Poland’s documentary festival Millennium Docs Against Gravity is set to finally come of age after postponing its 18th edition due to COVID-19 restrictions, originally slated to take place in May. Once again unspooling in seven different cities between Sept. 3-12, with local authorities sponsoring their own respective awards, the event will then continue online, wrapping on Oct. 3.
“The government’s decision to, so to speak, ‘liberate cinemas’ came too late,” says founder Artur Liebhart, explaining the change. “But we have not given up on our audience, not even for a moment. Most documentary festivals cater to the needs of the industry but to us, the audience and their willingness to participate is the absolute priority.”
The festival’s collaboration with cinemas all over Poland is “based on mutual respect,” says Liebhart, which is why it forgoes the usual hybrid model. “First, we will watch films on 42 screens and only then will we move online,” he adds.
Last year, 65,000 tickets were sold on-site – with 50% seating capacity – and 101,000 for the online edition, rendering it the most popular film event in Polish history, notes Liebhart. Approximately half of the films in the program are sold to Polish broadcasters and VOD services, turning Millennium Docs Against Gravity into “the most effective launching pad for documentary films in Poland,” he adds. The festival, now with its own VOD platform, keeps in touch with the audience throughout the whole year. Overseeing theatrical releases through distribution company Against Gravity, with “I Am Greta” and “Flee” already scheduled for the upcoming season.
Boasting Oscar-nominated filmmaker Agnieszka Holland in the jury, the event will achieve gender parity of 50% for the second time in a row with its main competition, which includes the likes of “Notturno” by Gianfranco Rossi (also celebrated with a retrospective), “The Balcony Movie” by Paweł Lozinski or “Stray” by Elizabeth Lo, with a 55%-45% split between male and female directors in the whole program. Among the many accompanying events, panels and workshops on current affairs, acclaimed Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky will deliver a masterclass, with his latest documentary “Gorbachev. Heaven” also competing for the main award. Mansky’s North Korea-set film “Under the Sun” was awarded at the fest in 2016.
Online audiences will be also encouraged to discover the works of Helena Třeštíková and – after the “Glory to the Queen” screening – viewers will get a chance to challenge Polish Grandmaster Jolanta Zawadzka during a Simuls game. “The world of good documentary cinema is not just about serious topics and politics,” says Liebhart.
This year’s selection still mirrors current tendencies and threats, however, also by introducing brand new sections: investigative “Crime Mysteries @MDAG,” “Life in the Time of a Pandemic,” “The Different Faces of Latin America” and politically charged “DIY Protest,” featuring the likes of “Courage” by Aliaksei Paluyan about the protests in Belarus following the 2020 presidential elections. The environmental theme, especially strong this year, will be initiated with the opening film “I Am Greta,” dedicated to activist superstar Greta Thunberg, as well as workshops welcoming entire families and discussions that go way beyond the showcased films.
“It’s an important part of our mission. A good documentary can contribute to changing the world,” says Liebhart, also referencing this year’s festival motto “The World Is Waking Up,” which doesn’t just apply to the ongoing pandemic.
“There is a huge shift in consciousness happening all over the world,” he adds, mentioning such titles like “7th of August” by Michał Bolland, about the situation of the LGBTQ+ community in Poland, “The 8th,” showing Ireland’s campaign to remove the constitutional ban on abortion or, finally, “White Noise” by Daniel Lombroso about the rise of the alt-right movement.
“He is showing young people who are in love with Trump, thinking he is going to save the world. Thanks to a film like that, we are getting a chance to hang with them for a little bit longer, to get to know them better. It’s important, because it’s not just about facing each other on the opposite sides of the barricades – it’s about trying to understand the other side,” says Liebhart, ensuring that the festival intends to provide its audience with a safe space to discuss even the most controversial topics.
“We’ve been having these kinds of films and discussions for many years now. I don’t think we should expect any danger or any unwanted attention, but we are prepared for them anyway.”