A Subjective Guide to CPH:DOX

by Fie

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Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, or CPH:DOX, invades Copenhagen this week. It’s a massive program so filled to the brim with audiovisual treats that it’s already spilling over with several warm-up parties, pre-opening events and screenings from the beginning of October. But now we've arrived at the main event. The program kicks off today, Thursday, the 1st of November, and that means more than a week of wild excess for lovers of documentary film.

What do you do with a lavish table full of delicious treats and exciting new exotic spicy dishes you’re dying to try out? How do you approach the abundance? How to choose? Where to start? That’s how I feel about this year’s CPH:DOX program. It’s overwhelming in volume and spans from one far end of the universe to the other, covering all sorts of exciting stuff that I really wanna know more about.

After much excited and joyfull distress, I’ve decided to just follow my gut and go with the flow. To go and boldly experience whatever attracts me the most, be it French maximalism, the history of disco or micro-blogging Chinese activists fighting for freedom of speech. I’ve given up on all my systematic priority lists and I’m now jumping right in to the colorful whirl of documentaries, art house films, events, concerts, and talks, that DOX offers this year. I’m pretty sure that I’m gonna miss out on some good stuff at the expense of other good stuff, but I also trust that there’s never gonna be a dull moment.

However, this doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to offer you some kind of overview, dear readers, of the AIAIAI blog – some of whom may even be lucky enough to find yourselves in Copenhagen in the near vicinity of a DOX-venue. Those of you who are not so fortunate, can use this as a guide to what new documentaries you should be on the outlook for in the near future as DOX’s program contains the newest and most interesting from the world of established, celebrated documentarists as well as the world of the aspiring and the obscure.

DOX is ambitious as hell and it shows in the program. It spills over at the brim with films and events and the effort to categorise this cornucopia is a quest in its own right. CPH:DOX has six competitions running as threads through the program, and at the end of next week, six awards are given to the best documentaries in their categories. There are also a number of special focus areas in the program. More than 200 documentary films are shown in the theatres of Copenhagen during the course of the next 11 days. And film as a media is not the limit. DOX also stands for live events and there’s a strong focus on the audio-visual experience, as the festival offers 16 live performances.

Here are a few picks from the selection of docu-experiences CPH:DOX can broaden your horizon with this week:

1. Hits:
Go see what’s on every documentary-loving film enthusiast’s lips these days. DOX picks out a series of international bestsellers among new documentary film. If I have to pick one in this category it has to be This ain’t California by German Marten Perspiel, a self-biographic docu about a group of kids in the 1980s in East Germany who became skaters and filmed it all on 8mm.

2. Maximalism:
Radical openness. No limits. Everything is put to the max and promoted to an ’-ism’ that captures a little of everything. No rules seem to apply other than ”more is more”. I’m looking forward to be hurled into an unpredictable mind-expanding aesthetic chaos. My personal choice among the maximalist features of DOX’s program is Holy Motors - a long awaited, award-winning experimental explosion from Leos Carax, who is probably best known for ”Les Amants du Pont-Neuf” from 1991.

3. Sound & Vision:
One of the awards DOX gives out this year, is for films that skillfully balance storytelling with the potential of sound and vision. I wouldn’t for the life of me miss out on the exclusive chance of an audience with Monsieur Gainsbourg in Gainsbourg by Gainsbourg: An Intimate Self-portrait.
In the live audio-visual department, I feel an uncontrollable urge to be present, when Dirty Beaches perform live at the world-premiere of Evan Prosofsky’s maximalist mini-documentary Waterpark at Kunsthal Charlottenborg.

4. India Unreal:
How does Indian documentarism anno 2012 look, feel and sound? See for yourself, as DOX exposes a series of new documentaries from the world’s largest democracy and most film-producing country. I want to see the double-feature ”I am micro” and ”Fried fish, chicken soup and a premiere show”- a combi that tells a political manifest and at the same time gratifies nostalgic, film-geeky inclinations.

5. New:Vision:
Another DOX-award goes out to films in the intersection between film and visual arts. Nominee Leviathan intrigues me because of its label alone – ”documentary horror film” - and also by the fact that the film consists of 87 min. of footage shot onboard a fishing trawler mid-sea at night, with small cameras installed everywhere on the boat.

And this is only a selection! There’s so much more in store at CPH:DOX 2012. The festival had its grand ceremonial opening on Tuesday with a gala screening of The Act of Killing. This is the absurd story of Indonesian mass-murderes who proudly re-enact their participation in genocide.

DOX ends with a party! Animal Collective gives a colourful audiovisual live show at the National Gallery (Statens Museum for Kunst) like they did – rather brilliantly - at DOX 2010. Two years ago, the performance was divided into individual performances from the band members, but this year the group give a united performance. Don’t miss it. I know I won’t.

Speaking of parties, I shouldn’t end this post without wishing DOX a happy birthday, as this is the 10th year of the festival. This does of course call for a celebration and DOX turns their secret disco party into a birthday party at Bremen on Saturday November 10th when we reach midnight with DJ's Synd & Skam, Oliver Hoiness og Pladevennerne in the mix.

Happy watching!