Documentary Film. Riddles of Globalisation
proceedings of the International Documentary Film Symposium
held on September 8 - 13, 2001 in Riga, Latvia
After Important Decade Facing a Global World
Martin Stoll

Last year the most important era of Czech documentary film finished - the 90s were stronger and more explosive and impulsive than our golden sixties. Keeping to the author's view of the 60s together with using the new techniques of making documentaries proved to be a fruitful combination that caused a real boom of films, boom of topics, boom of the plots which had been prohibited before. Documentary filmmakers, small private companies, Czech television as the main broadcaster of documentaries took the possibility to make and support films. In the 90s we produced hundreds of films a year; a lot of young directors came into films, some filmmakers of the 60s returned: everybody wanted to contribute to the history. The society was like a living organism changing and seeking for its new ideals and for its original roots.
Like in the 60s documentaries of the 90s reflected the reality; the camera was often used as a tool of sociological work. It is true, the aesthetics of the film, the film language changed a lot thanks to video. Of course, some filmmakers were content with the picture, talking heads, but some directors managed to keep the camera viewing on a high level.
Still we did everything what should be done after the fall of the regime. We made films about our history after World War 2 trying to find non-ideological way of treating the subject.
The new climate brought new phenomena: suddenly it became possible to make films about invalids or retarded people, about sexual minorities, prostitution, violence, racism, unemployment and many other problems.
Yet both documentary filmmakers and spectators are tired after this decade. The popularity of documentaries is lower than in the beginning of the 90s. But it does not mean that people lost their interest to documentary film completely. A huge support came from the nation and international media during the Christmas crisis in Czech television. People realize the importance to save something national, non-commercial, including documentaries, what our non-state television offers to them.
Nowadays documentaries are dealing with the new changes in society. If in the beginning of the 90s McDonald's was a symbol of freedom and new society, now the same McDonald's is a symbol of the artificially globalized world. Last year Czech Republic was a host of IMF (International Monetary Fund) and WB (World Bank) meeting what caused some disturbances on the streets. We have a long documentary about the events called The Report of the State of the
World (Zprava o stavu sveta) made by five directors.
On the whole Czech documentary filmmakers are still prolific and their topics are various. The turn of the millenniums also became a topic of some important films like We, people of the century (My, lide stoleti) by Ivan Vojnar or Women in the End of Millennium (Zeny na konci tisicileti) by Helena Trestikova.
I am glad to report that two classics of Czech New Wave, Vera Chytilova and Jan Nemec, made their autobiographical films. By the way Nemec's self-portrait, Night Interview with Mother (Nochni hovory s matkou) became the first Czech film which can be seen only on the Internet.
Still, what can Czech documentary bring to the globalized world? I was thinking of it a lot during my trip to Discovery Channel Symposium in Berlin in January 2001. And I found the answer there. It was very simple: nothing, just to stay Czech. Discovery is producing globalized topics for everybody. There is no topic from Czech Republic which could be interesting to them. We do not have natural calamities, we do not have the biggest bridges in the world, we do not have enough money to produce computer dinosaurs series. The main question is: why should we?
At this Symposium we had a lot of discussions on the phenomenon of European culture. Here two main questions arise. First of all we should be sure that such a phenomenon really exists. And secondly, should we fight against the American culture pressure?
When you are in America you feel that something European in you really exists. You are analyzing your behaviour and the way of thinking comparing it to the American ones and suddenly you realize that your background is hundred times more complicated than the American one and you never know if it is good or bad. Europe
looks like a very complex continent from that distance.
I am glad that at this Symposium I can feel European. Films here were far away from the globalized topics. And here Czech films may take their chance to be useful to the world documentary by dealing with Czech topics, by showing Czech nature, Czech people or Czech history. Please, do not take it as nationalism. The thing is that a documentary filmmaker wants to be close to the life he knows well. Why should we look for the topics in South Africa when something more important is lying in front of our door?
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