held on May 3 - 9, 1997 in Jurmala, Latvia
European Documentary Film Symposiums Riga, 1999


You would probably like to hear something about the situation in Bulgarian cinema, but I think we can do without this, for our situation is largely similar to that in any other former socialist country. That is why I shall touch upon it very briefly.

After 1989 Bulgarian cinema, naturally, started what I call the process of rehabilitation: it rehabilitated names, situations, events etc., in other words it attempted to somehow make up for something that was simply impossible in totalitarian cinema - the same kind of films as in Russia and other countries: about labour camps, the people repressed and so on. Then they went deeper into history. I believe, this is obvious enough in the programme of our films, they were selected with the view to show how far we have moved in this direction. Not too far, as you could see.

I should not like to generalise too much, but some tendencies do exist, and they are too obvious not to be mentioned. I shall use a metaphor: we had been once in a closed house with a very small window, and wanted to get a complete view, looking out of this window. The window was documentary cinema, and we viewed everything through this window. Later, when one of the walls of this house collapsed, and the huge panorama of` life was in front of us, far and wide, it turned out that we were simply unable to see everything, i.e. we are looking and we seem to see, but we cannot make it out.

It seems to me that we, i.e. documentary cinema, and cinema at large, were unable to cope with the freedom obtained, we did not manage to find our place among the other mass media. Do we think about our audience at all: are they interested in what we show them? Are they moved by it at all, and to what extent? They read newspapers avidly, they watch the TV, a lot of information is offered there, and it is always presented in a nerve-tickling way so as to sell the news at the cost of our excitement.

It seems to me that it is of greater interest for a normal philistine to read about a grandson who had killed his granny and then packed parts of her body into plastic bags than about the past of this grandson or his granny. The smack of scandal seems to have killed all normal human feelings and all normal human interest for another human being. I think that documentalists have not yet started looking for their own domain among mass media, have not settled in this domain and said: this is our area, only we can do it.

As a professional, I was watching with pleasure here films containing some observations or some play with expressive means. But I could not visualise their audience. Since the time when I started viewing myself as a film critic I tried to say that we had to teach our audience to perceive more serious, more complicated matters. But I am sure that in the course of these 25 years I have not managed to teach the audience anything of the kind. Those who did not watch complicated films, still do not, those who did, do it without my assistance.

But there were several films at this symposium the authors of which did, consciously or not, want to establish a contact with the viewer. We had a discussion here after Budashevskaya’s film on whether it was possible to use set-ups or not, and to what extent. Several films made it quite obvious that it is possible and sometimes even advisable, precisely with the aim to involve the viewer into the events. Surely, a certain level of truth and authenticity should be there. Indeed, the very presence of the camera has an impact on what is happening on the screen. You interfere in some way, so this is already not quite, not 100% documentary cinema. What matters, after all, is authenticity.

During the first evening already two angles of our programme became obvious to me, as if two legs of the chair we were sitting on so firmly. The first one was Pepe Dankwart’s film about Mostar. By the way, don’t confuse Mostar and Bosnia, these are entirely different matters. And this is why the two films are so different, they just cannot be compared. The second one was Yanina’s film "Venus With a Cat". And then two more appeared: the film of our Polish colleague Tadeusz Palka and "The Wolf’s Crime" by Olga Budashevskaya. In all these four films I saw our colleagues aiming at a contact with contemporary audience. For this reason only they are not the films of the day past, even though they deal with different topics, they are made with a different temper, both human and artistic.

These were the four legs of the chair, while the seat of the chair was definitely formed by the film of Victor Kossakovsky "Wednesday". In my view, it embraced the isolated directions of the search in the other films. It seems to have totalled up everything. By the means of documentary cinema Victor has created a work of art. I was amazed at his ability to seize me by the collar, to make me watch the first frames where a man was shaving in front of the mirror. Then I realised that the hand on my neck would not let me go, and just accepted the necessity to go on watching. He was leading me like a good novelist. This had nothing to do with some blurred cinematographic observation which might, hopefully, get somewhere. I do realise that, like the authors of the wonderful Danish film about the underground, he had probably talked to ten times as many people, that he had shot a lot of stuff, but his selection and the way he did it are wonderful.
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