I am at Doc/Fest in Sheffield without seeing any of the movie theatre screenings. I avoided around 100 docs and 50 shorts. Just didn’t plan to see them.
Actually yes, I saw one. The opening film Searching for Sugar Man is about the musician, Sixto Rodriguez, the man who failed to make a breakthrough with two Dylan-esque albums in the 60s. But without his or the producer’s knowledge, bootleg albums were mass distributed in South Africa – where the musician became better known than Elvis. We hear the myth of the man, the depressive who killed himself on stage. The film is a seldom example of a well-edited documentary that uncovers bits and pieces of a deeper story as it goes along. So I’m not going to tell you about the old man who played guitar before an enthusiastic audience here in Sheffield last night…
As I said, I don’t get any theatre tickets although I have a free pass as journalist. And the films are not bad. For example Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present is a touching film about the call of an artist, who through pain tries to come closer to what is essentially human; touching without touch, as seen recently when the performance artist sat gazing with her sad eyes at one stranger after another across a small table day after day for three months in NY. People waited in long queues, often they let their tears fall in front of Abramovic. I didn’t see the film, since I had already seen the masterpiece at DocAviv.
Neither did I sit in the outdoor cinema in the rainy weather – that would have been too cold and wet.
But let me mention Vivan Las Antipodas!, which I didn’t see on the big screen either. The film made by Victor Kossakovsky is a visual masterpiece from four parallel axes around the globe – for example from a little Argentinean shepherd’s hut and the surrounding desert-like quiet, it cuts directly to the noise and speedy metropolitan life of Shanghai. Spain and New Zealand. Hawaii and Botswana. Russia and Chile. I seldom experience a film that spellbinds me in a few takes, like the musical composition as a big bird circles round and round in front of the hillside, before it maybe swoops down on its prey. Kossakovsky’s use of a helicopter makes the turning of the globe’s surface possible before your eyes, where the other half of the globe is edited into the other half of the image. The director himself was behind the camera – fascinating, beautiful images without any explicit story. I am ashamed to admit that I only saw the spectacular, large-scale images in the library at DocuFest. Headphones on, sitting at a row of computers, no, that does not do justice to such visuality. But I had no choice, because of the following “masterclass”:
But neither did the director do justice to the audience who came to see the Russian. Kossakovsky is busy, as depicted in the doc Where Condors fly. The condor chose not to fly to Sheffield. The man labelled the “Rembrandt of documentary”, met us instead on the screen, via Skype. Irritatingly enough, the connection was repeatedly lost. The prize-winning director just told us that people don’t need film anymore, and that he himself should stop making them. But as he said when once he came back online, he cannot sleep, and has to do something, like films. Then the screen went black again. When he returned on his Barcelona line, his computer showed some accidental shots of the streets, ordinary people – I didn’t see any condors – before we lost him again.
I was wondering if he had had trouble with his computer or if he had really wanted to say something with these images. The experienced moderator, Peter Wintonick, looked desperate a couple of times. When a member of the audience asked the guy in Barcelona if he had a reason in Vivan Las Antipodas! for not doing close-ups of the big dead whale on the beach, Wintonick added “are you afraid of death, Victor?” – but – Then the screen went black again. As I’m leaving he is back, and tells us that since everyone can make a film today, a film must be more than a film if it really has to be made. Saiys the man who many times had to sacrifice a close friendships because of his art.
So what can around 100 seminars and workshops tell us about the documentary industry? When I speak to the British director, Henry Singer, he tells me, a Norwegian, that in his doc he had to show the dead bodies from the massacre at Utøya last summer. Asking if it easily becomes too speculative, his answer is that the world must know what the Norwegian Breivik did, since people easily forget – the murderer must be emotionally remembered for his misdeeds.
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