RECORDS of DOCUMENTARY FILM SYMPOSIUM
held on May 3 - 9, 1997 in Jurmala, Latvia
European Documentary Film Symposiums Riga, 1999
DOCUMENTARY FILM. THE AGE GONE. AN AGE TO COME?
ROUND TABLE


Victor
Kossakovsky

















































I should like to say that the person operating the camera is, in fact, of more importance than the director, for life happens once only, it is happening at this particular moment, and it is the person with the camera who decides how to employ it. If he has a particular attitude to what he is seeing at the moment, and if he is able to find the size required and the suitable distance between the characters and the camera, to react to the changes in the frame, if he is able to react professionally to what is happening in these particular moments in life, if he knows what and how the camera should do, then the sequence shot by him becomes a frame, becomes cinema.

A.F. Losev once told me: there are clever people of two different kinds; some say what they know, while the others think at the moment of speaking and try to say something they do not know as yet, something generated at the moment in their head. A person with the camera is the person thinking at the moment the camera zooms, and if he is thinking, then a real frame will emerge.

The movie "Look at the Face" was mentioned many times, but the most important thing about it was forgotten, I think. This movie, as any one which stays in the history of documentary cinema, is based on certain principles. Its aesthetic principle is defined by its title: "Look at the Face". Everything is done for this sake.

Movies have different origins. Some start with the contents, still others presume that the cinema is the opportunity to let people feel something they would not be able to feel otherwise. That only while sitting in a dark hall and looking at the screen can they experience emotional impressions impossible to experience in any other situation, either in an intelligent conversation, or when reading novels, or even when watching a feature film. This is the origin of a film: if the person who intends to make it has a certain aesthetic position and if he knows what sort of feelings and emotions documentary cinema can provide. Documentary cinema only, not any other kind of art or of human activity, i.e. in my view, it is not enough to be a clever or a decent person in order to make documentary films.

Surely, we can indulge in recalling time and again how good it was when everything was so bad, how gifted we were when we were not allowed to speak, but we still found a way to do it so that people would understand what we had in mind. It’s high time we stopped toying with it, we stopped harping on the same string. Nobody cares. The world seems not to have been in the know. I think that life goes on and we should stick to our work. Thank God, there is the TV and the video now, they have deprived us of what we should not deal with, and we should now do something that nobody else can.

What is, actually, essential for a documentary film director? What should he be able to do? A person with the camera has his own cast of mind, unknown to anyone, and he pays attention the things that other people just do not notice. Not because he is better or worse, it’s just that his nose or his nature is different.

So, if it is only you who can film what you want to film, it’s worth it. There are many themes which can be dealt with by five or a hundred of directors, but in this case it’s not worth doing, for they will do it without you. But you are able to see something that would seem insignificant and vague to someone else. Then it’s yours. Only something that will never occur to others to do is worth doing.

I also think that when they publish, say, in a magazine the frame with "Madonna Litta" by Leonardo from "Look at the Face", it’s not only its colour that is lost, but also the main thing about it: the only format possible. When the artist was painting it, he did not assume that two versions were possible, but only one. Life itself cannot have two versions, it cannot happen twice. You can film twice on the video, and that’s why it’s of no interest. You can do it once only on a film, and life, too, takes place once only, so at this very moment you have to hit on the only possible format of each frame. You get a bit closer - and life is presented in a false way, you have overdone it. The person behaves unnaturally. You go a bit further - the most essential thing is lost: the relation between the camera and that person. If while shooting you always feel this borderline, the frame will transform in time and it will remain a frame.

At the beginning of the workshop I was cross, because I thought: well, here I am again, and they are going to tell me something I studied at college. 15 or 20 year have passed since, and it’s high time we discussed something else. Times have changed. But now I am grateful to all of you, for I realised suddenly that I had not discussed cinema with anyone in this way for quite a time. Usually we discuss the lack of financing, how cinema should be financed, listen to wonderful presentations on how this is done in other countries. We just don’t discuss the conception of a new movie or what film is worth sparing on, so, frankly, I’m glad that I’ve come here.

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