Why do violent and sometimes deadly initiation rituals persist in the Belarussian army? What did the Taliban do with $7 billion worth of American military equipment? Who owns the ocean depths? What makes someone male or female? These are some of the questions explored at the Verzió Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, held from 22–29 November, in Budapest and six other cities across Hungary. The 20th edition of the Verzió will present an exceptionally rich program, with more than 80 films and a fresh visual identity that aligns with this year’s theme: Where are We Headed? Ticket sales for both cinema screenings and the Online Verzió have already begun.
Verzió has presented human dignity and common social issues through international and Hungarian documentary films for twenty years in Hungary. The 20th anniversary edition of Verzió offers an incredibly diverse program, taking viewers on a virtual journey through more than 40 countries, with the help of 80 films.
This special anniversary has provided an opportunity for Verzió to undergo a visual identity makeover. This year’s films continue the tradition of provoking contemplation about the future, the human values we wish to preserve, and things we would like to change. Hence, Verzió’s fresh visual identity is built on the triad of the past-present-future. It places us on a timeline and poses the question: Where are we headed?
“Documentary films heighten our emotional engagement with their protagonists and help us reflect on the many ways of seeing the world. Knowing the past and understanding the present, we can better grasp where we are headed and contribute to navigating the path” – says Oksana Sarkisova, festival director.
Verzió’s selection of films have provided valuable insight for 20 years. They have invited us to explore different layers of reality, and to become closer to the diversity and unity of our world, both globally and locally. They have helped us understand our position in the world and where we are headed. This year will prove no different.
From intersex individuals to the Norwegian forests, from Bengali weavers to deep-sea mining, this year’s festival delves into the most pressing international and domestic human rights issues. While these themes could easily be incorporated into fictional film adaptations, it’s their reality that truly sets these films apart. Seven fresh, new works will be showcased in the Hungarian competition program, and more than 80 films will be available for viewing in five competitive categories and seven thematic sections.
HERE’S A SNEAK PEEK AT SOME OF THIS YEAR’S MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS!
Fairy Garden, directed by Gergő Somogyvári, portrays the daily lives of two people who have escaped society and now live in a forest near Budapest. Fanni, a 19-year-old transgender teenager ostracized by her family, and Laci, a tough former factory worker, attempt to create a family and a home with their version of a father-daughter relationship. This intimate film, making its debut at the Verzió Film Festival, tells a unique coming-of-age story about the importance of human relationships and unconditional acceptance.
The festival’s opening film, We Will Not Fade Away, directed by Alisa Kovalenko, made its debut at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and was nominated for the Silver Bear in the Generation Section. The young protagonists reach the threshold of adulthood in the Donetsk Basin, but dream of conquering the world. They rebel, ride waves of adventure, walk through minefields, and sunbathe by a nearby lake. An opportunity arises for them to embark on a long journey to Nepal. Will their dream of conquering the world come true?
The director of Five Seasons of the Revolution went underground to document the Syrian revolution using a variety of pseudonyms: she’s Lina in Damascus, Maya when she’s a war correspondent in Homs, and Lama in Aleppo. Lina records her thoughts and memories in smuggled videos as she and her friends become more deeply involved in the fight for freedom, and she repeatedly returns to the frontlines. The film spans an entire decade and tells Lina’s story across various historical shifts and forces. It was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Ibrahim Nash’at’s film Hollywoodgate is another daring piece of cinema; it follows the Taliban in Afghanistan for one year as they seize a weapons depot left behind by the Americans, and transform from a fundamentalist militia into a heavily-armed military regime.
The International Competition includes Motherland, a powerful film about “dedovschina,” a state-directed, military initiation ceremony that employs the same mechanisms of fear and control used to suppress the general population. Increasingly dissatisfied, the violent abuse, torture, and killings taking place in the military are a breaking point for Belarusians.
The Anthropocene Section features films that address our planet. The Song of Earth, where the Norwegian highlands provide the backdrop for a magical journey, is one example. In this lyrical film, director Margreth Olin sets out into the infinite wilderness with her elderly parents, demonstrating how the environment resonates with humans’ inner being.
In the same section, Deep Rising explores the unknown consequences of deep-sea mining. Narrated by Jason Momoa, the film sheds light on the crucial relationship between the ocean depths and the survival of terrestrial life from geopolitical, scientific, and corporate perspectives.
The Golden Thread, directed by Nishtha Jain, is presented in the Labor Section. Beautifully composed images capture the last moments of Bengal’s jute production, which, with its ancient weaving machines, century-old weaving mills, and a minimum wage equivalent to $250 per month, has barely changed since the golden age of the industrial revolution.
Tünde Skovrán’s film Who I Am Not makes its debut in the Student and Debut Competition. Sharon-Rose Khumalo, a South African beauty queen, faces an identity crisis when she learns she is intersex. An intersex activist living as a man is the only person willing to help her. The two parallel but diverging stories provide an up-close look at what it’s like for those who belong to both or neither gender to live in a world divided into men and women.
Alongside the latest award-winning films, Verzió presents experimental works that showcase the diversity of genres within documentary filmmaking. The Vector VR 2023 program is a perfect example of this with the way in which it delves into modes of sensory perception, understanding, and interaction. The Vector VR section showcases works that explore life situations through the VR medium with even greater impact. The selected productions examine the long-term effects of environmental change, and analyze the mechanisms of violence.
The festival also includes professional programs, such as the Young Critics Workshop and the DocLab Story Development and Editing Workshop. Interested individuals can find more details on the festival’s website.
The festival also offers free-of-charge programs: the Verzió Specials section, the films of Budapest Faces and Places, and retrospective screenings of director Peter Nestler’s works will be free, but registration is required.
As part of the Budapest: Faces and Places section, documentary films on the theme of Budapest will be screened in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Pest, Buda, and Óbuda. The section presents documentaries from the last fifty years that portray moments, memories, and visions of Budapest, bringing the cities, films, and documentary stories closer to the audience.
INTERNATIONAL GUESTS OF THE FESTIVAL
Audiences will have the opportunity to meet film directors in the International Competition program. Alisa Kovalenko, the director of the opening film, will be present at the festival. Her previous film, Home Match has been featured in over 100 festival programs, including the 2018 Verzió, and has won numerous awards. At the 2022 IDFA Forum, she presented a project supported by Chicken & Egg Pictures and Netflix, based on footage shot during time she spent on the Ukrainian war front. Verzió audiences can watch her We Will Not Fade Away, which premiered at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, and was nominated for the Silver Bear and Best Documentary Film awards in the Generation section. A collective portrait of a younger generation, the film focuses on Ukrainian teenagers filled with dreams and questions, threatened by the imminent presence of war, yet capable of recognizing and celebrating the fragile beauty of life.
Ibrahim Nash’at, the creator of the film Hollywoodgate, will also be a festival guest. The film follows the Taliban for a year in Afghanistan, as they seize a weapons depot left by the Americans and transform into a heavily-armed military regime.
In recent years, Pascale Bourgaux has been filming conflicts and crises in the Middle East. Accompanying the festival is her film, Hawar, Our Banished Children, which explores the story of Yazidi women forced into sex slavery by the Islamic State in 2014. The film follows a Yazidi mother who secretly crosses the Kurdish border to reunite with her daughter, whom she hasn’t seen for four years.
Peter Nestler, director, screenwriter, and producer, is one of the most unique and important documentary filmmakers in post-war German cinema. At this year’s Verzió, Budapest will have the opportunity to meet the director in person and in a retrospective of eight short films presented in three loosely connected, interrelated blocks.
You can watch Verzió films at the Toldi and Corvin Cinemas in Budapest, 22–29 November, while a selection of films will be screened in various cities outside the capital, including Szeged, Szombathely, Debrecen, Kecskemét, Miskolc, and Pécs. The festival’s online film archive, Verziotheque, will be open from 30 November to 10 December for those who wish to join Verzió 20 online.
For more information, click here.
As we wrote in October, a Hungarian film bags two prestigious awards in the USA, details HERE.
Even though Hungary is just a small country in Eastern Europe, it has provided many talented individuals. We could make a long list of famous Hungarians who were outstanding in various fields. Now, let’s take a closer look at some Hungarians who were celebrated all over the world. Read more HERE.
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