One of the first scenes of the documentary The Dazzling Light of Sunset, which was awarded best debut film during the Swiss documentary festival Visions du Reel last spring, shows a close up of a light blue sea against a grey sky, surrounded by rocks and trees. However, looking closer, we notice seams in the landscape, and realise quickly that what we are in fact staring at a wall paper, a faded and worn wall paper.
This optical illusion frames the office of journalist Dariko Beria, and acts as an indicator of what is to come. Together with a colleague, Dariko works at the local TV-channel in a Georgian village. The two use their days to film and report on the region’s big and small news. Most are small: a village street receives a new and decorative pavement; a farmer has caught a rare owl; a beauty pageant for 12-year olds is underway; a wedding took place. Dariko is present to capture it all, but it is not through her camera we are introduced to these scenes – she stays mostly in the background, as a part of the story told by the documentary. As we follow her through her days, we witness the situations from a comfortable distance – the camera is static, and through the lack of a voice-over or other explaining elements, we are encouraged to observe the stylised tableaux, hunt for details and draw our own conclusions.
Staging. Dariko’s presence in the film indicates that not only is she a vantage point, but she also forms part of the life which the documentary aims to portray. Simultaneously, her presence makes it evident that much of what happens in front of her seems fake, rehearsed. The documentary makers are here using an interesting angle: they are often present long before anything happens, and are this way able to capture all the training rounds, cramming and preparations. Prior to the beauty pageant, the frazzled organisers are running around in the venue, swear words are flying, the girls are given instructions on how to catwalk, they are rigid and look uncomfortable, a man stands on the sidelines and shouts that they look like a row of ducks. But, when the show has started and the winner is announced, what Dariko captures with her camera are the rehearsed movements, smiles and speeches.
A film maker or journalist is powerful: by choosing the right cut and angle, and through later editing sessions, you are able to decide how certain things will be depicted.
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