The 16th edition of Beldocs Intl. Documentary Film Festival has awarded its top prizes to “ThIIIrd,” from Lebanese helmer Karim Kassim, in the International Competition Program, and Tijana Petrović’s “A Field Guide to Coastal Fortifications” in the Serbian competition program.
“ThIIIrd” is set in an auto repair shop in Lebanon, which is a haven for people to express their growing despair amidst the economic collapse that surrounds them.
Fest was generally applauded for strong competition selections that, according to the event’s programmer Igor Stanojević, put a special focus on visually striking films and fresh expressions by new authors with around 100 films across 12 programs, including nine world premieres, and a notable presence of female directors.
In the Serbian Competition, Luka Papić and Srđa Vučo’s doc “Invoked” scooped the award for best editing while “Aurora’s Dream” from director Dragana Jovanović picked up the prize for best cinematography.
In the International Competition, the Franco-Belgian doc “Adieu Savuage” from helmer Sergio Guataquira Sarmiento earned the special mention while “Budapest Silo” by Zsófia Paczolay garnered a nod for best short doc, and the “Ardent Other” from director Alice Brygo received a special award.
Finally, accepting the Eurimages Audentia Award for “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood,” Estonian helmer Anna Hints teared up and encouraged the audience to embrace their emotions and vulnerability, dedicating the award to The Sisterhood that has stood by her during all the seven years it took her to make the film. “We shouldn’t apologize for what we feel in our hearts, and for our experiences. We need to have the courage to share it, and to listen, above all. This is only possible in a safe environment. ‘Smoke Sauna Sisterhood’ presents a safe environment where vulnerability can truly be felt, and that transcends all boundaries and cultures… It was brave to bare both body and soul.”
In that sense, fest chief Mara Prohaska Marković reflected on Beldocs’ international recognition for its contribution to the field of female-led filmmaking, reflected primarily in a greater presence of female directors in the event’s competition programs and retrospectives, as well as numerous panel discussions, industry activities and program specials dedicated to current events. “This year’s festival program had 53 films directed by woman, out of a total of 105, and in terms of all the sections of the Beldocs Industry program, the scale was 61% in favor of women,” she tells Variety.
The event’s industry arm, Beldocs Industry Days, dedicated to the distribution of European films through the promotion of collaborations and co-productions between professionals from Western Balkan countries, Baltic States, South Caucasus countries and Western Europe, featured training and project development workshops for young talents, presentations of documentary film projects at the Beldocs Pitching Forum, panels and masterclasses.
The top prize in the Beldocs Pitching Forum, the Aljazeera Balkans Award, accompanied by a cash prize of €2,000 ($2,152), went to “At the Door of the House Who Will Come Knocking” from Serbian director and producer Maja Novaković (Cineseedlings), which also picked up the Forgrade Post-Production Award that includes full color correction and mastering services.
A host of other prizes were awarded to some of the 18 projects selected for both the Docs in Progress and Docs in Development strands of Beldocs Industry Days. The Thessaloniki Intl. Documentary Festival Award, which offers accommodation and accreditation for the 2024 edition of the festival went to “Bitter Sugar” from Georgian director Ana Barjadze and producer Irina Gelashvili (Radium Films). The DAE – Documentary Association of Europe Talent Encouragement Award, which includes consultation and free memberships in the pan-European documentary organization, went to “Where Do Butterflies Sleep” from Slovenian director Simona Jerala. The Pitch the Doc Award went to “Colors in My Eye” from Serbian director Dragana Latinović and producer Duška Latas (Zid Production). The Pitch the Doc Award – Special Mention went to “Divia” from Ukrainian director Dmytro Hreshko and producers Polina Herman and Anastasia Pugach (UP UA STUDIO). The East Silver Caravan Award, which includes one-year festival distribution support, went to “Heart Don’t Be Afraid” from Georgian director Ana Kvichidze and producer Mariam Bitsadze (17/07 Productions). The Dok Leipzig XR Award went to “I Am a Cavern of Blood in the Shape of a Mind” from Croatian director Gaia Radić.
The fest closed with a screening of Rennè Miskolci and Bojan Vinulović’s doc “Gru is Here” about Gru, a pioneer of the Serbian Rap scene.
Fest’s artistic director, Marko Grba Singh, lauded the vitality of the Serbian doc scene that emerged after the dissolution of Yugoslavia and that has now yielded, in spite of a war-torn past and present difficulties, a crop of bold emerging voices with a prominent presence on the international festival circuit, such as Mila Turajlić (“The Other Side of Everything”), Ognjen Glavonić (“Depth Two”) and Marta Popivoda (“Landscapes of Resistance”).
“The authors integrate the Yugoslav experience, a review of the trauma of the country’s disintegration with a look into the present, which unfortunately is not bright at all. On that side, I think that domestic authors are very brave because, in addition to the problems that go with every film shooting, they have to deal with many more troubles and objections that are not related to the production itself. Traumatic pasts, dystopian present and uncertain future,” he observes.