15th European Documentary Film Symposiums
CREATIVE DOCUMENTARY. NOW AND THEN.
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European Documentary Film Symposium. 25 years
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Irina Izvolova Russia
The nature of the cinematographic image

Irina Izvolova, Russia: I don’t think my speech should be referred to such a serious term “report”, it’s rather some kind of contemplation over the topic “The nature of the cinematographic image”. But it’s not worth getting afraid of such an exclusively theoretical title. I think that this is not as scientific as it is topical and important to all of us. Lately I have been watching documentary films from different countries quite a lot, primarily, of course, those from Russia and former USSR countries. And I must tell you that the films we have seen at the symposium are very significant and actually reflect the same processes which are going on in the cinematography. Therefore I somehow will try to connect this scientific problem to those films we have seen. So, speaking about the problem of the cinematographic image. Today we forget about one simple thing. Any artistic image consists of two layers at the same time: the everyday layer and the mythological layer- the symbolic part of any image. And the documentary cinematography has the same relation to it as any artistic image. The art exists between these two poles, getting closer to one pole or another one. But as soon as it comes to one of these opposed poles, the art disappears. And I’m about to start with such a cinematography which is today represented in the world maximally completely. We have seen rather many such films at our symposium. Of course, this comes from the deep and all-consuming aggression of the means of mass media, primarily television. And this aggression is rather serious. This is a special influence of the reportage on the cinematography, its appearance in the documentary films, or films which claim themselves to be documentary. Any informative report is different from the artistic creation in the way that the artistic creation is always a sum of particular knowledge, some ideas about the reality, not its everyday side. I thing that the discussion after the Swedish film “Stockholm-75” was very significant, when Herc Frank asked a very typical for any cinematographer question: “Has the protagonist repented?” and “What have the protagonist actually felt during the filming?” And I consider that the author of the film gave a very justified response that he had never set such an aim. His intention was to report a particular information about the particular event which has not been talked over for many years. He wanted to reveal this picture to us as fully as possible. And then he was asked another question, also very significant and close to the one Herc Frank meant: “And how can this problem of Stockholm ’75 can be regarded today, out of the context of today’s events, particularly 11 September?” And again, the author sincerely responded that he had never set such an aim.  

Actually, any fact which becomes a masterpiece of art or becomes the fact of art does not mean a concrete affection for the particular place and time, although it is not possible to separate it from that. It is the fact which happens always, and today the same way as in ’75. But this often falls to oblivion and the documentary picture becomes the informative report, not an artistic act. In what concerns the informative report or pure reportage- television reportage, radio reportage- we are interested in the depiction as far as it grasps from the reality things necessary for this particular word pronounced on the screen, i.e.  converts the reality into the illustration of some kind of verbal idea. The reality is not evaluated as the complete and independently existing phenomena. Here we can speak about absolutely different attitude to the imprinted reality, to the pre-screening reality which was rather exciting depicted at our symposium. This is an attentive and pretty accurate attitude to this pre-screening reality, the attempts to grasp psychological layers which are marked there and which we can discern behind the everyday side of the things.

And I will commence on the film we saw the first day. This is the Estonian film “Juri Vella’s World” about a German hunter which narrates about his life. This is a very accurate and delicate work which demands from the author an extremely complicated and serious comprehension of the world he is interacting with and his belonging to this world. And, of course, the film “Frescos” is also the comprehension of the existence of these complicated psychological layers in the reality and primarily in the art which accumulates them. This is what makes a concrete story of a boy and an old man at the grave yard not just an event which we observe with pleasure owing to the brilliance of the work, but it also relates the heroes to us.

By the way, the cinema of the 60’s illustrated that very well. For instance, the film “Elegy” by Husarik, which demonstrated us the mechanism of formulating the artistic image on the screen. As soon as the eye of a horse is placed in the space of the screen, it becomes not only a particular eye of the particular horse, it comprises all the layers, all the time and space which existed before, even that we have no idea about, but which exists within the frame. This is a very powerful film and its influence on the viewers is not less than in the 60’s.

In this regard I would like to remember about the wonderful Russian director Jury Shiller. The Shiller films demonstrate the mechanism of transforming an everyday event into the cultural fact, and transformation of the protagonist from ordinary, private, concrete person into the artistic image. A very significant in this sense film is “No for nothing the whole Russia remembers”. Shiller shot the celebration of the 1812 Borodino battle anniversary. The inhabitants of the villages, who live exactly in the surroundings of the Borodino field, share their attitude towards the two hundred year old events. And an amazing thing happens. Any hero appearing in the frame conducts some kind of the violence upon himself. Of course, he does not deliver the truth by his pronouncements or his presence. He makes some effort to lift beyond the reality. But it is very interesting to trace what an  author of any film wants from his protagonist. Shiller starts conversations with the men living on this Borodino field about such serious global philosophical processes, that gradually they so surprisingly to themselves start to accumulate all those layers of consciousness they could not guess about before appearing in the frames of the Shiller’s film. Suddenly, some kind of the genetic memory comes to light and they start to speak the language of Lermontov, who depicts all those events, without acknowledging that they speak the language of Lermontov. This is all much deeper and more serious, because not only they start to pronounce others words as their own and not only they perceive it as their own experience, not as a quotation, it gets more furhter, further there comes Shiller. He brings the heroes into such a condition that they start to pronounce, without quoting, without knowing, perhaps, without having ever read Platonov or Chehov, the same dialogues. And it appears that the genius creations of the authors- I mean here the great writers- are not just the inspirations of the authors, it is that clot of reality which they managed to catch and which a very ordinary hero of the documentary understands. For example, one of the heroes says that “everything is going to be all right, Nastya, and the people will come back, and they will build houses, and in a hundred of years life will be unbelievable wonderful”. For those who know Chehov this is an absolute chehov monologue.

Some time ago my colleagues and me shot a film about an artist Shavkat Ablusalamov. This artist has collaborated with Tarkovsky, Antanioni, Shepitko, and Klimov in the field of filmmaking. Now he practically takes painting only and writes biblical topics, moreover he puts the biblical heroes in his own world which is quite detached from the reality. He said a great thing which illustrate what the art is. He says that if to suggest for a second what had been in the past and not happening today, every minute, every second, then there is no point in creating art. It is exactly the simultaneity of the existence of these events and us matters for the life.                                     

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