Documentary Film. Riddles of Globalisation
proceedings of the International Documentary Film Symposium
held on September 8 - 13, 2001 in Riga, Latvia
Round Table
Abram Kletzkin (Riga)
Last years we had very wide themes for the symposiums. That is understandable as when some transitions are going on in the society it is necessary to realize those processes. Still there were some opinions voiced that maybe we would better turn to more professional and concrete themes. For instance, in connection with the change of the whole situation in documentary cinema the problems of professionalism, of search for new language means, new ways of reaching the audience can be raised. Apart from that in many countries, especially in postcommunist ones, there has been a drastic change of generations. On the one hand this is very productive by way of new ideas and opportunities, but on the other hand the general professional level has been decreasing.
Perhaps there are some other topical issues which you would like to be discussed.
Vitaly Mansky (Moscow)
For me, as a person who works a lot on television, or as I would like to put it with television, the question of globalization of documentary cinema is a very urgent one. I face it every day as a producer. But I first confronted the problem as a film director when I made the film Blessing. It is a story about a Russian village. The film was shown on television in Russia, then the channel ARTE wanted to show it but they asked to omit the episode when peasants were slaughtering a pig. Their motivation was that such things did not meet the general ethics of the channnel. Some time later I got the proposal from Iran, a very complimenting one, but with the postscriptum: "Don't you have by any chance a similar film where women would have longer sleeves?"
In my view, documentary cinema is a very intimate thing. However today, as we have already defined, documentaries can exist only on television where this intimate aspect clashes with the laws of television. We live in the era of global television. Thus the German film about an Albanian girl is shown across the world, consequently it starts performing some other roles. It is an interesting question for me, whether film directors should take into account that their films enter a broader space and get the role they might not be quite aware of, that in other cultures the film could be understood completely differently, that showing women with short sleeves could be taken as an offence to the whole nation.

Rainer Wagner (Stuttgart)
I see two layers of globalization of documentary cinema: either it is expressed in the content of films, or it has a general impact on documentaries. Vitaly gave us a striking example that really makes us think how documentary-makers could react on this challenge of globalization?
I'd like also to point out another question. I have always been thinking about the understanding of documentary films in different cultures. Sometimes, as Zivile Pipinite noticed, it is not possible to get all the layers of a film unless you have the corresponding cultural background. For me the best example is Moscow Angel. After Zivile told about the impression the film made on her, I realized that I had understood practically nothing of the documentary. I saw only the surface. Meanwhile another Russian film shown at this Symposium, Natural Selection, for me as a German was full of allusions and symbols. I saw the competition in capitalism, the struggle for fame and many other things. I saw a lot of layers in it. It proves that even in the era of globalization your cultural background allows you to have a deeper or shallower way to films. Nobody wants globalization to mean total cultural intermingling.

Agris Redovic (Riga)
Vitaly Mansky has focused on a very serious subject: human emotions in the global perception environment, how one becomes part of this perception.
This is really one of the most crucial questions with regards to the existence of documentary cinema. I do not think that anyone at this table is able to give a convincing answer to this question. It reminds of the situation we experienced discussing the issues of globalization. The process of globalization is so complicated, and at the same time so topical and close to us, that it is impossible to arrive at some serious conclusion without a very long and persistent intellectual effort. The course of the conference made me sure of it. Each of us could only touch upon some particular aspect of the problem; they were those aspects we have experienced ourselves. But we are still not ready to make any conclusions about the issue.
Our Symposium is 25 years old. For that time its form has not practically been changed. Maybe it a high time to think of some new approaches to the problems of documentary film, which would be more directly related to the lives of filmmakers.
The issue of globalization that seemed very topical to us, in real fact diverts us from discussing the creative problems what we actually are ready to do, as this is part of our personal experience. Perhaps the next Symposium could at least partially deal with the development of the genre, the issues of the film language. In other words we could find some aspect of importance for all of us. Moreover our Symposium is trying to contribute to the theoretical development of documentary film art. Thus we could also include some historical part into the next Symposium, a kind of retrospective. A lot of young people these days have not seen the works by very prominent directors who made serious contribution into documentary cinema. It could give some historical perspective to our discussions, so that we would not stay in the present day.

Zhivile Pipinite (Vilnius)
I think that the question raised by Vitaly Mansky is a rhetorical one. It is the question of the choice made by the author: either he or she makes a product of mass culture acceptable to many countries, or they create a film as a work of art. I think that nowadays cinema is widely accessible in the same way as a computer: in the nearest future we'll be able to compare the situation in filmmaking to the situation in literature. Very many pieces of literature are published every year, but only bestsellers become known globally. They differ from other books in the way that whichever country they are produced in, they follow the same practice: a little bit of intrigue, a little bit of something nationally specific, either the landscape, or characters. And everything is developing so as everybody could understand this in any country.
I think in future documentary cinema will become stratified in the same way as it has already happened to features. As there is esoteric literature, there will be esoteric that is highly artistic documentaries which will not necessarily try to give answers to some political items, will not necessarily establish particular relations with the reality, but they will simply develop the aesthetic aspect of documentary cinema. I think this process has already started. That is why I believe that speaking about some tendencies documentaries are submitted to is narrowing the angle of perception of documentary cinema. That is why I am saying that Vitaly Mansky's question is a rhetorical one. In the long run it depends on each artist what he or she wants to do and who they want to address: the whole world what means turning to nobody in particular, or they want to address the audience they are interested in.

Vidar Trellevik (Bergen)
It was very interesting for me to be here and to meet colleagues from so many countries. We live in the same part of the world but still there is a great cultural difference between us. Actually I used to another kind of conference when the participants are of the same cultural background, they are like a family, they try to help each other. But here we faced some confrontation between countries and cultures instead of seeing what we can do together to bring the documentaries one step forward. As to me I was very curious to see the Eastern tradition of making documentaries. And I hope that for the filmmakers from Eastern Europe it was also interesting to see what is going on in our countries.
Maybe it is better to pay more attention to how one or another film is made, what film language has been used, instead of speaking of politics and propaganda. Our film traditions are really different. But we should be colleagues. Of course we can agree or disagree but let's pay more attention to professional questions.

Eduard Erne (Frankfurt am Main)
The organizers of the Symposium chose a very important topic: the riddles of globalization. But on the last day of the conference there is a rather absurd situation. In my view, we are talking what could be done for the next meeting while I personally am not sure if the process of globalization will allow us to have the next Symposium. For me the situation reminds of a mouse and a snake. The only difference is that the mouse keeps very silent before it is going to be eaten by the snake. We meet at the symposiums to talk and to watch films, but none of us talks about the danger we are exposed to. Just a small example. If I had not come to Riga, I would not have had any possibility to see most of the films. Although we often say that we have to take down the borders, we have to be internationally-minded, we have to go abroad and see what our neighbours are doing, in reality it is hardly possible. For instance, our Finnish colleague Visa Koiso-Kantilla made a film about the consequences of globalization: closing of a bus factory. If I go to a German producer and say: "I saw a very interesting film how the international company Volvo is acting in different countries. It is an interesting example of the impact of globalization upon individuals. The location is Finland", he or she will answer me: "It sounds interesting, but we can't show it because it is about Finland. Why don't you make a similar film about a German bus factory?" But what is the difference?
I think many of you experienced that it has been becoming more and more difficult to implement your ideas in films. I do not know the situation in Poland, Russia or Latvia. But in Germany your chances to make an independent and creative documentary where your handwriting and style would be seen are not big if you work with television. Of course you can make the film for your own money, but in this case you will be the only one who will see it because you won't have a film distributor. So we are facing the change of economical basis for filmmaking through globalization.
Another thing I'd like to talk about is some new phenomena the new world is offering to us. I am not sure that we could get into those topics with the traditional filmmalking we are used to. I saw a lot of films here which showed the consequences of globalization in personal stories but I didn't see films which dealt with new structures, changing of psychology, new technologies coming up. There are many things which are changing at the moment. People can easily change their identity communicating via the Internet. For example, I could pretend to be a woman. Communicating with a person I am never sure if the person I am communicating with is the person I am communicating with. As a filmmaker I am trying to work in this field thinking how to make a film about it. So I was expecting that we would speak about the things like this at the Symposium, as I am really curious how documentary cinema can react on new topics. Not by making films about obvious things: the poor, the dark sides of life, personal approach of history and so on. I like such films, do not understand me wrong, but so many new things are coming up that it would be interesting to hear some ideas about it.
For example, I live in Frankfurt am Main. It is the most important financial centre in Germany, there are 600 banks in the city. So I often think that it would very difficult to get into this world to make a film about 'big shots'. It would be much easier to make a film about a person suffering from hard life than to make a film about one of those top guys.
I wish my means of cinematography and storytelling were closer to the phenomenon, but I am not so sure I am able to do it. Maybe the next generation has to come to it. We stick too much to the tradition. We can't help it as we lived out of the tradition, but today
we are confronted to something which is beyond the tradition.

Herz Frank (Riga)
Every time when I participate in these symposiums I look for the image of the main theme in the films I watch. It seems to me that this time the film Police! Open up! contains this imagery. I am taking the film as a starting point of my presentation because it is direct cinema: we open the door, we enter and film what we see. Let's paraphrase the title of the film: "Open up! Documentary cinema!" Why do we open other people's doors, why do we go to the blind, orphans, presidents or prisoners?
In my view, in this global world of information one niche is still available to documentary cinema: dealing with the life of the soul. We go to both the blind and presidents to understand what personalities they are. We go to the woman who loved Fidel Castro. Her life seems fantastic to us. Every time we try to find some new life of the soul we did not know before. Documentary cinema exists for this reason in this global world.
Yet on the way to revelation of one's soul there are certain dangers which could be seen on the screen also at this Symposium. The first danger is standardization of form. Nowadays McDonald's is everywhere; moreover it has come into our life as a principle. Thus 80 per cent of our production are hamburgers. I was taken aback by the question of a sound editor I used to work together. I told him my ideas about the film I was going to make and he asked me a very professional question: "Where are we going to film the basic sync?" Proceeding from that we make a film: we set the camera, the sound editor sets the mike, we film the basic sync, then we cut the material and in between we insert something moving, it can be some footage or photos, and finally we press it all together like a hamburger: some bread, some meat, some cabbage, some bread, some meat, some cabbage and so on. As I said, this accounts for 80 per cent of our production. Yet in the best films we do not have it. For instance, look at the German film Dear Fidel. It is a fantastic documentary drama. Of course, it also has the basic sync. But the central character lives her life through discovering something in herself during the filming process.
The second danger, in my view, is non-professional acting. Nowadays television is so global that everybody wants to perform, to be on the screen. This readiness of people to be filmed represents dangers in many ways. The filmmaker does not have to overcome any resistance, for the characters are eager to do what the director wants. Still they are not professional actors, so they are doing it like amateurs. Thus the film also looks somehow amateurish.
Another danger I'd like to speak about is the loss of form. In this sense for me the most striking example of it at this Symposium was the film I Loved You... by Viktor Kossakovsky who made the wonderful documentary Pavel and Lyalya and then attached to it some Seryozha and Natasha and then the nursery school. I must say that in the second part of this new film it was particularly obvious that the people were crushed by the camera, they did not live their own life, they lived only because they were being filmed. Here the director failed to get into the life of the characters' souls, and the form as such was lost in the film.
And the final aspect I'd like to touch upon is correctness of the filmmaker. When we try to enter a human soul we should act very tactfully. As an example of the lack of correctness I want to mention Caucasian. It is a good film telling about a wonderful person. The film director got the chance to get very close to the man showing his life from the distance of one metre. It is all right when he is eating or working, but there is a place in the film when he is communing with God, while the camera stays as direct as it was before. I think the filmmaker should be more subtle in this case: he could step back, or he could show it from aside.
I call the film as an example of the lack of correctness in our attitude to people who have trusted us and actually are working for us. But even if they let us into their bedroom, we should be more tactful when something mysterious is taking place.

Wolfgang Ernst (Berlin)
With all my respect for the issue of documentary film documenting some aspects of reality and dealing with human dignity, for me it sounds in a positive sense like the museum of the 20th century. All the films I saw here are still based on the idea of referential image, that the image is capable to document the realty outside the camera, that we can somehow use media to referent the reality outside. I have just come from a festival in Berlin which dealt with the question how the nature of digital culture would change our view of reality. Suddenly the separation between the camera and the reality collapses. Suddenly the images are being produced by the machine. They are not manipulated any more for they do not exist outside, they are not photographed by the camera. In digital culture we produce sound, we produce images, we produce text, we even produce human figures, but all this is not documentary any more. We face a cultural challenge here. Our cultural technology is doing a revolution. For two thousand years of European philosophy has been sustaining the idea that we can represent some kind of reality. But for the first time the image becomes independent from human beings; the mathematical program creates images that can even look like human actors. At this level the tradition of documentary film will not be able to face the digital culture. It can remain as one part of culture like the opera still exists and the theatre still exists beside television. But in the 21st century the digital culture will create a technique the documentary cinema will not be able to compete with any more. It is not the question of using DV cameras and things like that. It is a different paradigm which is taking shape.
The French philosopher Michel Foucalt in the introduction to his book Archeology of Knowledge says that nowadays documents can be treated merely as monuments. Let us stop the idea that things somehow represent other things. Let us realize that electronic images can be only the monuments of themselves, they can be only the monuments of the computer program which has written them. But they are not documents, they are not illustrations of something outside.
The images are not allegorical any more, they become self-referential.
So it seems to me that beside the idea of having the retrospective of documentary films next time, it is absolutely necessary to invite one of VJs to show how the technology itself produces images we have never been dreaming of, but which are so close to the rhythm of the new generation and which are very close to the financial market because the speed which the global transactions happen at is exactly the speed of the streaming images VJs produce. Try to hunt for such a person to present you non-referential images, to see the unbridgeable gap between the idea of documentary film and the new image culture.

Viktor Dashuk (Minsk)
I think that limiting our program by the word 'globalization' is a certain violence, because the art of today in general and documentary cinema in particular cannot help bearing traces of globalization. Meanwhile the more individual works we have here, the more sense this Symposium makes.
Another issue I am going to speak about in fact is an old argument: whether documentary cinema is able to change the world which is going to the abyss? The depth of this abyss became apparent to us on the September 11. Globalization is not only technologies, megacities, fighting for power; globalization first of all is the crippled thinking of individuals. Can documentary change the world or help people understand it? Being a pessimist I think it can't. Yet it does not mean that I'll throw my camera out of the window and stop making documentaries. You see it is not the aim of documentary cinema to change the world, though we often appeal for it in our discussions. For me it is much more interesting to see how this world penetrated by global problems changes me as an artist. In my view, it could be a more interesting topic for discussion; the author can't change the world because the laws of its development are often beyond the filmmaker's comprehension. Thus the changes within the author as a personality are very interesting to look at.
I'll try to provoke you a bit as some very respected film theoreticians are sitting here. I sometimes do not make out how one can be talking about things they do not do themselves? It seems to me that the idea voiced here that we should speak about the film language and things like that is more a game than a common sense. I think that we should discuss films within the laws established by its author, while we want the filmmaker to live and create the way we do. Therefore I think the next Symposium could deal with the personality of the author in the changing world.

Sergey Muratov (Moscow)
I have to voice my disagreement with Viktor Dashuk's statement that the theme of the Symposiums is a certain limitation. I think that our discussion is chaotic not because we limit ourselves, but just because globalization today is a very vague notion and everybody fills it with different context. My point is that we do need to limit ourselves to some theme. Say, some films we saw at the Symposium would enable us to discuss seriously the psychology of the filmmaker's communication with the character. We enter the psyche of people deeper and deeper what in some way changes the relations between the author and the character. In films like Beyond Tibet, Dear Fidel, The Day That Vanished in the Handbag (all three are German films) it would be very interesting to follow these new relationships when the small and compact equipment allows us to approach the characters very close. Here we inevitably face the ethical problems mentioned by Herz Frank today: the deeper we enter the human psyche, the more ethical problems we have.
We all saw the planes crashing the buildings of the World Trade Center. And now I have got the feeling that some filmmakers do the same with the people they are filming; they crash them and they collapse.

Agris Redovic (Riga)
The issue about the change of the paradigm raised by Dr. Ernst is really a very important one. Still let me cast some doubt on his theory. Cinema is the kind of art which has been fighting with reality all the time. If you remember the French avant-garde, you'll see that that was the period of illusions: "Look, we've got over reality! We are free at last." Still that freedom appeared to be illusory and ephemeral. You say there are VJs who are producing the streams of images. But what about cinema? If we give up all our prejudices concerning reality, we'll see that the cinema is just streams of images. Moreover today's documentary cinema is also a stream of images. However masterly the VJs may make these streams of images, sooner or later a person will feel the necessity to hear a good story. And it does not really matter whether the story is woven out of reality or it is created by a computer. We watch films to satisfy our curiosity and we want to do it comfortably. While streams of images will never satisfy a person completely.
Martin Stoll (Prague)
Our German colleague touched upon the question of the role of documentary film in future. In this connection I'd like to tell about my last year experience in New York. There is a museum of radio and television in New York. They have a very large archive and regularly organize sessions which are recorded. Then for a certain pay you can see the records you are interested in. I saw there a discussion with Richard Leacock. In the cinema world he is known by the fact that whatever his age, he is using the newest technologies. When everybody used 35 mm he was filming on 16 mm. When they filmed on 16 mm he started using Hi8. So he was one of the first who appreciated digital technologies. In the interview I saw he was talking about DVD. He said he absolutely was not interested in television as a distributor of his films. He explained it like that: 'Television involves millions of spectators. I don't need millions of spectators, I need only those who are really interested in my film. The future of documentaries is to
produce films in DVD format and sell them as a good book.'

Valery Naumov (St.Petersburg)
In my opinion documentary cinema reflects the world created by God so the director has no right to change this world; he can only tell about it. Meanwhile in feature films a director is God the Creator. Speaking of cinema it is not difficult to be God, but it is really difficult to remain a human.

Agris Redovic (Riga)
God invented digital technology and the streams of images as well.

Wolfgang Ernst
Maybe an East-West difference is taking place now. Many of you, filmmakers and film theoreticians, used to live in a political system where almost everything was a simulation - synthetic and artificial. Ten years ago reality came back. Suddenly you became free to discover subjective views, express political issues and so on. That was apparent from many documentary films I saw at the Symposium. In the West a lot of filmmakers and film theoreticians are post-modern, they do not struggle for political issues any more. That is why they are more experimental with technology itself discovering the virtual worlds. Meanwhile in the East reality and historical consciousness have returned and you want to make films about things whereas the western theory is more interested in what happens after history. That is why we, Westerners, are more fascinated by the digital culture which is the global culture. For the first time in history the whole world is processed in one and the same way. There are still some cultural differences, but the technology by which we communicate is based on one infrastructure.
I have come here from the West, from the field of theory where we have already put reality into the grave, to be reminded that there is still reality to deal with.

Rainer Wagner
I'd like to put a small bridge between the two worlds. Evidently there exists the world of digitalization where everything becomes simple rows of information bits. On the other hand the real world still exists, we are sitting here at the tables which are material, not virtual. So we have to live on with this gap what brings filmmakers to a great challenge. Documentaries have to look for a real way to face this challenge. Herz said that documentaries are to open souls. Of course, they have to deal with human beings of flesh and blood. But they have to be compatible with the digital world. Thus documentaries face a double task: to cope with digital world and also with real life; they have to find the way to the souls of people getting inside the human motivation and also to develop some new strategies of credibility in this cold world of digitalization. These things should come into the balance.

Vitaly Mansky
Our minds were poisoned from childhood by the idea of two worlds which are completely separated from each other and never cross. Now this division has disappeared: we live in one world and we raise issues that are topical for all of us. If we talk about new technologies, I can say that both in Russia and in Germany there are people who do not understand the importance of digital cinema.
The idea of two worlds was mentioned more than once during the conference. In my opinion this is a very narrow understanding of the world we live in.

Zivile Pipinite
I would like to give an answer to Dr. Ernst who told that now the Western society lives outside history. Yet for some reason Western documentaries I see very often at various festivals are linked very closely to history. At this Symposium we also saw the films which I think most of all are dealing with history, like Dear Fidel. The authors of such documentaries usually try to view everything from the historical perspective, while Eastern filmmakers, on the contrary, are more concerned about things happening now.

Abram Kletskin
Globalization for us is something as cold as a frog. I think that now we should try to give globalization something what it lacks most - some warmth. For that purpose we have to "dialogize" it. During the Symposium we acquired a lot of experience in it, and I hope now we are closer to the ideals of the "dialogized" world where people try to understand each other. If we are able to retain this atmosphere, our symposiums will make sense in future.
On behalf of the organizers, I would like to express gratitude to all of you for participation. I do hope that you'll have not only the opportunity, but also the desire to meet again.

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