The movies competing for the Millennium Bank Award (Grand Prix) during this year’s Millennium Docs Against Gravity take the audiences on a journey of many interpersonal encounters, keeping in line with this year’s festival motto: “Out of tenderness toward the world”. The 2020 Main Competition showcases 13 exceptional films; 7 of their directors are male and 8 are female. We’re extremely glad to see that equality in documentary filmmaking is growing and female directors outnumber the males in the Main Competition.
The hybrid festival will be held from September 4 to 18 in seven cities: Warsaw, Wrocław, Gdynia, Katowice, Poznań, Lublin, and Bydgoszcz; 2020 is the first year that Millennium Docs Against Gravity will take place in these last three cities. The online section of MDAG will be available from September 19 to October 4. 2020 also marks 15 years of our continuing partnership with Millennium Bank, the principal sponsor of the festival!
This year’s Main Competition features several productions depicting strong women standing up to a frequently hostile and violent environment: from Laura Herrero Gavin’s “La Mami”, showing the lives of dancers in the Mexican Barba Azul Cabaret, through “For Sama” by Waad Al-Khateab and Edward Watts, which follows the protagonist fighting for two lives—her own and that of her daughter’s—in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, to Małgorzata Goliszewska and Katarzyna Mateja’s “Lessons of Love”, the story of 69-year-old Jola beginning her life anew after leaving a toxic relationship. “The Painter and the Thief” examines an intriguing relationship between the protagonist and the man who stole her paintings: when Barbora Kysilkova finds out two of her works had been stolen from the gallery, she shows up at the court hearing and, fascinated by the thief’s personality, invites him to sit for a portrait. Agnieszka Zwiefka’s “Scars” follows Vetrichelvi, who joined the Sri Lankan terrorist organization Tamil Tigers at 17; having left the group, the woman is now trying to make a place for herself in the real world.
The winding paths of adolescence
The story of Vetrichelvi’s growing up in the difficult reality of the Sri Lankan civil war is not the only tale of the challenges of adolescence in this year’s Main Competition at Millennium Docs Against Gravity. The protagonist of Irina Tsilyk’s “The Earth is Blue as an Orange” is also growing up under the shadow of war and strife: born to a family living on the front lines in the Donbass region of Ukraine, the teenage girl shoots her own movie to apply to film school while bombs fall and chaos reigns outside. In “Punks” by Maasja Ooms, neither families nor schools can cope with a group of adolescent boys; a period of supervised isolation on a farm in France is their only chance at rejoining society. In “Adolescents”, Sébastien Lifshitz follows the lives of two French teenagers: Emma and Anaïs seem to have nothing in common—from social background to personality traits—yet they’re best friends since childhood. One was born to a wealthy family; the other grows up in challenging circumstances. The movie covers their radical transformation from the age of 13 to 18.
Facing the forces of nature
Nada, a Sherpa from Nepal, is the father of a teenage boy. Determined to provide his son with an education, he decides to accompany renowned European climbers to an expedition to Kumbhakarna, a peak sacred to the Sherpas, breaking a religious taboo. Will the climbers reach the summit despite difficult weather conditions? Discover the dramatic conclusion to this tale in Eliza Kubarska’s “The Wall of Shadows”. Another powerful force of nature touched the town of Paradise, which was razed to the ground in 2018 by the deadliest fire in the history of California. Academy Award recipient Ron Howard visited the site and created “Rebuilding Paradise”: a story of people fighting for their home as well as a look at the destructive human activities behind this environmental tragedy.
The dark side of politics
Three films in the Main Competition cover the dark sides of political activities which can be just as destructive as the fire in Paradise. “Welcome to Chechnya” by David France is a detailed look at the systemic extermination of LGBT+ people organized by Chechnyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov. The world had first heard of this unbelievable purge in 2017; the filmmakers risked their lives accompanying people who had to immediately flee their homeland in order to survive. Sergei Lozhnitsa’s “State Funeral” takes the viewers back to 1953 with archival footage showing the funeral of Joseph Stalin, one of the worst criminals in the history of humankind. The breathtaking footage, much of it shot in color and never screened before, transports the viewer to the very heart of Stalin’s personality cult. Propaganda and its influence on society is also the topic of Hubert Sauper’s “Epicentro” shot in the streets of Havana: as people of all ages share their views on living in a colonized country and their internal freedom despite heavy political sanctions, the director crafts an intriguing, metaphorical portrait of postcolonial, “Utopian” Cuba.
The complete list of entrants in the Main Competition:
France 2019, 78 min.
Directed by: Sébastien Lifshitz
Poland, Netherlands 2019, 79 min.
Directed by: Agnieszka Zwiefka
Great Britain 2019, 100 min.
Directed by: Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts
Lessons of Love
Poland 2019, 72 min.
Directed by: Małgorzata Goliszewska, Kasia Mateja
Austria, USA, France 2019, 107 min.
Directed by: Hubert Sauper
Mexico, Spain 2019, 80 min.
Directed by: Laura Herrero Garvin
The Wall of Shadows
Poland, Germany, Switzerland 2020, 90 min.
Directed by: Eliza Kubarska
Netherlands 2019, 92 min.
Directed by: Maasja Ooms
Welcome to Chechnya
USA 2020, 170 min.
Directed by: David France
Netherlands, Litauen 2019, 135 min.
Directed by: Sergei Lozhnitsa
USA 2020, 95 min.
Directed by: Ron Howard
The Earth is Blue as an Orange
Litauen, Ukraine 2020, 74 min.
Directed by: Iryna Tsilyk
The Painter and the Thief
Norway 2020, 102 min.
Directed by: Benjamin Ree