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Katerina Cizek

December 01, 2010

Katerina Cizek is a documentary-maker working across many media platforms: linear films, radio, print, television, and these days, mostly the web. Currently, she is directing the National Film Board of Canada’s HIGHRISE project, a multi-year, many media experiment exploring human experience in the world’s vertical urban peripheries. For HIGHRISE’s first major global project, Out My Window, a 360º interactive documentary, she recently picked up the inaugural IDFA DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling at the world’s largest film festival in Amsterdam. She also created and rolled-out the acclaimed NFB Filmmaker-in-Residence program, which partnered media with medicine in innovative ways. This project won a Webby Award, among other prizes.
Cizek’s work has instigated criminal investigations, changed UN policies, and has screened as evidence at an International Criminal Tribunal. Her film about new technologies and human rights, Seeing is Believing (co-directed with Peter Wintonick) won the prestigious Abraham Prize at the Hamptons International Film Festival, among other prizes and nominations. Cizek also wrote, edited, and narrated the 1996 documentary The Dead are Alive: Eyewitness in Rwanda.

1. Tower renewal

I'm currently obsessed with projects and people around the world that see modernist concrete highrise towers as heritage buildings - rather than blights on the urban landscape - worthy of renovation and reconsideration. When done right, tower renewal can save energy, improve lives, build community, and make our cities look prettier too. My current favorite is South City in Prague, where twenty years ago, just after the fall of communism, I met Canadian filmmaker Bruce MacDonald, who told me he wanted to film a horror film in South City. That’s how scary these highrises seemed then. Not anymore. Today, the South City teams with colour, life, and community. Here’s hoping the ambitious tower renewal in Toronto does not get labeled gravy train material by the new municipal administration.

2. Sugar, salt, and fat

Wondering: How to cook without them? And how come salt has become so gourmet anyway? I just flew Lufthansa home the other day, got an upgrade to business class, and received two gourmet salts as a gift-pack. Hibiscus salt and Mediterranean salt. Bizarre.

3. The global rise of the right wing

Maybe because it’s December 1st and Toronto just got its new very right-wing mayor this morn, but the rise seems to be ebbing all over the world. In Europe: Holland, Belgium, Spain. In America, the Tea Party… Is it a response to the grind of this tiring, trying recession?

4. Documentaries that take more than a decade to make

I am in awe of filmmakers who picked up their (handycam) cameras decades ago to witness life unfold and never gave up. Big IDFA winner Position Among the Stars by Dutch-Indonesian filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich is the final film in a trilogy about a family living in the slums of Jakarta. It took him twelve years to complete the trilogy. Another IDFA film two decades in the making: My Reincarnation is about a troubled relationship between a Tibetan Llama and his Italian-born son. Jennifer Fox first began that film in 1989 and dropped in as life and fate unfolded over the course of twenty years. Also, (and perhaps one of my top films of all time) current Oscar short-listed Enemies of the People, featuring a brilliant Cambodian activist who has spent years interviewing genocide killers across that country, recording first with his pen, then by his audio recorder, and then with his little video camera. It’s film that has marked me more than almost any other, transforming my understanding of forgiveness, reconciliation, and the very definition of justice. Not to be forgotten in this category too, Nerakhoon (The Betrayal), also twenty years in the making, about loyalty and the survival of a Loatian family in America.

5. Running

Never thought I would get into it, but I’ve recently discovered running, not just as a physical experience, but as a sensory adventure: the sounds, smells, and rhythms of a physical place.



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