The craft of documentary filmmaking

FOCUS: IDFA Programmer Laura van Halsema on «Focus: Re-releasing History».
Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca is a freelance journalist and documentary critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: November 8, 2019
Laura van Halsema-IDFA-featured

The program Focus: Re-releasing History is IDFA’s new installment of its long-running series about the craft of documentary filmmaking. It is a selection of 11 films comprised entirely of pre-existing footage, like archival material, home movies, and found footage, all looking into the filmmakers’ emotional and political act of re-interpreting history with a new gaze.

How did the idea for this year’s special Focus come about?

Each year we approached a different angle – cinematography, sound design, editing. Last year we had a program focused on the use of space. And the archive is so much part of documentary film in many ways. We could easily find films using archival footage but we decided to look for films that use archival footage in different ways and not just parts, but films exclusively made with existing footage – like footage, home movies, things that people find on the web.

Can you tell me a bit more about the selection criteria? For example, why Andrei Ujica’s Out of Present – a part of a trilogy made of archival footage?

Andrei Ujica is an interesting example. Some filmmakers have really perfected this genre, like Ujica, obviously, but also Sergei Loznitsa and Peter Forgacs. Our first criteria was to have films made entirely of existing footage, and the second criteria was for it to be like an alter-film, meaning that the filmmaker used certain footage and took it out of its original context to create a totally new narrative. Out of Present takes the original footage Sergei Krikalev filmed in the space shuttle, to create an alienating feeling of how you look at the world.

What do you think attracts us to images of the past? Is it nostalgia? A need to critically look at the past?

I think it’s probably both, but it depends on the type of material you look at. I think film has this sense of being a memory, whether a private memory, like your own family footage, or collective memory, when u look at footage or films from your country. I think the attraction is both nostalgia and a reminder of a part of your own identity. In our age with such a high volume of images being taken every day, it is interesting to think about their meaning and eventually construct our idea of history and of ourselves.

Do you think the concept of truthfulness is evolving or – can truth be reinterpreted?

I think images can always be reinterpreted in the frame between the time something is shot and the time that something is looked upon again. In another historical context, one could look back at those images and see that they had changed meaning. It’s not so much about objective truth as it is about perspective.

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