A lifetime in film

IDFA: What can we say about the 2019 IDFA choice of Jørgen Leth (82) and Patricio Guzmán (78) for «Lifetime Achievement Award» and «Guest of Honor» respectively?
Truls Lie
Editor-in-chief, Modern Times Review
Published date: November 5, 2019

Both Leth and Guzmán have a whole life behind them making documentary films – but not the regular type of docs. Typically both of them employ the more or less essayistic way of doing film. Leth’s films, like The Perfect Human (1968), Life in Denmark (1972) and the two Scenes from America (1982/2002), are made up of short scenes reflecting on who we are, our identities and personal fragile situations. Guzmán’s films, like The Battle of Chile (1975–79) or even more in his last decade with Nostalgia for the Light (2010), Pearl Bottom (2015) or The Cordillera of Dreams (2019), play on the reflections that can be made by topic-driven films, use of indirect scenes, parallel worlds, and myths and memories.

Do both of these long-time filmmakers dig into the critical or intellectual take on reality? Yes. But I would say, especially after I made a doc about Leth in 2008–11 [See

“>The Seduced Human], that he approaches the world mostly with an aesthetical, personal perspective. In contrast, Guzmán approaches the world with an ethical, social one. As Leth told me in an interview a long time ago, he was totally uninterested in saving some souls, making people wiser or telling them how to live their lives. But still, they both follow an existential path of matters that are critical for each of us. Political Haiti, where Leth has lived for decades, is more the background – while Guzmán makes Chile, where he grew up but run into exile, the foreground.

Jørgen Leth-MTR
Jørgen Leth

Although some of Leth’s films about Haiti touch on the political and brutal matters of society, they mostly are about personal, sensual, staged or interpreted situations. Like his The Foreign Correspondent (1983), actually a fiction film, which calls on the existential life of an older journalist who has seen it all and then lost life’s purpose. The …

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