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

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Zhivile Pipinite

One of my colleagues remarked that the signs of globalization can be found everywhere over the world except perhaps the North Korea. We all live under the conditions of globalization and know them very well. Documentary cinema, in my view, is just at the point of coming into the global space. Yet we, Easterners, are more concerned about another matter: how to get over the threshold of our perception of ourselves after the ten-year traveling my Estonian colleague Karlo Funk was talking about. In the course of this decade everything changed in our life, all the former values were doubted. These processes were so intensive that it was hardly possible to interpret them at once. I think now it is the point where we should start analyzing the changes and considering what has happened to our cinema meanwhile.
However, the problem of interpretation relates not only to films. Now representatives of many other fields are analyzing their experience in the context of the last decade. It is of interest that the peculiarity of the process in Lithuania is that it associates with another word - self-respect or sometimes it is also called dignity. Some time ago a survey exhibition was open in Vilnius which was devoted to the last ten years. And the most interesting thing was that young artists turned not to some more visible forms but to the old Lithuanian newsreels of the Soviet period. It is for the first time during the last ten years when films were used as means of interpreting of what has happened to us.
When we are discussing this span of time, as a starting point it is important to realize, whether we want it or not, what we had been before. When I saw at this Symposium the film about military pilots, Boost (Russia, N.Guguyeva), it was a cultural shock for me. First I was a bit irritated by the subject as it seemed to me like going back to the old Soviet military cinema. Then I suddenly realized that Boost reminded me of a novel by the modern Russian writer Pelevin. The book is a postmodernistic grotesque. It is about a military flying school named after Alexey Maresyev, a hero of World War Two who flew with artificial legs. So all young people who enter the school must undergo amputation of legs, so that they could fly like Maresyev with artificial limbs. Owing to Pelevin's novel the film about military pilots acquired a new dimension for me. Pelevin tried to reconstruct the Soviet thinking. And the film also seems to be a kind of reconstruction of the mentality of Soviet people. Its protagonist says with all the pathos of sacrifice that they'll fight with Americans and they are ready to sacrifice everything for their ideals.
In my opinion this reconstruction reflects exactly where we came from and where the whole our documentary cinema came from, the one we analyzed for such a long time. As I said the film was a cultural shock for me which indicates one of the ways how to regain the self-esteem.
Still here we are faced with another problem. When we discuss films of this kind another issue crops up which is directly connected with globalization. I mentioned Pelevin in connection with Boost and I have many other associations in my mind including documentary films. Meanwhile this context is gradually disappearing. I do not believe that my students are able to recreate this context. When I show to them the Soviet fiction film Suburb I realize that they do not know what the roots of the film are. Yet when I show to them the works by Brian de Palmo they do not know the roots of this cinema either. One of the consequences of globalization is that the context of our documentary cinema is gradually disappearing. Two things emerge instead. For one it is mass culture film what is narrowing the scope of perception. As it might be expected it has a certain impact on film directors. They avoid any complicated imagery. I noticed this tendency also at this Symposium: when the filmmakers use metaphors for some reason they speak about dogs, birds and so on. It seems that broader metaphors are not used any longer. Of course when we speak about
beasts, the metaphor will be clear in different cultural contexts.
Another consequence of narrowing down the context is exotics in the films. For example I liked the film Just a Gigolo about Bulgarian musicians who perform in Scandinavia. Still as far as the visual aspect is concerned a lot of exotics is there. One of the layers of the third part of Kossakovsky's I Loved You... about kindergarten is also a certain exotic aspect of the Soviet culture. And it somehow distracts us form more important topics.
There is one more issue related to the last decade. In the very beginning we wanted to be likable to the West, we wanted to be understood and valued by them. This was the first meeting of the East and the West. It had some impact on this Symposium too when two very different perceptions of documentary cinema clashed. We, Easterners, are used to the culture where documentary was very metaphoric and intensive. Filmmakers tried to squeeze everything they wanted to express into a small span of time, sometimes in ten minutes. On the other hand we faced another tradition: long films mostly with one-linear narration. Therefore very often we do not have a common reception.
When narration is metaphoric we usually deal with several layers connected with the cultural context. For example, I liked very much the film Moscow Angel. I saw many layers in it. It is the narration about a boy, a victim of fate; it is also the narration about the mother who embodies the Moscow elite. At the same time it is the narration about the façade culture that existed in the Soviet times being the ground element of the Soviet culture. In the film we can see that the culture is absolutely the same in a new Russia which on the face of it seems to reject the past.
Yet I think five more years will pass and many of these things will be no more diagnostic for us. I am afraid I'll lose the cultural context, or maybe the filmmakers under the pressure of globalization will produce the films where all the layers will be expressed in a more popular way or they will be given from the point of view of the characters. Then the films like Moscow Angel would run 90 minutes. In my view, this is one of the ways of globalization which is not always a good road.
Now let me give a few ideas about the films shown at the Symposium. It seemed to me that when directors speak about globalization for some reason they make men the protagonists of their films (End of the Line, American Dream). But when the talk is about
some deeper problems women are in the centre of the stories.
The filmmakers are approaching their characters closer and closer. Of course this is the achievement of new technical opportunities. But it seems to me that it also reflects an obvious feature of these films: almost every film shown at the Symposium has its subject lonely. The central character of the film The Day That Vanished in a Handbag is lonely with her disease, the protagonist of the Lithuanian film Alone, a small girl, is lonely in the world where nobody needs her. All these stories of personal 'lonelinesses' trigger off the idea that loneliness is probably becoming more and more global. Maybe this global loneliness will be the subject matter of documentaries in the era of globalization.

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