Dok Leipzig 2015
“Seeing the World More Precisely”

Leena Pasanen
Leena Pasanen | Photo (detail): © Susann Jehnichen

In our interview, Leena Pasanen, the new artistic director of the Leipzig festival for documentary and animated film, takes stock of this year’s event. She also explains why she considered to offer free Dok Leipzig tickets to right-wing demonstrators.

Ms Pasanen, Dok Leipzig 2015 is finished, with a total of 316 documentaries and animated films having been screened. This was your first festival as director. How would you personally sum up the event?

One of my objectives was to further consolidate the festival’s presence in Leipzig. To this end we initiated Dok Neuland at Leipzig’s Marktplatz and the Zeitkino at the city’s main train station. For Dok Neuland we presented new interactive productions, games, apps and web documentaries in two igloos. We found that audiences were hugely interested in these new forms of narration, which was great. The oldest visitor was 95 years old! I was also delighted that we were able once again this year to show lots of films of extraordinarily high artistic quality, both in the competition section and in the international programme. Numerous international directors and guests attended the festival. There was also intensive exchange in the Dok Industry section, where generally speaking there is tough negotiation about the future of documentary film. This is important because it is still the case that the market counts, alongside any artistic aspects. The festival received a very good reception, and we attracted a new record number of visitors – 48,000.

Dok Leipzig has a long history

You are originally from Finland, where you worked as a television director, and then moved to Hungary. Now you are the festival’s new artistic director in Leipzig. What was it about this post that attracted you?

After my degree in humanities and Finnish literature, I spent a long time working in the film and media industry, and most recently ran the Finnagora cultural institute in Budapest. I was very happy there, but the political situation under Orban’s government was becoming increasingly oppressive. I have long been familiar with Dok Leipzig and have always respected and admired it. I liked both the quality of the festival with its professionally curated programme and its atmosphere. It is one of the most important festivals of documentary film and on a par with festivals such as the IDFA Amsterdam. Dok Leipzig has a long history and a firm place in Eastern European film culture, so it was an exciting challenge for me to take over as its director and try something new. It also gave me the chance to contribute my experience and knowledge, as I was already familiar with the requirements from my previous work. What is more, I was very pleased to work in such a lively city as Leipzig.

Combating ignorance with documentary films

The thematic focus of the festival was on the 25th anniversary of German reunification and on the refugee crisis. A demonstration by the right-wing “Legida” movement took place at the same time as the festival opened. What prompted you to consider to hand out free tickets to the “Legida” supporters?

I do not expect a documentary film to change the world, but I do believe that it can change something inside us, step by step. It can open our eyes. A filmmaker has something to say, and does so in a way that is visually interesting and artistically convincing. This may not necessarily be the way I see something, but it gives me food for thought. The views of these right-wing demonstrators have something to do with ignorance, and I believe that documentary films are a great way to combat ignorance and narrow-mindedness. A film can introduce us for a short time to the feelings and views of another person, and, if we really want to, documentary films can teach us how to see the world more precisely.

We jointly tried to find solutions

Now that you are the artistic director, the documentary and animated film sections were combined for the first time in 2015. Can we expect to see other changes in the future?

A good film is a good film, regardless of whether it is an animated film or a documentary. We were very keen to see these two formats enter into a dialogue. By competing with documentary films in the competitions, the position of animated films was strengthened. What is more, they were able to reach new audiences, and I am delighted to say that the response to this change was very positive. However, one thing that we will certainly have to look at over the next few years is the situation of documentary films by female directors. Very few films made by women were submitted to the German feature-length film competition this year. We had a public discussion about this at the festival and tried jointly to find solutions. I could imagine making funds available specifically to female directors and producers.

Born in 1965, Leena Pasanen from Finland has worked as a journalist, director and presenter, among other things for the public-service television broadcaster YLE TV 1 in Helsinki and she was programming director at YLE Teema, a digital channel specializing in culture, education and science, before moving to the European Documentary Network in Copenhagen. From 2011, Pasanen headed the Finnagora cultural institute at the Finnish Embassy in Budapest. Since 1 January 2015 she has been Claas Danielsen’s successor at the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film.