In 2009, Thomas A. Østbye won the Golden Chair, the main award, at the Grimstad short film festival for his 25-minute documentary Human. In the film, various people speak about their lives, set against a neutral, black backdrop, akin to a Jørgen Leth-inspired documentary with a distinct humanistic message. This makes the audience reflect on what it means to be human.
Large scale. Østbye’s film and Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s current Human have more than just the title in common. In his three-hour documentary, the French photo journalist and film maker also let people from around the world tell their stories straight to the camera, set against a neutral, black background – although the close-ups are more frequent and consistent than its Norwegian counterpart. Here too, the result turns into a sort of appeal for spectator’s empathy and humanity, plus a deliberation on humanity in general and the importance of humanity in particular. The scale is considerably greater in Arthus-Bertrand’s film, whose project is on a completely different scale. Apparently, some 2,020 people were interviewed for the film, all of whom were asked identical questions, during a recording period spanning two years and 60 countries. Despite the fact that the lengthy film features a great many people, an enormous amount of material must have been left out of the final cinematic version.
Multi-media project. Human is, however, also a multi-media project, where shorter as well as longer versions are digitally distributed. In fact, an extended version is available to watch for free on YouTube, split into three parts each lasting one and a half hours. The incredibly ambitious project is produced by the idealistic organisations Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, which is also responsible for the funding, and GoodPlanet Foundation. Human is offered in various forms for non-commercial distribution, in addition to an ordinary cinema launch. In this with this, in September the film was screened at UN’s annual general meeting in New York, parallel with its international premiere at the Venice film festival. The film version won the top prize at Oslo’s Eurodok documentary film festival last month, and was prior to this screened at the Bergen International Film Festival. At the end of April, it will form part of the regular film distribution.
Bird’s eye view. The Human interview sequences are regularly interrupted by pictures which in a more concrete manner depict the world and humanity from a bird’s eye view, and function similarly to chapter divisions in the film. Arthus-Bertrand is an experienced aerial photographer, and the film’s panoramic aerial photographic sequences shot all over the world are breathtakingly beautiful. There is a sense that these images follow a development curve from the natural to the man-made, although not consistently done. Similarly to the landscape images, the various interviewee portraits are surprisingly beautiful in all their human variety. These are people from every part of the world, with a direct gaze into the camera; they share their stories in their many languages – without any concrete information about their identities or backgrounds. This way we are forced to only acknowledge their faces, and what they are actually telling us.
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