Documentarydfgfdg Film. Riddles of Globalisation
proceedings of the International Documentary Film Symposium held on September 8 - 13, 2001 in Riga, Latvia

But the Greatest of These Is…
Allan Berg

The documentary film has grown into great classic art in my awareness in recent years. It deals with profound themes, profound feelings. Therefore, I must apply profound words from my European background and link them to the films I have seen, enjoyed and thought about in my country, Denmark, and at The Balticum Film & TV Festival. I'll take three of them. They all come from the Baltic region: Anything Can Happen by the Polish film director Marcel Lozinski, The Jewish Street by Herz Frank and Children of Kosovo by Ferenc Moldovanyi. These films were created in the times when things were really humming: the political struggles, the new opening to the East, the retrospective studies, the extent of the crimes and the identity of the traitors.
The Crime
Children of Kosovo. A girl in a room of a rural house in Kosovo last year. She is making dough, then puts it aside to rise. She walks out the door that is allowed to swing all the way back before the cut. She and her two younger brothers walk down the road through the village. Next scene, they are sitting in dread on a sofa in a damaged room. Then they tell what happened.
Interviewer (off): Do you remember the day?
Girl: Yes.
Interviewer (off): Were you with your brothers?
Girl: Yes.
Interviewer (off): Would you tell me about it?
Girl: If you ask me questions.
Interviewer (off): What were you doing at that time?
Girl: When we returned from the convoy we settled here. We were in this room. The Serb forces arrived. Dad was lying on the couch. I was the only one who was outside, the others were in the house. Three people came and told me in Serbian to stop. Three times. I did not stop. My sister came to warn me they might shoot. Then I went onto the porch. They ordered me to go in. I didn't want to. Finally I did. My little brother (she looks at him) came in and told my father the militia was looking for him. Dad went out. I was watching. The Serb militia man asked him if he was a terrorist. Dad said he wasn't. "Terrorists lived here", the Serb militia man replied. Dad said he didn't know them. "Aren't you one of them?" the Serb asked. Dad said he wasn't a terrorist. "Never mind" the man said, "Go over there and raise your hands." We all left the house. Dad raised his hands and the Serb shot him with his machine-gun. Blood streamed down his legs but he was still standing. We ran away. My sister remained. Then the three men grabbed my sister and took her in here… When it was over they asked her what her father had done. She said he'd done nothing. She collapsed onto her father's body, his blood was on her face, his body had been shot to pieces, his bowels were out. We covered
him with a blanket, except for his face so we could see it…
The entire scene of the three children on the sofa is one unbroken sequence. She is crying all the time while she tells the story. Her oldest brother is also crying, while the youngest only feels dread. I see it in his eyes that he averts from the camera all the time. The scene continues after her testimony and she cries for such a long time that I discover and understand its relief.
The most important aspect of documentary films is their presence. In a presence as great as this one, I have brought it as close as possible to a point of pain in the history of our part of the world. A major event, though one of thousands. An event more important to remember than countless international conferences put together.
In his filmic work Ferenc Moldovanyi has mounted the children's testimony as the central pictures in a triptych of landscape shots and depiction of everyday life facing a sacred concert in a darkened church interior of our times. Just as medieval altarpieces focused the prayers about human suffering in front of a singing choir of believers. The filmic works are the altarpieces of our era in front of modern, sceptical silence.
The Retaliation
The camera from high above shows me Riga. Then I am drawn closer, zooming in on roofs and individual buildings ending with the synagogue. The camera dwells on the inscription on a stone tablet: "Forever remember our parents, brothers, sisters and children murdered and burned by fascists in the year 5701. Let their souls be bound securely in the Bundle of the Living. For Jews of Riga Ghetto, the Martyrs of Faith".
In The Jewish Street Herz Frank outlines the story. The Russian occupation, then the German one. The Latvian Flag was removed everywhere, the director comments in his voiceover: "Like in all times they started with Temples". The synagogues are burning.
Above the expansive landscape of Riga ghetto with a catholic church on one side and an evangelic church on the other, the voice tells that over there near the horizon above the neighbourhood is Rumbula, Riga Babiy Yar, as he puts it.
The Christian churches confine and guard the ghetto; the elements in Frank's analysis summarize the accusation in quiet ascertainment. No reason to shout any more; just adding these local facts to what I already know is enough.
The film is a description of the director's investigation. He methodically works his way towards the appalling knowledge of what happened and towards understanding the fate of the Jewish people. I follow him from witness to witness, from archive document to archive document. The film gains insight those shocking events. So do I.
One of the witnesses in Herz Frank's investigation is the novelist and physician Bernhard Press. He wrote the book Judenmord in Lettland 1941-1945 (The Murder of Jews in Latvia 1941-1945). I meet him together with the director on the guided tour through uncluttered landscapes, but at the point when I have become disoriented and have entrusted everything to my guide. Press talks energetically as he stands in some kind of a corridor that wanders off into darkness and I hear his story in one of the condensed sequences of this narrative dramatization.
When Press was a young man he escaped from the Riga ghetto before the extermination but after the Russian occupation of Latvia, and ended up in Gulag. He worked as a doctor in a Siberian prison camp where he met a man who had been put there as a nazi collaborator. The man suffered from paralysis in his legs and gave up all hope. Press, however, got him going and planned a physical training program for him. Soon the man improved. Press says: "After a month or so he started walking with a stick. When I asked him why he had been imprisoned, he answered 'Because I shot those hooked nosed'. He meant Jews. What does a Jewish doctor do in this situation? I kept treating him. What else could I do? I couldn't violate my Hippocratic oath, so I took revenge in a childish way. When he was released from the camp as a disabled man, he was going to his relatives somewhere in the East. He asked me to give him a letter for his future doctor. I wrote something on a slip of paper and sealed it in the envelope. It said: ‘Your paralysis is God’s punishment for your sins’. A Jewish revenge."
In Anything Can Happen Marcel Lozinski takes his six-year-old son to the park and asks him to ride around on his push scooter and occasionally stop at benches and start talking with whomever - mainly elderly persons - is sitting there. The film crew follows him recording the interactions from a very great distance without being seen. Six-year-old Tomek is equipped with a small wireless microphone and has received general instructions as to what he should do and what he should talk with he people about. Otherwise the boy improvises the conversations.
One can smile and laugh during these nineteen conversations that their childlike wisdom wonderfully cover many serious human problems. This is the first time I see the hidden camera technique used for anything else but making people look ridiculous to the audience. The film does the opposite: it reconstructs personal dignity.
It starts with a refusal. The boy - easy to spot in his red jacket - has to give up and continue riding his scooter along the footpaths of the park. Between every bench encounter he is accompanied by a Strauss waltz on the soundtrack as he is rushing along, giving the viewer a few seconds to think about what has been just said.
The ingenious dialogue - which must have been fashioned during the editing of many metres of footage from nine days of improvised shooting - continues embroidering in its own Socratic system. There are nineteen conversations on various topics: on being a child and an adult, on the war, on the length of life, on love, divorce, illnesses, poverty, money, sorrow and death.
In the nineteenth conversation an old man describes the sorrow he feels over the death of his wife. And about the significance of her memory. He still feels he is together with his beloved in the rooms at home, and Tomek acknowledges that his mother felt the same when grandfather died. And the little boy quiets Death: "If someone dies, it doesn't mean you will never see her again. Perhaps Death will stop," he explains by holding his flat hand in a stopping gesture, "and life will return. It might happen!"
Anything can happen.

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