held on May 3 - 9, 1997 in Jurmala, Latvia
European Documentary Film Symposiums Riga, 1999
Rainer C. M. Wagner
Haus des Dokumentarfilms -
European Media Forum - a Bridge between Eastern and Western Dokumentary Film Tradition
So, after that deep analysis you have to expect a plain description of our work in Stuttgart. Anyway, I'll start from a different angle. My first contact with Latvia was on board of a ship not in the Baltic, as you may think, but in the Black Sea. The ship's name was "Latvia". My wife and me made a holiday trip. Among other Soviet people there were some veritable Latvians on board of the ship we made the acquaintance with. So, we decided to visit Latvia. But it was rather complicated in that time, in the mid eighties. A German journalist could hardly get a visa in the USSR.
But the time changes and the political systems change too, so my wish came true and now I am here, in Latvia. And again it was the encounter with a personality who gave the impulse. I made the acquaintance with Abram Kleckins during a conference in Stuttgart, held by our institute Haus des Dokumentarfilms, the Documentary Centre which I represent as a managing director. This meeting was planned and organized by our common friend Hans-Joachim Schlegel.
The matter of the conference was the subversive camera, the different reality of the documentary film in the Middle and Eastern Europe, in March 1995. This conference gathered (for the first time in a Western country) the high-ranking, important and famous filmmakers, film critics, media journalists and scholars from various countries. For us it was very useful, as we had formed, in our western view, more or less monolithic block. But the persons from the Eastern Europe tended to show some fresh opinions, different points of view and opened us, westerners, the highly complicated web of relationship between their countries and film traditions.
We got acquainted with Russian filmmakers Miron Chernenko and Aleksandr Sokurov, with Bulgarian Vladimir Ignatovsky, with Professor Martin Slivka from Slovakia and three persons who are here, in the room: Zivile Pipinite, Abrams Kleckins, Ivars Seleckis.
We discovered that mutual understanding between westerners and easterners (I don't mean the language problems) was not at all easy. Plain ignorance of the German audience about the production and condition of documentary filmmaking in Eastern Europe as well as of totalitarian regimes sometimes led to a heavy disappointment of the Eastern participants.
Zivile Pipinite wrote an article in Vilnius cultural weekly "Seven Day Culture" about the conference noticing (I quote in English from the German translation) that she came to the conclusion how bitterly soever the dialogue is necessary. Those few days in Stuttgart have shown that Central and Eastern Europe is not a homogeneous unit, never had been so. They have shown the subversive documentary film born in those countries has preserved a special artistic and creative force of expression far from being a frozen document. We see a vivid camera the artistic quest of which is a wonderful school for all those who have just started the search for adequate means of expression in the documentary. A real artist is always subjective, always in opposition.
Zivile Pipinite thinks that only such art can lead to a fertile discussion. The patterns of comprehension in the Western and in the Eastern worlds are still very different and so are the interpretation of art. We cannot avoid this discussion otherwise our future is not the house but the ruins of the common Europe.
Especially I'd like to mention two films which lead to some misunderstanding. The first was Dusan Hanák's Obrazi Starogo Sveta (The Pictures of an Old World). This is, at the same time, an example for our collection, that I will mention later. This was just the type of film that lead to a fundamental misunderstanding; the German audience could not see what should be subversive in portraying aged people and primitive life and why such a film could be forbidden by the authorities. The other example was Martin Slivka's A man lives as about a funeral custom. Learning from such misunderstanding, opposition and contradictions, I decided to continue the critical dialogue between East and West European filmmakers.
So, I am happy that I succeeded in raising some money for this Film Symposium in Jurmala, 1997. Our young institute (we had our fifth anniversary last autumn) is able to support the traditional meeting of filmmakers, film critics and film theoreticians. The first aim of the Symposiums after gaining independence of Latvia was to invite the neighbours from the Baltic coast. The second step was widening the side; the Symposium twentieth anniversary is held in the partnership with the Western organization, Haus des Dokumentarfilms that brought some films from Germany, Switzerland and England.
Now I would like to give some general information about the institute. The Documentary Film Centre was founded in the Autumn 1991, and it is located in Stuttgart, in the south - west of Germany, not far from France. For example, it is only 150 kilometres to Strasbourg. The state of Baden - Württemberg backed the foundation concerning some pioneering work in the field of television. So Die Deutsche Rundfunk, a station in Stuttgart has raised the designation Stuttgarte Schule to a mark of distinction for challenging documentary programmes in Germany.
The Documentary Centre is an association of public benefit backed by twelve members at the moment, the state of Baden - Württemberg and some television stations. The Documentary Film Centre is an independent institute dealing with both practical and theoretical aspects of the documentary films. It was based on three pillars. The first one is the archive that presents a unique collection of documentary films and TV documentaries from Germany and Europe. It is a basis of further activities. Secondly, there are events: conferences, workshops, symposiums like this. We have our own external results of mass media scholarship which can be discussed and presented to the public. Thirdly, there are the publications, mainly the book series with the materials of congresses and symposiums. But in the last two years we have also monographs. To the moment you can find six in the bookstores in Germany, two are in progression.
Condition for every vivid film culture is availability of films. It sounds very simple, nevertheless, it is true. And in fact it is one of the reasons why the Documentary Film Centre was founded. We have the task to collect the widely-scattered results and poles of the genre the accession to which is sometimes very hard to gain. And we have to keep the selection of the visual sources ready, only as video prints, as we cannot manage it in different way. They are preserved for study and scientific purposes, and also for the use of interested private individuals. At the moment the video library contains more than 3500 important examples of international documentaries in the most varying forms and topics. The nucleus of the collection was the German production including documentaries from the German Democratic Republic. Then the European stock came: films from Switzerland, Austria, France, Great Britain. And the next step was the focusing on Central and Eastern European documentaries which has become possible since Perestroyka. We have the best contact with the Baltic States - Latvia, Lithuania, then with Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary. The connection with Russia and the Community of Independent States is quite good. We could sign a contract with Russian film archives. Now we aim at Romania and the former Yugoslavia.
Nevertheless, I can say that Haus des Documentarfilms offers the best collection of documentaries from the countries of Middle and Eastern Europe outside the area of their origin. Of course, you can find the international obligatory standard in our video archive: Lumière, Walter Ruttmann, Bossak, Ivens, Flaherty and so on. Besides these most important documentaries showing TV development in Germany and Western Europe the special library contains the most important book publications on theory and periodicals on documentary film complementary to the film collection.
The Centre is a place to study and research films, the videothecke and library do not lend items, the user can work with them only on the spot. Now you will ask me about the catalogue. Unfortunately, we have no actual list of our archive stock, printed on paper. But we are preparing the data for Internet where you can find us: http://www.hdfde.
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