The Burn

“How dare you?” — demanded Greta Thunberg at the UN summit, tears in her eyes as she questioned the older generation’s inability to see and act on a threatening, global climate catastrophe. The video went viral upon release. The reaction to the video gave witness to the urgency of her question; the dramatic split of opinions followed by a distressing wave of aggressive and hateful comments, and a growing intolerance towards the views that challenge one’s comfort and status quo. How indeed is it possible to continue to deny the sheer magnitude of the problems facing humankind? The answer is not simple; beyond sheer ignorance or indifference there is the challenge of grasping the nature of systemic injustice, global profiteering, social irresponsibility, and appreciating the global impact of local actions. What makes abstract concepts visible, comprehensible, palpable? What could possibly cut through the layers of disinformation, manipulation, consumerist sugarcoating fogging people’s vision — what will inspire a search for solutions rather than withdrawal into their private comfort zone? In the age of virtual networks and social bubbles, which outside sources can be trusted?

These questions cannot be answered with any finality. Yet the search for answers leads us to solutions which are not simplistic, but full of complexities we must investigate with empathy and immersion. Several of the journeys toward these answers are included in this year’s program. Our diverse and comprehensive selection includes documentaries that expose problems, as well as those that search for alternative solutions to restore justice, to heal, and to recover. Along with a wide range of films on human rights in the international and student film competitions, Verzió 16 spotlights media and the role(s) it plays in shaping our image of the world, the impact of environmental change on human rights, and the experiences and perspectives of today’s youth whose rights are at stake in the world they inherit from today’s adults.

Opening with a powerful journalistic investigation into the state of the Romanian healthcare system in the aftermath of a deadly nightclub fire (Colectív), and concluding with an exploration of artificial intelligence’s growing impact on our everyday life (Hi, A.I.), this year’s edition of Verzió spans 46 countries and 75 films, for the first time our program also includes 9 VR projects. . How can new technology expand the potential of documentary filmmaking? How much agency can each of us retain when technology, as well as politicians, global media networks, and international corporations increasingly direct individual choices? How can artificial intelligence help solve pressing human problems? In addition to the screenings, these and many other questions raised by the films will be discussed in a series of panel discussions, masterclasses, a production workshop, and in conversations with the filmmakers and other festival guests.

Our image of the world would remain flat and one-sided without a historical dimension. The documentary medium itself has a complex history, and this year we have the chance to explore one unique facet of it:  the Lithuanian school of documentary cinema. Tracing the development of poetic documentary throughout the second half of the twentieth century, this retrospective, organized in cooperation with the Lithuanian film institute Meno Avilys and the Inconvenient Film Festival in Vilnius, presents powerful visual statements that foreground the visual dimension of documentary film language. The Hommage section pays tribute to the late Agnes Varda and Jonas Mekas, whose dedication to the profession and creative vision continues to shape generations of filmmakers worldwide.

Beyond a flash of media attention or the day’s top headlines, an understanding of the state of the world and of human rights (and wrongs) requires commitment and attention, day in, day out. Human rights documentary film festivals are rooted in a challenge to combine the celebration of creative achievement with sober reflection, exceptional stories with everyday experiences, feast with responsibility. From burning forests to burnt skin, the world is scarred and calls for attention beyond the shock expressed in a burning question like “how dare you?”. Understanding is the first step towards change.

Welcome to Verzió. Our goal is to help put the world in focus.

Oksana Sarkisova, festival director