The review of short documentary "Horse Riders by Anna Gawlita that has its international premiere at Jilhalva International Documentary FF in Czech Republic.

Southern Poland, the village of Sternalice in Silesia. The Easter Sunday celebration is underway. The bells toll, people gather in front of the church, the parish-priest comes out. A man in the crowd is holding a figurine of the Resurrected Christ and in the centre there is a group of mean on horseback. The celebration of krzyżoki is about to begin.

Eerie sounds and incredible hypnotising black and white photographs mark the opening of this ethnographic documentary about a little-known custom. But it is more than that: the film is a true masterpiece of cinematography showcasing the beauty and simplicity of the countryside. At times, the camera is in motion, speeding up as the horses begin to gallop, but then again it becomes almost static to take a closer look at the animals as they struggle wildly or trot peacefully. Although in the foreground we can see the director describing the unusual custom, it is the villagers who are the true protagonists in the story. They seem to be posing for a portrait, resembling the characters in Zofia Rydet’s photographs. In the background, we can see their everyday lives, their labour, homes, farms, and church. We learn more about the marginalised reality of the countryside, where the sacredness of the mass is combined with the profanity of the pagan ritual. While singing religious songs and reverently passing the figurine of Christ between each other, they also drink alcohol, which seems to be part of the ritual.

Horse Riders is a testament to the unique experience of being part of the community bound by this fascinating centuries-old tradition. Its aim is not only to preserve it, but also to bring it to light.

Magdalena Walo