AKE DIKHEA 2021 part I – On-screen resistance

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Foto: faceobook/Ake Dikhea

Audio-visual works shape the view of our society, and the world of film partially overlaps with the world of other arts. The portrayal of the Roma fails to adequately convey the reality of the Roma community or their challenges and needs, so it is often reduced to images that encourage the creation of fantasy, mysticism, mistrust, or fear. Creating counter-narratives that challenge these phenomena is of great importance, especially for filmmakers who offer a variety of perspectives within their field of activity. The AKE DIKHEA? Roma Film Festival, which means YOU SEE? in the Romani language, was held for the fifth time in Berlin and online, from 2 to 6 December 2021, in which Roma film professionals participated in the selection of films and the organization of the festival event. Using their own voices, they create a space for action, they decide on the content and form of events, and all from the perspective of the Roma community that asks questions – how do we see ourselves and how do we want to be seen?

The year of the Festival also marked the 50th anniversary of the world movement and emancipation of Roma and Sinti, which presented a turning point in political and social advocacy. Roma people were portrayed stereotypically in art and using clichés, and film art was no exception. That is why the topic of self-representation as a form of resistance occupied this edition of the AKE DIKHEA Roma Film Festival? showing through the presented films, but also the accompanying contents, that the intersectional and diverse identities of the Roma have been misrepresented for too long. Thus, they say that Roma and Sinti have always belonged to art, they have always been present, but this time filmmakers across Europe bring new perspectives and counter-narratives to dominant media discourses, in order to combat oblivion and intersectional oppression.

It is understandable that for the last two years festivals have either been canceled, postponed, or held online. So is the AKE DIKHEA Roma Film Festival? offered online content, film screenings, but also panel discussions and discussions. In this way, the festival is not only an event on the red carpet, but a place where it is possible to build a space for dialogue and change, and also to highlight its valuable contribution to the growth of the market of cultural and creative industries.

Short and long, documentaries and feature films were screened during the five days of the Festival. In the Best Film Award category, young director Vera Lacková, in her film How I Became a Partisan, brings back memories of the fate of Roma partisans in former Czechoslovakia by uncovering the history of her great-grandfather. On the other hand, the winner of the category Best Short Film, Erode, by director Charles Newland, deals with racist rhetoric against Gypsies, Roma, and Travelers in the UK. The audience of the Festival also made their choice and the feature film Gypsy Queen by Hüseyin Tabak, for which actress Alina Șerban was also awarded at the Guild Awards 2020 in Germany, gained the hearts of the Festival’s viewers. Increasing the visibility of film works and encouraging their cross-border circulation as well as collaboration and networking leads to greater synergies, and thanks to digitization, festivals are building their own ecosystem and positioning themselves in the film industry.

Programmatic diversity, guided by the plurality of artistic expressions and the abundance of different profiles of filmmakers whose individual orientation turns to geopolitical, social, identity, or other topics, are key in the process of deconstructing their own representation. Creative work is thus preceded by a re-examination of the foundations on which this process is based as well as a comparison with reality. 

And just as Roma Biennale through art, performance, and similar art practices represents a unique museum and platform of contemporary Roma art, as well as the AKE DIKHEA? Roma Film Festival, using the media of the film, brings museum clips and represents new films and filmmakers, but also older film materials.

Although the portrayal of Romani people is changing, their representation still includes penetrating stereotypical images of individuals. Their portrayal is shaped by the intertwined nature of structural oppression, and identities are caricatured in discriminatory and derogatory ways. Such projection images are the fantasy of film directors who throughout history have created a view of the Roma and influenced how the viewer feels and behaves towards them. As long as the film gives us the wrong image of reality, significant progress in racial and gender tolerance will not come. I cannot help but think that despite the appearance of Roma in world film heritage they are rarely significantly involved in mainstream film creativity, and it results in a lack of their perspective, and consequently turns to self-representation. Such an approach to creating movie content, their presentation, and archiving is a discursive process of creating a Roma Museum of Contemporary Art in which self-representation is the act of resistance.

In filmmaking, as in other branches of art, the personal and artistic view “from within” is crucial, showing less conventional, more complex, and richer portraits. Thus, using a visual medium, Roma critically approaches the (limited) representation of such characters and offer an overview of the complexity and plurality of the community, as well as a description of real existence. By participating in the Festival with film works, this important visibility and the reach of the audience are achieved, but also no less important – the cross-border approach. Exploiting film discourse thus builds bridges between cultures and communities, evoking a sense of belonging and pride, with the aim of changing narratives and creating a more open and inclusive society.

The eye is staying (and perhaps a re-becoming) the main guide (but also the treasurer) in the process of creating a counter-narrative in the film and art of moving images, and shows what a movie can be outside the famous walls of the cinemas – as a museum, social document, cultural heritage, and entertainment, with a concept based on an anti-oppressive, intersectional and international approach.

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