Two recurring questions – the legitimacy of staging in documentary, and considerations of the audience – were among the main discussion themes at a seminar held during the 10th Balticum Film & TV Festival on the Danish island of Bornholm this past June

Ulla Jacobsen
Jacobsen was previously editor in chief of the DOX Magazine from March 1998 until early 2009. A lot of the DOX articles republished in ModernTimes was ordered by her. After 2009 she worked freelance, until she died in 2013.

These themes reflect the decade of change experienced by filmmakers from former East Bloc countries, now increasingly dependent on TV as state funding has almost vanished. ULLA JACOBSEN took notes on the opinions expressed.

An innocent-sounding seminar intended to sum up the ten years of the Balticum festival led to philosophical reflections on the key question for documentary: how to represent reality. Most of the participants at the seminar were convinced that documentary will move toward a higher degree of staging in the future, but their attitudes toward this development were very different.

Staging

Rimantas Gruodis (Lithuania): “It is not relevant to discuss staging or genres. Only three things matter in filmmaking: emotional reactions, inner freedom and truth.”

herz-frank-02
REELING THE REAL. Remembering Herz Frank

Herz Frank (b. Latvia, now based in Israel): “In fiction, we expect the actors to be the artists. In documentary, the director has to be the artist. The way documentarists depict reality is the art. In the case of Dvortsevoy’s Bread Day, he is the artist, not the women and goats he films. As a real artist you have your heart – you shouldn’t stage anything. You will find plenty of interesting things in real life.”

Sonja Vesterholt (b. Russia, now based in Denmark): “I think documentary is developing well. The film medium is only 100 years old, and the documentary is very young compared to other art forms. Young, and with such strict rules. I think documentary is just starting to become more mature.”

Audrius Stonys (Lithuania): “I go to a place and observe it and then I express how I see it. A ‘real documentary’ is like an art photo: it is very lucky to catch the real light. My films are like drawings. I use pictures from my memory and impressions and then I draw with my camera. In the centre of my films is just one main picture. In the case of Harbour it is the people walking around the steam machine in strange clothes. They come from different levels of society, but at that moment they are equal. From these impressions I construct my shots very carefully.”

With films like Paradise, Bread Day and now Highway (see p. 24), Russian Sergei Dvortsevoy is one of the most explicit practitioners of an observational non-staged method. He spends a long time on location before he begins shooting, which later enables him to capture the comical little incidents: he knows from his observations exactly when they are bound to happen.

Dvortsevoy has no problems with staging in principle, however, and argues for diversity of expression: “Each time it is individual. It depends on the story. Everybody should speak with their own tongue. In this world we should have a lot of different voices. In the woods there should be different birds, each singing their own tune.”

Audiences

To what degree do filmmakers include the audience in the creative process? Do they think, right from the start, about whom they are communicating with?

Dvortsevoy – who produced Bread Day with his own money and his latest film Highway as an international co-production – recognizes that documentarists have to earn a living and have to take TV requirements into account. But still, he says, “It is harmful to calculate everything. If you have to take into consideration the different requirements of the different broadcasters, it is bad for the film. Of course I think of my viewers, but not those who want to watch soaps. There are slots for documentaries on TV. I do not demand that my films be seen by thousands, but I know there are a lot of people who want to watch serious films. It is impossible to shorten the scenes in Bread Day. It would disturb the whole atmosphere, and the film would lose its harmony. There’s no news in the film, no killings. You have to accept it as it is. I offer you to live through this moment of time. If you cut it up it won’t be interesting to watch. If television doesn’t want to show the film, it’s their problem, not mine. But of course the problem of money is mine.”

Alexander Krivonos, the director of Russian Avantgarde, an East-West co-production, believes the opposite: “Five years ago I thought like Dvortsevoy, but now I believe I have to satisfy the investors. And I think films are made for the audience. Of course I also make films for myself, but first of all I make them for the audience. I want many people to see them.”

Audrius Stonys concludes: “It is not a question of making films for the audience or for oneself. You make the films the way you think they should be. If you find it interesting, it will be interesting for the audience. It depends on talent and luck. Nobody wants to make films for themselves. If it is good film, it will be understood. Basically, we all share the same experiences.”

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The book Balticum Film & TV Festival 1990-99 was published in connection with the festival’s tenth anniversary. It contains a selection of articles from the last decade about films and filmmakers from the countries around the Baltic Sea. Contact: Baltic Media Centre.


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