liu Feifang
China, 2019, 172 min, World premiere

Unlike the other young people in their forlorn mountain village, Hou Junli has remained with his family instead of leaving for the city. The dilapidated houses continue to resist the snow and rain, but how long will this place exist if there is nobody left to carry on local work and traditions? A long-term observational documentary about a difficult life and the love of one’s native soil.

Dálava / Over the Hills / Dálava

Director: Martin Mareček
Czech Republic, 2019, 76 min, World premiere

Father and son Vít and Grisha travel to Russia to visit the boy’s mother and sister. Why did their previously harmonious family split in two? A documentary road movie about the distance between two Slavic countries, the difficulties of fatherhood and puberty, and the alienation between people who should, in theory, be the closest of all.

Giù dal vivo / Up to Down / Na okraji

Director: Nazareno Manuel Nicoletti
Italy, 2019, 74 min, World premiere

Naples. City of the unbowed, but also of madmen and paupers, which refuses to lick anyone’s boots, let alone stoop to pretense. This documentary bad trip takes us on a tour of the city’s dismal suburbs and into the homes of the marginalized and rejected: a man, a girl, and a masked boxer – three protagonists yearning for something else, although they’re not quite sure what.

In de armen van Morpheus / In the Arms of Morpheus / V náruči Morfeově

Director: Marc Schmidt
Netherlands, 2019, 82 min, World premiere

What happens behind closed eyes when we lose consciousness and give ourselves over to dreams? How is our perception of reality changed when the line between waking and sleeping is blurred? Let yourself be taken to a place where the rational laws of daily life do not apply.

Karote / Spoon / Lžička

Director: Laila Pakalniņa
Latvia, Norway, Lithuania, 2019, 65 min, World premiere

The plastic spoon was able to feign harmless unimportance until the moment Laila Pakalniņa, a distinctive international documentary filmmaker, cast her piercing glance its way. Her wordless film, whose humor arises from the surprising possibilities cinema has to offer, sings a dirge for this ornament of our bloated civilization: a piece of cheap plastic that will likely soon fade into history.

Kongzi meng / Confucian Dream / Konfuciánský sen

Director: Mijie Li
China, 2019, 85 min, European premiere

In rapidly developing China, the educational system is geared toward producing competitive and productive workers, but not all parents want to teach their children to devote their life to work. Confucian Dream is the story of a mother looking for the right kind of alternative education that will take into account her son’s moral development.

Panorama / Projectionist / Panorama

Director: Yuriy Shylov
Ukraine, Poland, 2019, 70 min, World premiere

Valentin is over sixty and has spent more than forty years working at Kiev’s oldest cinema. You don’t have to twist his arm to go out drinking and dancing – the eccentric man simply ignores his age. But as with everyone else, life puts new obstacles in his way that he must overcome.

Síðasta haustið / The Last Autumn / Poslední podzim

Director: Yrsa Roca Fannberg
Iceland, 2019, 78 min, World premiere

If the world has an edge, then it is almost certainly visible from Iceland. On the outermost cape, beyond which there is only the inhospitable Arctic sea, lies a farm belonging to Úlfar and his wife. This autumn will be the last time their grandchildren come from the city to drive the sheep back down from the hills. An almost tangible cinematic fabric that weaves a tale of an abandoned place where the mist clings to the steel-blue surface of the sea and where the occasional human visitor is sometimes welcome.

Surematu / Immortal / Nesmrtelní

Director: Ksenia Okhapkina
Estonia, Latvia, 2019, 60 min, World premiere

How do the mechanisms of political power directly influence the lives of a country’s inhabitants? In seeking an answer to this difficult question, this cinematic essay looks at everyday life in a small Russian industrial city, uncovering along the way how dangerous and furtive an all-permeating ideology can be.

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