Today started the 26th Edition of the IDFA Festival. The latest documentary film by Paweł Ferdek - “Leaders” - will have its world premiere in Amsterdam. The film will be shown in the non-competitive section Kids & Docs. We would like to invite you to read the review of this film.

“Leaders” by Paweł Ferdek brings to mind the best Polish documentaries from 1970s (particularly “Primary School” by Tomasz Zygadło). The starting point are the elections to the student board in one of the primary schools in Warsaw. The world of great politics is focused in this microcosm as in a lens. Everything here is absolutely in earnest, from the very first to the last moment. And it is this “in earnest” which is the most horrifying thing.

We watch the election campaign of four candidates: Marcel, Kais, Helena and Filip. The children want only one thing - victory. Why do they care so much about it? Because thanks to the victory, they would be at the top of the school hierarchy, they would achieve a privileged social position, gain acceptance and respect of their peers. They do everything for the victory: treat potential voters to delicacies, prepare slogans, colourful posters, leaflets, organise family election staff, promise the voters the moon, and - what is worst - they can unite with only one goal in mind - to finish off the strongest candidate.  For the time of the elections, school turns into the arena of political conflicts, the pupils make promise after promise, there is a debate with the participation of an adult moderator, promises made behind the scenes, election silence, white and red ballot-box. There is also enormous pressure and not everyone can cope with the emotions. The feverish atmosphere is heated up by the parents, who - according to the rule, as one of them says, that the grey mass is lost in the crowd - inculcate in their offspring their own behaviour models, so that they taste the adult life faster, as the parents believe.  

Only the most unconcerned person could conclude that “Leaders” is only about children naively playing a game of politics. The struggle for power, which goes on before our very eyes, brings disturbing associations and conclusions. After all, Marcel, Kais, Helena and Filip are our future leaders. How would the life look like, when they would rule? Or maybe we are not responsible for it?

The strength of “Leaders” is a certain sense of “non-literalness.”  The film is not a simplistic, promptly made accusation. For less than an hour, Ferdek’s camera probes the observed microcosm, breaks through psycho-social reality in order to thoroughly depict the problem. Who is to blame? The world, the media, school, parents? In the last scene, we look into the eyes of the winner who won only because he made promises that his electors wanted to hear. In these eyes, there is fear which overcomes a defenceless child.

Daniel Stopa