Bringing together accounts of a turbulent year from over 30 countries, Verzio's program focuses on the most poignant experiences and urgent questions that are on humankind's collective agenda today. Our opening film, A Syrian Love Story, is a saga stretching over five years that powerfully demonstrates the high toll of dislocation and exile on one family. While wars and armed conflicts saturate the news reports, it is through the prism of a personal story that the individual experiences can best be grasped and empathized with. This year, our program places the so-called “refugee crisis” in the spotlight, seeking to question the very use of this concept. We screen a selection of films that thwart medial stereotypes of fear and aggression by introducing fellow human beings who require support and dignified treatment. Placing migration and asylum seeking in a historical perspective – from WWII, through the aftermath of the Yugoslav wars, to the war in Syria and the treatment of the refugees in today's Europe and, more specifically, in Hungary – we introduce a range of contexts that help (re)framing today's situation. A series of discussions following the screenings, organized in cooperation with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, provide a forum to debate urgently needed solutions. In addition to screening and debates, our new DocLab workshop will help young filmmakers create short films introducing individual stories of refugees arriving to Europe to show personal destinies that lie behind statistical figures. Another important theme this year is surveillance. In conjunction with the ongoing exhibition Watching You Watching Me, on show at the Open Society Archives, Verzio showcases a selection of films that reflect on the new relationship between data and privacy, which has emerged in the digital century. The films address surveillance in most diverse contexts – from investigation into the workings of the East German secret services (Engelbecken) to the pioneering usage of CCTV footage (Prison Images, I Love you All, Faceless) as well as a reaction to the most famous whistleblower in the 21st century who made the world aware of the fragility of individual privacy (Citizenfour). 

Among the novel features of the festival this year is the Student Competition ZOOM IN. By presenting and discussing the works by the young generation of filmmakers, we would like to survey important new directions in documentary cinema as well as stimulate an exchange of experiences. The student films will be evaluated by a Jury made up of internationally renowned film professionals, whose feedback will be of additional value to the participants. Verzio Student Jury, selected on a competitive basis, will award the Best Human Rights Film Award at Verzio. We are happy to welcome the Nuremberg International Human Rights Film Festival as our guest this year that will present a variety of cinematic approaches to telling powerful stories of the past and present. A selection of award-winning films in our joint program highlights the diversity of human rights issues from the traumatic European past (Every Face Has a Name, My Mother , A War and Me) to exploring the anti-corruption campaign in Guatemala (The Burden of Peace) and anti-globalist resistance in Burkina Faso (The Siren of Faso Fani). In addition to the screenings, the exhibition, Frozen Conflicts by the Belgian photographer David Verberckt, explores post-Soviet spaces marked by memories of recent wars, for a visual expression of the lasting traumas of violent social and ethnic conflicts. While the program abounds with films touching on dramatic issues, it aims at sending the message of hope and empowerment, which is most compellingly expressed in the festival's closing film, How to Change the World. Tracing the emergence of the largest environmental organization that was originally powered by a small group of like-minded enthusiasts shows that the world is not ruled by supra-human powers, but can be changed by those with motivation and a strong vision. Inviting you to face the world full of injustices and conflicts, Verzio calls you to watch, talk, and act in order to make your vision of a more human future come true. Have a good festival!

Oksana Sarkisova
Festival Director

On Dignity

A turbulent year is behind us. The ongoing refugee and migration crisis has divided couples, friendships, and societies. When so much is at stake, when so much can be lost, when so much doubt surrounds us, what is left to hold on to? What is it that proves enough to make us stand up for the protection of human dignity no matter whose it is? Is it 8000 celluloids saved from Taliban destruction that hide the treasures of Afghanistan's visual history (A Flickering Truth)? Is it an Iranian woman's three-year effort to organize a concert where women do not have to be vocalists but can be the lead singers of their own concert (No Land’s Song)? Is it in the love and fears of Russian LGBTI couples defying laws that criminalizes their existence (Victory Day)? Or is it in the story of Raghda, Amer and their two sons – the Syrian family trying to make it through a civil war , persecution, desperation, flight and a hope for a new life (A Syrian Love Story)?

In 2004 the very first Verzio Film Festival was opened by a man who inspired us for decades with his life, words, and deeds: Árpád Göncz (1922  –2015), Hungary’s first democratically elected head of state. Twenty years ago he said the following: We cannot, however, make concessions where the protection of those whose human rights are violated is at stake. There is no external advantage for which we can abandon our fellow human beings. When human dignity is denied we must protest with all our strength. For we cannot bear the violation of the human dignity of others; and it harms our own dignity if we could have done something but had reconciled with the intolerable. We must protest so that a rights violation counts as a violation. So that it is understood: we have human rights. We consider it our duty to make Árpád Göncz’s legacy resonate with future generations. Verzio wants to be the voice that counts. The voice that shouts violation, the mirror that shows the “flickering truth”, the eye that sees human dignity –be it in a dusty film reel, a forbidden song, a quiet conversation or a refugee love story.

Anikó Kövecsi
Managing Director