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DOCUMENTARIES ON THE BRINK OF MILLENNIUM
proceedings of the International Documentary Film Symposium held on September 11 - 16, 1999 in Riga, Latvia


What Is Beyond Reality?
Zivile Pipinite
Vilnius
The consistency of our meetings reminds us that there is still something that does not change so very fast in the world. This really stimulates me as a critic because I am forced every week to write about Hollywood films. But here I feel myself in a niche, in a space where I can think about those things which I really take interest in. I believe that our words, our ideas which have been expressed here are not going to be lost because they all go into the biosphere; they are also influencing films and us.
Yesterday Abrams Kletskin said that the Lithuanian film is in decline. The documentary film which started in the 80s, becomes more and more stylized with the new generation. We have the feeling that the documentary filmmakers are feeding us by pastries but we seem to want brown bread.
The two new films which were screened at the Symposium I think reflect the situation very clearly when film itself has exhausted the possibilities which were formulated at the transition stage, when two generations were changed. For that reason it seems to me that two basic problems, which as if were formulated by the present situation, will be as follows: the attitude towards the reality, goes outside the framework of realism because this depiction of reality as if comes from the sphere of style and moves into the sphere of attitude toward reality and perception of reality. We have to re-consider this anew from the position of the end of the century and the end of the millennium. Unfortunately, the approach to the new millennium becomes in the hand of mass media and it is presented like advertisement or a commercial trick. The new age becomes simply a product for a very subtle consumer. And the question is what in fact defines the end of the Millennium.
The documentary film which emerged as if to serve the needs of society, brought up in a sense this mistrust of the reality. It always wanted as if to tame this reality in tradition of the epoch of Enlightenment which concluded that the reality can be cognized. And this function suppressed the ability of film to register time.
That is why I consider the best films of this Symposium Sisters by Pawel Lozinski, Bread Day by Sergey Dvortsvoy, Kuchuguri by Vladimir Gerchikov and Prague by Reijo Nikkila. In those films we have the texture of this reality which stands out to be a narrative in itself. From this texture we can also see a different meaning of this reality emerging because the stories shown in Kuchuguri, in Bread Day obtain a certain degree of universality. And the truth itself becomes one of the components of the present-day reality. The message in those films is acquiring the deep-seated reality and sometimes the films can frighten by their unpredictability. This is the secret, which was denied by the people of the epoch of Enlightenment.
And this new reality which breaks out through the surface of the film, it does not have to emerge of the daily life. In that sense the film about Prague partly illustrates this idea because we see that a certain historical reality emerges out of the texture of the film which perhaps was forgotten.
This forming of reality which is registered in the film, is the most important aspect of the documentary film.
I believe that documentary often, in particular at the early stages of its development felt its helplessness confronted with the hidden meaning of reality, there emerged the need in documentary film to interpret this reality.
When we think of the interpretation, the question of limits of reality in documentary arises. Certain means of interpretation define the limits of how this reality is shown to us. These possibilities of interpretation are developing along three planes. The first one would be television. The reality for it is a story. That is why the TV series become very favorable grounds for telling history to people.
The second sphere is the author documentary films. Although it is not in fashion to talk about the author film, I think in documentary cinema it still remains one of the essential definitions, which presupposes the subjective view at these histories and History.
And the third sphere would be the perception by the spectator of this restricted reality. Film, television and mass media form the attitude of the spectator towards reality. The spectator is constantly offered some patterns how to formulate the attitude towards reality. That can explain the increased demand in documentary film and in particular in feature film for true story.
The most common feature of all these three aspects of interpretation is the elimination of various taboos. We saw that in Megacities, in The Night of Long Knives and even in The Last Documentary. In front of our eyes over the past few decades things changed: what was considered taboo previously - showing of death, suffering, intimacy, different degrees of degradation of matter, including also human body - this all became as if the basic theme of the documentary film. I could make a conclusion that these images illustrate the helplessness of reason in front of the destructive force of reality. It is possible that this is a danger not such much of globalization but of some sort of unified order of images. This is basically the danger of giving up the individual evaluation of the world. Disintegration of reality contains in itself also disintegration of understanding of the world as the united entity.
When the style becomes also an ethical category, then the problem of the author immediately is posed. Still I would like to say that not all authors of documentary films are strong personalities or personalities who have anything to say. That we saw in The Last Documentary.
The authors manifest themselves through certain cultural codes. They demonstrate or strictly deny the links with certain traditions.
And there is another point. I was already talking that some authors are trying to mediate themselves through cultural context. But we saw the film From the Life of Lambs by Janina Lapinskaite. There you can put all things into the shelves. This comes from the Lithuanian tradition of documentary cinema. Even the film by Audrius Stonys Fedia. Three Minutes After the Big Bang is the author film which in fact is constructed by the principle of collage. These cultural relationships, cultural codes somehow substitute the author's intonation, the author's position.
Thus on the example of the Lithuanian films we can see that the authorship becomes a pose, a rhetorical means of expression. What's more in the Lithuanian cinema the author's position contains in itself the tendency of the filmmakers to restrict themselves from reality. The author's monologue is conveyed by aloof and entirely poetic images.
For me From the Life of Lambs is the best illustration to it. It is not a story about kids, it is about the artist herself. Although for me, it would be much more interesting to see the actual destiny of these children.
In other words the images of reality become simply a number of cliches. I saw this also in Megacities , in Søren Ulrik and in Words.
Now I would like to touch upon a completely different tendency, which for me was proven by some films of the Symposium. More and more often author becomes a character. Although it sounds paradoxical, thus he is much freer to retain his subjectivity, because becoming a character you as if estrange yourself from yourself. Besides, in a sense, you can be more open and more direct in means of expression. For me the idea was supported by the film Private Chronicles. Monologue by Vitaly Mansky. The film is obtaining more universal tonality unlike those attempts in The Last Documentary.
More and more often the authors of documentary films speak from the vantage-point of a literary character. This creates a certain distance what in documentary cinema is also important because within this distance the attitude of the author towards this reality is manifested. But as to the film by Viktor Dashuk the distance is not there; and for that reason we perceive this film as an individual case.
The poet from the Danish film tells that a young person at the certain age needs to feel himself or herself as a character of a certain historical event or a novel. This as if promotes the process of maturing of feelings. But of late we see the self-centreness in the documentary film and in art in general. I think this tendency has lead to what I call the syndrome of the personage. We become simply the characters of our own lives.
To speak from our own vantage point is no more sufficient. We need a kind of another approach to reality.
At the very end I would like to mention some theses. The biggest problem of documentary film on the brink of Millennium is the attitude towards reality. It is difficult to identify with it but documentary film (and it was shown by many films of the Symposium) more often become the witness not only of the History but also of small histories and the witness of reality.
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