16th International European Documentary Film Symposium
Is the New Documentary. That New?
Inga Perkone
Film Theorist
On Participation

Most important term, asking for clarification in the query of the 2005 Symposium (“Is the new documentary cinema that new?”), is “cinema” or, more precisely, “film”. In the film theory of our days, the opinion of a film as a text shaping in the conciousness of the viewer, is not under discussion any more. A film is not an objective entity. Edgar Morin once admitted that “There are only shades and light on the screen”, and many have consented him.

A film, and any other piece of art – same as life itself – is being created in the process of identification and projection performed by a subject (here – a viewer). A viewer has to perform an act of participation or involvement in order for the film to have happened.

Over the years, revelation of how life is projecting through a person, how a person identifies with life, has been one of the main aims of the documentary cinema. Though the very mechanism of identification and projection has rarely been analysed on screens.

A twenty-year-old youth, born approximately forty years after the Holocaust of the Second World War, is depicted in the Czech documentary “Ill-fated Child”. In a surprising way he has become accomplice in the tragedy, moreover, identifying with both victims and murderers. In the act of active participation (as it has been named by Morin) borders of time and space are being removed and/ or  destroyed; protagonist of the film lives in another, symbolic reality of the Drebling concentration camp.

In the Andrzej Munk film “Passenger” (“Pasazerka”, Poland 1963) use of historic photographies has not been  accidental at all. It is an evidence for the role of an image (especially a moving one) as catalyst in the participation. Historic images and staged film episodes have left such a deep impression in the consciousness of a subject, that he has become present at the source text. It has become a reality for him. Projecting a protagonist and his reality in his/ her own consciousness, a viewer can turn the past in actuality.

In general, the documentary cinema of the 20th century has mostly been a device of ideological communication, a means of intruding political, social, moral and whatsoever creed into society. The affective participation of a viewer was inevitable, necessary and programmed in the process of film creation. It is peculiarly characteristic for the periods of social and political crises – the Great Depression of 1930's, Second World War, revolutionary situation of 1960's, collapse of the socialist system etc.

If we percept films as texts, co-created and arranged by our own consciousness, their classification into types – fiction, document, animation – and genres does not seem  important any more. The question that remains important is, if and what has changed in the consciousness of a contemporary human being, his cogitation process. What kind of interaction is that between consciousness and cinema? How does contemporary cinema involve viewer, how does it implicate the viewer in the process of creation?

The program of Symposium shows a couple of tendencies. However, these tendencies are not just two years old, they have appeared before. I find it striking, that, in the program of the year, films are not being offered for viewers' participation. The process of projection and identification has preceded in the filming process already, it does not occur in the moment of reception. Namely, filmmakers implement their own participation, the film is not in need of viewer's consciousness as a projection device. It has been essential for the films to “get conceived” and not to “be born”. Cinema becomes a psychotherapeutic remedy for a certain part of society. It has been prescribed as a therapy for filmmakers, not viewers.

In the context of traditional conceptions, it might seem a condemnation, a verdict.  Although, it was not meant that way. This kind of cinema is by no means worse, it is different. As to my opinion, it is indicative of essential change of art, change of culture type in the twenty-first century. It is possible that a certain part of cinema, refusing its role as a media, indicates return of elitist consciousness, elitist culture. But is not it  possible that this kind of films emerge as an ideological order for cover-up of politic and social crisis rather than an exposure of consciousness? It is the Third World War happening, but we do not know anything about that...



Morin, Edgar. The Cinema, or The Imaginary Man. University of Minnesota Pres: Minneapolis,London. - Home
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