held on May 3 - 9, 1997 in Jurmala, Latvia
European Documentary Film Symposiums Riga, 1999
Andrey Shemiakin
A Man in front of the Camera
The workshop is drawing to an end, and it is not quite clear whether I should speak according to my notes or respond to what has been said and shown. At first I thought it best to limit myself to the latter, but the reports of western colleagues, extremely concrete and containing very valuable information, made me look for a half-way house decision.

I shall start by an epigraph, if you like, from Chekhov, from his story "In the Ravine": "A telephone was installed in the region, but cockroaches appeared in it." This is the fate of almost all technological innovations in Russia, when something is accepted, something rejected, and the result is something totally different, and it is employed in such a way that those who had initiated it stand with their eyes popping out of their heads.

The situation is the same with freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing! Freedom of speech was there, and, thank God, still is there to some extent. But it is of the intolerable kind. Note that the talk is about the main and real achievement ensured by brilliant names, brilliant publicists. But now we are facing an absolutely incredible, though a predictable, situation when all this freedom of speech is being bought up.

The most interesting thing is that indeed, the clients have already appeared. Not the market, surely, and even less so democracy, this is an attempt of some to leave behind competitors in the struggle for property. The power is theirs already. There will be, therefore, an ideological order. We can observe this on the TV screen in full bloom already. And the main point is that a circle is formed again, and we are going back to the system of subsidies, social order, as before, this has already happened in fiction cinema. Surely, in this situation art-cinema is a salvation, a consolation.

We revert to it and start discussing again something that each of us likes so much. But it is here that we are in for the most unpleasant surprise, for there is a fundamental taboo of contemporary culture on being as something indubitably given, and because of this there is no more place for the kind of emotion so dear to us, no place for the cinema which is emotionally involved. Barriers appear all of a sudden, and we are told: "What you are doing, guys, is super-archaic". This brings about considerable difficulties, because we deal with the generation gap and, among other things, the gap in language and in the system of conventions.

"Look at the Face" was often mentioned here, I shall also mention this wonderful movie, for it uses a certain primary visual juxtaposition of faces which in this static picture follow quickly one another in succession. Funnily, if you show this movie to a modern audience, they will, as a rule, discuss religion, i.e. the sacral meaning, not the documentary. At the time when it was produced they would say: look, a woman is feeding a child, religion is not only opium for the people, it also contains human values, and the movie reflected the liberal values of the 60-ies in their classical version, but they were dissolved in this context to such an extent that today they have to be boiled off, one has to remember this in order to explain, otherwise this may be lost on the viewer.

The question is whether this movie and others of this kind will become indispensable for a modern cultured person, or the ability to perceive an artistic text of this kind will be lost altogether.

Then we shall face the situation when only what is shown on the TV will be perceived as really existing. This is Mc Luhan’s global village.

What is documentary cinema to do in this situation? One can raise again the question of the primary treaty with the spectator, starting from the ABC. One can take a huge stride forward. I am somewhat hopeful that sooner or later quantity will probably be transformed into quality. The symptoms of this are fairly unpleasant politically but promising aesthetically.

Kossakovsky’s movie signifies some movement for me, I’m not sure we should call it development, but this is certainly a movement in the direction of overcoming these difficulties. I shall explain what I mean. If a documentalist goes out into the street, like Jean Rouche did, for example, some time ago, and starts addressing everybody, the charm of the stream of life is there, this is indeed a discovery, everybody knows that. But what if going out into the street you do not achieve the effect of accidentality, you do not achieve spontaneity: life is perceived now in a different way. One can hit on this accidentality post-factum, and this is precisely the constructive principle of Kossakovsky’s picture which is probably not an ideal one in the sense that some effect is lacking; existence revived anew, as if seen for the first time, is lacking. The principle seems even to be a mechanistic one: taking the people born on a particular day and talking to them all. But all this could come together at today’s point only due to an enormous amount of accidents which became regularities in the life of each character only later, and the resulting film is, if you like, an anatomy of accidents.

The paradox is that the director and the characters of the movie were born on July 19, 1961, on the same day the programme of building communism was published, and we see this, but indirectly, also in a stream, as if post-factum. People just take a newspaper and start reading the draft programme. I.e. our dependence on some circumstances of life, the circumstances of birth, of upbringing was initially uprooted by the conception about us, us the ideal ones, us the correct ones, us the fitting ones.

Now the last point, about the starting points of counting. Indeed, for many of us the 60-ies remain essentially the starting point of counting. But I believe now the second half of the 80-ies to be the crucial period when new movies appeared, they were demonstrated during this workshop. I would remind you, in particular, of the crucial movie of Augusts Sukuts "The Voice", still causing a split of opinion in the audience. It really raised the problem of representation of power. One could mention Roman Balayan’s movie "Angletaire" were we saw for the first time a sinister masquerade of the epoch instead of just a discussion of Yesenin’s death. Now this movie seems to be even more significant, but we are not stuck there, we are going forward. This is the purport of this workshop in my view: the ability to correlate the modern, the super-actual and something that was modern yesterday, but today is already history. This is, in my view, an utterly fundamental and an absolutely theoretical task.

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