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

Documentary Film as Part of Screen Culture
Sergey Muratov

I would like to begin with a joke. The patient has regained consciousness after a heavy operation, sees a doctor and asks in a weak voice: "Doc, tell me, will I live?" But the doctor, picking in teeth by a toothpick, answers: "What's the use?" And when I hear the dread, whether the documentary cinema would be able to survive in the epoch of globalization of mass communications, I hear the voice of the doctor: “What's the use?"
Thirty-four years ago in the magazine RT (Radio and Television) my article Cinema as a version of television was published. It is necessary to tell, that the title appeared in my head earlier than the article. Certainly, it was provocative, as it is clear that cinema is older than television. However, writing this article I came to the conclusion that there is nothing provocative about the at all. However, I could not even imagine then, that only several decades would pass, and this title would turn out to be deeply archaic, because today both cinema and the television are simply different manifestations of screen culture.
I would like to compare the evolution of screen culture to the evolution of a butterfly: first a larva comes out of the egg, then the larva becomes a caterpillar, the caterpillar – a pupa, and from the pupa the butterfly arises. It means that the larva and the butterfly is one and the same creature in different stages of its development. Something similar has occured for last decades to screen culture. And I should tell, that the larva of the screen culture turned out to be a documentary cinema. Besides, we can tell precisely, when this larva appeared.
On December 28, 1895 on the boulevard des Capucines in Paris in a room of Grand Café billiard tables were shifted together, chairs were placed, the screen was hung up, and there befell the birth of this larva. It is interesting to point out that from the first ten films nine were documentaries and only one – L’arroseur arrousé could conditionally be called a feature film. It seems that such ratio should remain intact: nine
to one. It happened so, only exactly the other way round.
The third part of the century cinema was on the screen only, the next third of the century there was an opposition of cinema and television, and finally, in the last third of century video appeared.
Cinema was the following stage of art; it continued what had been started by theatre, pantomime, and literature. When television appeared, there were many conversations wherewith it differs from cinema. High critics wrote many high words. While at last children of Nigeria uttered the idea like this: that in cinema people talk to each other, but from the television screen they speak to us. Television became the next phase of human communication. Besides, television meant centralization, and it meant integration. At first they co-existed, but later television news ousted newsreels.
Ultimately video came as a replacement of this centralized
intercommunication as a decentralization of intercommunication.
Nowadays these three means of self-expression currently exist side by side. The documentary cinema is a self-expression of the author. The television became self-expression of a society; it became the shortest distance between the individual and the mankind. Moreover, television has become interactive, and it has turned out, that not only people talk to us from the screen, but we also have the possibility to talk to ourselves. Eventually video has become a method of self-expression of small public groups, down to family and the ndividual. Almost everyone can buy a video camera and make a film about themselves.
Besides for the last ten years the entire world has been webbed by the network of the Internet. A little time will pass and everything that has been ever written by the mankind, that has been ever filmed by the mankind, will be in the Internet. It means that if before the world came to us by means of television, nowadays we intercommunicate with the world with the help of the Internet. Everyone can get the website – it is an open access for the mankind to your own house.
Thus, speaking of documentary cinema, I would like to highlight three kinds of it: documentary motion-picture film, documentary television film and documentary video film. All three are screen arts. And the question crops up, whether the television film differs from all the rest, what is demonstrated on the television screen? In my view, the film is a creation. The film on the screen differs from all rest in the same way like a novel or story differs from a newspaper. Certainly, the newspaper is a creation as well. Only it is the creation of one day. A yesterday's newspaper loses any value. Certainly, it is possible to publish a novel in a newspaper as well. By the way, in the times of Alexander Dumas his novels were published in newspapers. Though it would not even occur to anybody to attend library in search for the
newspapers of Dumas’ time in order to read any of Dumas novels.
Still is there any difference between television film and motion-picture film? René Clair in his book Reflections on film art responds very simply to this question: "None". Any television film can be shown on a cinema screen. It is possible to continue further on, that we can show any motion-picture film on television. Undoubtedly, it will not go along without losses: it will be no longer the same film that was designed for the large screen.
And what does the television film lose on the large screen? Probably in the times of Clair it did not lose anything. However at present we can declare that a television film shown on a large screen loses its function of integration – the function, which television can carry out, when the filmwork becomes a resonator of public opinion. For example, Marina Goldovskaya’s film Arkhangelsk Fellow that tells about a man in Arkhangelsk who revolted against the regional committee of the Communist Party in order to become the first Soviet farmer, was shown on television in perestroika times. Now this film is not interesting to watch, but then it was similar to the burst of a bomb, and our press for several years was conquered by the expression Arkhangelsk fellow. It became possible only because the film had been shown on television. If the film had been shown in cinema, it would not have received even part of this attention.
What is exactly the video film? At first sight, it stands even further away from the concept "creation". But no further, than the films of the Lumières that we consider the very beginning of the world cinema. If we filmed similar things nowadays, we would not even call them films. It would be home video. So we have returned to what we began from. It means that at this moment all of us are dealing more and more with non-aesthetic reality that surrounds us. A new kind of cinema arises, where the borderline between the filmmaker and the spectator becomes narrower.
Today we observe a diffusion of genres. Feature films influence documentary cinema, and vice versa: documentary cinema affects features. For example, at this Symposium we saw some films of television genre, for example, The Girl in the Harbour, where the author is a reporter; she arrives to interview the seamen. In the films For Aesthetic Reasons, The Grandmother, Hitler and Me the authors choose the leading role, which is already acquired and approved by the television. It is a natural process. However, speaking about documentary cinema, I continue to declare just the same: on the one hand documentary cinema procreated all the screen culture, on the other hand it should master itself anew and on large screen. In this sense it was interesting for me to observe films on a large screen at this Symposium. Some of them were made so magnificently that I
cannot imagine, what could possibly remain of them on television.
The television films are crystals, which effloresce from a solution of live broadcasting, nevertheless maintaining all the properties, which they have obtained in this live broadcasting. They are resonators of public opinion. For example, let us take Viktor Dashuk’s film Reportage from the Rabbit Hutch. He was finishing it in a terrible hurry, because he hoped to complete it until Belarus Presidential elections. He made the film insomuch as a film of instant action. If it had been shown before elections, at least part of electors would have been forced to start thinking, what they voted for. Yet it was not shown on television and it turned into a Bickford fuse instead of an explosion.
This diffusion of genres and this interpenetration is not a temporary phenomenon. I suppose that this is a new constant status. We will travel from one class to another, from one category to another all the time. If a person who has at least some professionalism, films a fact of personal life it can become a fact of public life. The fact of personal death can become a public event, as ten years ago, when a specialized unit of Soviet shock troops was trying to occupy the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and when the cameraman Andris Slapins was fatally wounded, he shouted to his colleague from last forces: "Film me!" He understood that he was the victim, he was the evidence, and he was the witness to what happened. And the camera, which dropped out of his hands afterwards, continued to film by itself. Certainly, it is not the fact of the chronicle only; it subsequently entered a film, and it will enter other films as well.
However we should learn to consider the phenomena that we are witnessing to in the gauge that they deserve. If we compare the history of the screen culture to the history of the development of life on the Earth, now we are experiencing the period, which our planet went through, when amphibious came out of the water on the dry land. Thus the documentary cinema have to adapt new spaces not only in width, but also in depth.
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