15th European Documentary Film Symposiums
CREATIVE DOCUMENTARY. NOW AND THEN.
Film d'Auteur.
European Documentary Film Symposium. 25 years
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Dr. Sergey Muratov Russia
The ideological point of view

Since the first day of the symposium I have been feeling that this time we met in Riga to turn over the pages of our family album of the documentary cinema of the past forty years together, as the very first film “The shore” dates back to the 1963. Generally, we usually open the family album to see how we have become what we are. And most of all we are interested in what we would begin like. Therefore, perhaps, for me the most impressive films of all the films of the symposium seemed to be the two first ones. This is “The shore” by A. Freimanis and Sileckis, which I actually have seen before, and “The long day” by Eygeny Pashkevich.

So, forewarning “The shore” Abram Kleckins was so right to note that it was the film-challenge for those times, because it was the film-protest against the preceding decade of the ideological cinema. I even remember how much I was surprised to read in the newspaper “The Komsomol Truth” the first, in my opinion, review of this film wrote by Olga Kuchkina. There is one wonderful aphorism: “Nothing is a greater obstruction to seeing, than the point of view”. I would only add “the ideological point of view”. There was a magnificent Polish film “The silence” which protagonists are deaf or almost deaf. They live in the same world we live in, but it is a mute world. The Soviet chronicle would show us the world we live in- it was a lifeless world, the people in this world were not real, but some kind of the ideal people. Not real, but the ideal world of the developed socialism. And that’s why I took a great delight in watching the Dutch film “The ideal person”. In fact, there is no person in the frame. The real person is a model consisting of the components. Eyes, mouth, legs, arms- this is a functional approach which characterizes, for instance, the producers of the commercials. All these exist separately for them, they need to produce new goods for the corresponding parts of our body. Actually, there is no difference between the psychology of the commercial and the one of the propaganda. This is the phenomena of the same origin. The ideological point of view also deals with the models of the people and the models of the world, not with the people. The state armed itself with the thesis once expressed by Dziga Vetrov who as the romantic and the poet used to say about the communistic decoding of the world not meaning what the succeeding generations of the pragmatics would mean. There is one ancient question: “Is the documentary cinema documentary?” If to speak about the life as it is, then the cinema before “The shore” undoubtedly had nothing to do with the documentary cinema. It was a stage world, not the real one. And if to mean the way of perceiving the world, then yes, it was absolutely documentary cinema, it just didn’t show the life as it is, but the life as it should have been seen and shown. And if the Dutch film “The perfect human” lasts for only 13 minutes, then, unfortunately, this ideological cinema lasted for decades. I’d say that these decades are crossed out from the history of the development of our documentary cinema.

“The shore” begins with the funeral. Today it seems symbolic to me- the funeral of that ideological point of view which reigned the cinema. This was then, forty years ago, but today this is a symbolic moment because we witness the funeral of that prototypical reality. This is not only a challenge, but also going back to the cinematography, which Abram Kleckin have already mentioned today, because such a unprejudiced reality in front of the camera appeared with the very first films by the Lumiere brothers, and we witness it in the film by Vetrov, for instance, “The man with the cine-camera”, and to some extend we see the same in the films by Flaerty. This was the first reaction on the introduction of the documentary cinema- see the life as it is. But Abram Kleckin brought another problem. We find ourselves on the threshold of the totally new cinema, we do not know what it’s going to be like. Our time is pregnant with this documentary cinematography. Here I should make a remark that we probably do not know what it is going to be like, but we know who is going to propose it. This future cinema will not be conceived by this chronically-ideological films which can bring up nothing but the schemes. This cinema will arise exactly from what we saw in the 60’s. In this regard a couple of words about the film “The long day”.

“Look at the face”, “Ten minutes older”, and again “Forty steps” preceded the film. That is, even before this film there had been discovered what the author builds his picture on, on these faces. I was most of all impressed by the faces. Not even the close-ups- extreme close-ups of the faces of absolutely individual unique people. And once again you recall this wonderful aphorism that among all the surfaces of the Earth the surface of the human face is the most expressive. This film investigates the living reality. In this connection it represents the “idetical vision”. They say that children have “idetical vision”, they are able to perceive the reality in its multi-faceted manifestation. Such a vision is characteristic for children and artists only. But later on the child is being taught, his left cerebral hemisphere is being brought up, he becomes reasonable, he is being told what his reasonableness means; and the ability to perceive the world in the style mentioned by Agris Redovich as the “inexhaustibility of the being” becomes weaker and weaker. It all is being suppressed and we gradually lose the integrity of perception.

In the 60’s there was made the first attempt to bring back this integrity. The second attempt was brought by the 80’s when the ideologists fought the ideology by the means of the same ideology. When the communistic decoding of the world was opposed by the anti-communistic decoding. And actually, this tendency was started here, in Latvia, with the film “Is it easy to be young”. It was bellicose, which could not be in the 60’s. Those times not could we allow, nor even think that socialism with the human face is the same chimera as the crocodile with the human face. This could only appear in the 80’s. It also turned out to be a trial period. Surprisingly, here in Latvia in the 90’s appears “The crossing street” which lacks both ideology and anti-ideology. Therefore it was by rights awarded at one festival and declared that “The crossing street” is the street we all live in”. I always distinguish films as successful and guided by principal. Successful films are those which the authors managed to lead to the perfection, which hadn’t been done before, to show some kind of the layer of the reality, to show the method. And those guided by principal are not necessarily deemed for success. The authors of the films guided by principal decided to disclose the part of the reality no one has touched upon; to intervene with such social characters which were either taboo or thought of as totally impossible. Often such films do not gain success. It gets obvious that such films cannot follow this way. This relates to some variety on the edge of the feature film and the documentary. In such a manner, the 60’s were the epoch of the films guided by principal.

And here I want to pay attention to what we have seen at the symposium. Seleckis and Freimanis headed to the Baltic Sea shore and shot a film paying no attention to the arrangements to be fulfilled to discover how to shoot a film. In forty years another director also arrives at the sea shore, not the Baltic Sea, but the Black one- I mean Vitaly Mansky- and also shoots a film about leisure people at the sea shore. There are people among my acquaintances who are fond of this film by Mansky. And if they were here they would have proposed another argument: well, ok, the film “The shore” depicts life as it is, but didn’t Mansky show the life as it is? He did. But here another idea comes up in my mind. The self-value of the life as it is exists in theory, or somewhere in the objective reality, but not on the screen. The life on the screen is the one we see with someone’s eyes. I may be blamed for being contradictory. I have just said that “Nothing is a greater obstruction to seeing, than the point of view”. That’s right if this point of view is ideological. I also can add. “Nothing is a greater obstruction to seeing, than the point of view if this is the artist’s point of view”. I definitely do not mean that Mansky-author is not the artist. Not at all. But I am sure that the film “The shore” is shot not by Mansky-artist, but by Mansky-pragmatist, because apart from the artist there is a point of view of the pragmatist. The pragmatist is not necessarily ideologist. He might be, for instance, a business man. And rather this relates to our case. Here is an example. In Russia we have a TV program “Big laundering”. Awful program, but undoubtedly a successful one because it has an enormous rating. The “Big laundering” is the program which reveals all the reverse and negative sides of the human being, so let’s have fun and watch this all together. In this film we saw a nudist beach, naked people, and there on the hill several teens observe them in the spy-glass and giggle- such a typical scene. Nothing is made up, it’s all real. I watch and start thinking what they remind me of. Oh, they are the pals, Beeves and Bathed, and their remarks. They will grow up a little and instead of the spy-glass they’ll buy a cine-camera and start shooting a film. And what will they film about? Well, now they have giggled at the nudist beach, further on they will film dogs copulating. Hold on a second, there is a scene in the film when dogs copulate. Then they will shoot a film about an unhappy dwarf, but he is not unhappy from their point of view, but a very hilarious one for he keeps the whole public. The owner of this place humiliates him all the time, which is the subject of tittering for this public. They will shoot a film about the master of this little unhappy monkey which he adores because it gives him a chance to exist. And if we believe that the human descends from the monkey, and the first part of the human history was to turn the monkey into the human, then now we witness that the second part comes into being with the purpose to turn the human into the monkey. There is a process of the “human monkeynisation”. And this is really happening. This is the life as it is. On the channel “Culture” there is a rubric “Night flight” at 00:25. I really fancy the motto of this program: “News,- says its anchorman Andrey Maksimov,- is just an occasion to talk about the eternity”. So is the cinema, to my mind, an occasion to the interaction with the eternity, touching upon the eternity, because the cinema is just an information if it lacks it.

By the way, this regards the film “Frescos”. Abram Kleckin said this was the film where people lived at the grave yard, the population lives at the grave yard. I can take this phrase, but put different accent. The people live at the grave yard, but the grave yard provides with the point the people live for. I saw this film the second time in my life here. When I came to see it for the first time I would seat and wait something to happen, for it’s one hour and a half long film. And when I came to see it the second time I already knew that nothing I had been expecting the first time was going to happen there. Therefore I just gave myself upon this element, this rhythm, this anti- fuss slow life of the people, and I felt like drifted along the stream.

At the beginning of our symposium many would say that the authentic documentary films should be short. It is really wonderful to shoot a short film. But what do we do with such feature-length films? Unfortunately, the era of thick magazines is over. The thick literally-artistic magazines are measured nearly by tens copies. They are called “magazines for slow reading”. In this fussy world we can no longer read slowly and watch slowly, when commercial every day brings all its weight to bear on us so rapidly. And actually why? I reckon that this film- in principal an antipode of this fuss we are immersed into. The most terrifying impression I got from the film “Stockholm-75”. From the point of view of news everything is all right there. But till terrorists no matter in what country and what time find justification for their deeds (and the deeds are that they as if have a right to sacrifice an innocent person life in the name of the elevated social idea, of the salvation of the whole human race), till they reckon they have that right, and till the authors provide them with that right, the terrorism will be ineradicable in our society.

I want to finish with one more aphorism. I really like an expression “culture is what is left when a human forgets everything”. I believe that the culture on the screen is subjected to the same normality. The human forgets everything, but it remains. The functional approach to the reality, the ideological one and even the commercial one- whatever- is forgotten, and the sooner we forget it the better. But if we forget this inexhaustibility of the being which is available to many our documentarists, then there can be nothing said about the culture, the culture is over then. Abram Kleckin said that the 60’s created the audience of the documentary cinema, now they have lost it. To some extend I agree with him. It should be recreated. But it shouldn’t be created anew, like children shouldn’t be taught their idetical perception of the reality, for they are born with it. Actually humans have a need to see the reality unbiased. I go on in my belief that in this regard the possibilities of the documentary cinema are much broader than those of the feature cinema, which can be brought to life only with the help of the actors. And one day the human race will learn that, although it is not going to be so soon. Not earlier than in the 22 century. Yes, in one hundred years when the documentarists will meet again in Riga (well, maybe not in Riga, but it better be Riga) to turn over the pages of such a family album once again, they will have great films behind their backs. And, by the way, they will start with the same films we start now. And a present critic or journalist later on will write a report about that meeting and will entitle the report the same we can entitle the report about our meeting today- “Recollections about the future”. Because personally for me in the films of the 60’s and beginning of the 70’s there is more of the future than in the majority of the modern films. But I believe it will happen this way, because I also know that happiness is not speed, but direction.              

 

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