Hot Docs, the new face of Europe offers a glimpse of the continent in flux

The Changing Face of Europe program, presented by European Film Promotion (EFP) in collaboration with Hot Docs Canadian Intl. The documentary festival reflects a changing continent, as displacement, immigration, cultural change and the coronavirus pandemic have all played a distinct role in prompting millions of people to rethink and reinvent what it means to live in Europe today.

The fourth edition of the program, which runs online from April 29 to May 9, features 10 documentaries, including two world premieres, one international and four North American. The films were nominated by EFP’s 38 member organizations, which include film promotion institutions from across the continent, before Hot Docs’ programming team made the final selection. The initiative is supported by the Creative Europe – MEDIA program of the European Union and participating member organizations of VET.

“For the public, but also for distributors, [the program] gives you an excellent picture of what is happening in Europe right now, ”says Sonja Heinen, Director General of EFP. In addition to screenings, The Changing Face of Europe connects directors and producers with major festival distributors, buyers and programmers via virtual one-on-one encounters during Hot Docs. “It really is a great place to meet the international documentary industry,” adds Heinen.

A few years in recent memory have offered a better glimpse of a Europe in transition, as the coronavirus pandemic – which plagued northern Italy last winter before sweeping the continent – turned everyday life upside down millions of people already grappling with the effects of immigration, climate change, Brexit, a rightward shift in national politics and the transformations brought about by globalization and the digital age.

While countless filmmakers over the past year have strived to capture the strangeness and uncertainty of life during the pandemic, Italian director Andrea Segre was among the first to bring this experience to the screen. in “Molecules,” last year’s pre-opening film. Venice Film Festival.

Segre had arrived in Venice last February to research two separate projects on a city transformed by mass tourism and climate change, when the pandemic began to sweep Italy. While Saint Mark’s Square was emptying of tourists and the waters of the Grand Canal came to a standstill, he “realized with my camera that I was filming something incredible,” says the director. Variety. “I didn’t know why I was filming, what I was following…[but] I realized that I was filming something that I couldn’t control.

Amid the stillness and silence of a closed city, Segre’s mind returned to the memories of his father, a calm and reserved molecular biologist who grew up in Venice. “Molecules” has become a study not only of the relationship between the director and his late father, but of “the relationship between life and disease, life and death” and human frailty in what he describes as ” the most fragile city in the world. “

The result was transformative for the director. “If you go into that kind of process, into that kind of experience, something’s out of control happens to you,” Segre says. “The doors open in directions that you cannot imagine, that you cannot control or prevent.”

Something less unexpected happened when Zdenka, a single woman in the Czech Republic, met Tabish, a computer scientist in Pakistan, while playing the online video game FarmVille. The romance blossomed, and their evolving relationship – along with the myriad obstacles it had to overcome – became the subject of “A Marriage,” by Czech filmmaker Katerina Hager and Pakistani co-director Asad Faruqi, who has its world premiere at Hot Docs.

“When we started making this film in 2017, I could really feel the xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment rising in the Czech Republic,” Hager says. This gave urgency to the documentary portrait of the directors of a unique and intimate relationship. “The images presented by the mass media of immigrants flooding or invading Europe are often very dehumanizing and the stories and struggles of individuals are lost.”

As their online romance blossomed, Zdenka and Tabish arranged to meet and get married in Sri Lanka. But for the next five years, the Czech government repeatedly rejected Tabish’s visa applications – decisions that echoed the wider backlash against immigrants across much of Europe in recent years. The couple nevertheless kept their love alive via Skype, persevering in the hope that they would one day be reunited.

“In the digital age, we are now more connected than ever and this is redefining the way we exist as a species,” says Faruqi. “I believe it is unique stories, like that of Zdenka and Tabish, that will reshape the world of our future.” The production itself, which took place on three continents, sometimes in the midst of a global pandemic, was nonetheless a testament to the way we live today. “Either way, we’re proof that technology allows us today to connect with people halfway around the world and build authentic relationships,” says Hager.

Interconnection is also at the heart of “The New Plastic Road”, by the Greek director duo Myrto Papadopoulos and Angelos Tsaousis, which traces the transformation brought about by the reopening in 2004 of the legendary Silk Road in Central Asia. Shot in the rugged border areas between China and Tajikistan, the film explores how this remote region became a crossroads of modern capitalism, globalization and geopolitics, through the story of a local businessman, Davlat, who is banking on a better future for his family.

“We were looking for international topics [about places] who were sort of facing a change, because we felt we were facing a change in our country at the time, ”says Papadopoulos, who conceived the story with Tsaousis ten years ago, while Greece was grappling with the upheavals caused by the global financial situation. crisis.

“This very local story of Davlat is a universal story,” says Tsaousis. “In the years to come, we will see what happened in Tajikistan, in the Pamir mountains, will start to happen elsewhere.” This change is happening “even in Greece”, he adds, where the main port is mostly owned by the Chinese company Cosco Shipping. “Similar stories are happening around the world.”

In the case of “Welcome to Spain” by Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Moreno Amador, stories from all over the world are found in Seville’s last brothel, which the local government has converted into a refugee reception center. Amador spent two years getting to know the residents of the center as they adjusted to their new life in Spain, battling the language and culture barrier while pursuing their dreams of a better life.

“We find it hard to see beyond, to see humans, their conflicts, their contradictions, their emotions and their feelings, which are, after all, universal,” says Amador. Variety. If “Welcome to Spain” – as with many films selected for The Changing Face of Europe – is sometimes a portrayal of conflicts and cultural differences, the director says it also underlines our common humanity.

“Anyone can be a refugee. At the end of the day, we are all running from something, we have fears and hope and we want the best for our children, ”says Amador. “We are all the same species, we are just human beings and we can relate to each other.”

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