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

Travel Costs of Transition
Karlo Funk

The last decade in Estonia has been described as transition from one political system to another. At the same time another transition took place that can be called digital revolution. It means that there is the Internet, there are international TV channels, the news is quicker. The branch of documentaries, which was devoted from the very beginning to showing the unknown, somehow lost its position. It means there is no place in the world that one cannot see on TV first before they go there. So documentary cinema has to find new issues and new themes to deal with.
These changes are only natural and at the same time they are perceived as danger for many cultures, which are built on a strong sense of national identity. This transition can be understood as a trip or traveling.
Traveling always requires expenses. Many changes in Estonian documentary film actually express the price, which has to be paid. It means the lower quality of picture, less metaphorical attitude towards the subject, cheaper formats, very quick and often superficial issues and methods of work on the film. A lot of documentary filmmakers use the methods and means of television and these products are said to be documentary films. On the other hand there are many documentaries, which turn to traditional themes of Estonian documentary cinema like the Northern tribes living in Siberia, which are related to Estonian nation at least on the level on language, portraits of well-known people.
In my opinion, Estonian documentaries have always been less metaphorical and devoted to humanistic values than documentary cinema in the other countries of this region. Quite many documentaries nowadays and during the 90s have tried to show positively the lives of famous Estonians living abroad, for example, a political advisor of the king of Tonga island in the Pacific Ocean, or a staff editor of National Geographic, or a millionaire in Venezuela who was accused
of being involved in killing of Jews during World War Two.
The young directors in this sense have their own attitude and they try to speak to the audience directly, they try to analyze those changes in the society, and at the same time to analyze the media, which help them express it.
At first, let me explain very briefly the situation in Estonian filmmaking. Almost all films are being filmed on video. In last few years only two films were made on 35mm. In 1999 there were 62 films completed, and in 2000 - 45 films. Quite few of those were shown in the festivals abroad. TV stations neither support nor co-produce the films. At least we have a good film festival in Pärnu. The films shown at the festival are also shown on TV, often the same evening as they are demonstrated in the cinema.
State financing of films including documentaries has two foundations. At present the direction of film development is to make films very quickly and as cheap as possible. Actually this is the rule of selection the projects. A lot of films can be made and the best of them stand out. The renowned Estonian documentarists still make films. In this sense the situation between younger and older generation is balanced.
At numerous film seminars it is told that a local story can travel and cross the borders. It is true and it is not true because a story cannot be too local to be understood widely. Stories can be local and authentic in very different ways. If a film travels abroad the reception of it also can be very different and it can be misunderstood. The film you saw at the Symposium Self-portrait with Mother by Edvard Oja has been shown at many festivals, and one can see it as a very honest video diary but, on the other hand, it may be perceived as a serious social document. Self-portrait... actually hit the nerve of the society, it was widely discussed, what happens quite rarely to documentaries.
The films by younger documentary filmmakers also touch important issues, but they are practically not shown abroad, as they are too local in many senses. For example, the film Big Sister, which has the idea of Big Brother. The film is about women politicians, about the reasons why women go to politics, which sometimes seen as something abnormal in the Estonian society. One of the five central characters of the film was the former Miss Estonia, now a business-woman, who became notorious owing to tabloids. The important thing is that she tried to withdraw the film from television and the filmmakers were under her pressure. It means that in the minds of politicians documentary film is important. During the campaign before Presidential elections some candidates preferred the clips made of documentary films to the usual political campaign on television. At least it shows
that documentary film still is an impressive medium.

It often happens that in the process of making films ethical conflicts appear between the authors and the characters. Some time ago a film about school violence was made in Estonia, which was quite straightforward. A few days before the first screening two boys required they should not be shown in the film. And the film was not on TV because the children had every right to do so.
It means that the directors did not actually violate towards ethics but they had not made an agreement before they started the film. One of the boys grew about ten centimetres high during the summer so he did not want to be reminded about how he had looked before. I'd like to say that this is the price that should be paid for losing the traditional values of documentary film.
At this Symposium we have been talking a lot about moral and ethical values. The changes in Eastern European documentary cinema can be seen from different perspectives. It seems to me that for a documentary filmmaker there is no better situation as the one, in which he works. Hence the situation in documentary film in this region can't be evaluated only on the basis of the past, on the basis of the principles, which were important twenty years ago. The American philosopher and pragmatist Richard Rorty showed that moral is not accidental. It changes in time. The same can be said about documentary films. Creative and interesting documentary films still will be made independently of circumstances. They only have to raise new questions and deal with them.
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