by Clare Healy
Arts & Culture Editor
Even in the era of the coronavirus, Leuven’s cultural scene never fails to impress. From September 25th to October 3rd, the documentary film festival DOCVILLE ran in various locations in Leuven’s city centre, including Cinema ZED on Andreea Vesaliusstraat and Het Depot on Martelarenplein. The selection included a generous helping of Belgian and international films, many of which have received widespread critical acclaim since their releases. Make sure to check out The Voice’s reviews of Feels Good Man and We Believe in Dinosaurs, two American documentaries which were part of the DOCVILLE lineup this year.
The festival had been due to take place in March, but as a result of the pandemic, the organisers were forced to move all the showings online, promising a fully-fledged itinerary of in-person events later on in the year. And on that count, they certainly delivered: in addition to traditional film screenings, DOCVILLE’s second take also invited attendees to an assortment of alternative events, such as three short documentaries spotlighting Black stories which were shown through VR lenses, as well as an evening of truffle tasting after the showing of Truffle Hunters. Q&As following the screenings gave audiences a chance to hear from the filmmakers themselves, or professionals with unique insight into the documentaries’ subject matter — one showing of We Believe in Dinosaurs, for example, was followed by an interview with the Flemish philosopher Dr Johan Braeckman, who had a lot to say about the enduring popularity of creationism in the United States.
The award ceremony was held on the final day of the festival’s run, in which the winners of three grand jury prizes were announced. The first of these, the Con-Science Award, was conferred to Colectiv, a documentary about the group of investigative journalists who exposed flagrant negligence in Romania’s hospitals following a fire in a Bucharest nightclub. The winner of the international category was The Painter and the Thief, a Norwegian film chronicling the unlikely friendship that formed between an artist and the criminal who stole her paintings. Winning this prize automatically puts the film on the longlist for the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2021. Finally, the national award went to Victoria, directed by three young Belgian women, which tells the story of a man who relocated from Los Angeles to a deserted half-built town in the Californian desert. As the festival’s jury commented, Victoria is “about how flexible people are and how we can adapt to even the most bizarre circumstances. This is innovative, surprising, poetic, witty and convincingly optimistic cinema.”
This closing event ended with the world première of Hi My Name is Jonny Polonsky, which follows an American musician through the ups and downs of an impromptu Belgian tour (including a stop in Leuven). Against all odds, the DOCVILLE organisers pulled the festival off without a hitch, offering Leuven’s movie-goers a diverse and high-quality selection. Its return in 2021 will be most welcome.
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