At the screening of Donbass – the latest feature film by Ukrainian documentary director Sergey Loznitsa, at the Ljubljana International Film Festival in November – two elderly persons were sitting in the row in front of me. Watching the closing credits rolling on the screen, the person on the right turned to the one on the left saying: «Wait, what? These were all actors? Wasn‘t this a documentary?»
Actually, it‘s quite the opposite. Loznitsa‘s new film explores the factual conflict raging in Donbass – a region in the Eastern part of Ukraine – between Ukraine and the Russian-supported Donetsk People’s Republic. But the film‘s thirteen segments are as fictitious as they can be: armed conflicts, crimes and looting perpetrated by separatist gangs are all mixed up. War is called peace, propaganda is erected to truth, and hatred claims to be love. Loznitsa’s journey through the Donbass region is composed of a series of crazy adventures in which the grotesque and the tragic merge.
Sergey Loznitsa is a former mathematician, an expert in artificial intelligence and a translator from Japanese, and recently also a prolific director of documentary and feature films. To be involved in both documentary and fiction production is a rather unconventional combination for a filmmaker, but for Loznitsa this seems the only logical thing since the thin line between fiction and facts is one of the main topics of his oeuvre.
In Donbass, he is applying documentary approaches (such as shooting on location by using a hand held camera, loose narrative structure, and the lack of main protagonist) in what is all a fiction movie. He is doing so to portray the notorious Donbass region as a reality where separating facts from fiction – or simply figuring out what is going on – is difficult, not only for the overall international community, but also for the people living there.
In this way, he avoids simplified denunciations of lies and manipulations, and the need of taking «the right» position. Instead he manages to visualise the film’s main point, that is: there is no «fake» news and no «true» news, because, simply, everything is scripted. Still, this does not imply that reality doesn’t matter.
Yugoslavian Black Wave and ironic «over-identification»
Documentary film scholars have recently been pondering the failure of the documentary, but in Donbass, Loznitsa has proved the opposite. The language and the methods of documentary film in general are even becoming increasingly useful for the feature film.
«There is no «fake»news and no «true» news because, simply, everything is scripted. Still, this does not imply that the reality doesn‘t matter.»