16th International European Documentary Film Symposium
Is the New Documentary. That New?

The Stories of Life and Death Told In The Kitchen
Zivile Pipinite
Film Theorist

The new documentary cinema exists on the verge of the real and the virtual. It was always so, but now this border is much more diluted because the society has mutated considerably. The whole history of the Western civilization was based on the search for the truth (previously - novels, epics, later - detectives, films, now - more increasingly -?V broadcasts, newspapers) and the belief that it exists. The truth was considered as something real, it was part of the reality. Now the truth does not any more serve as a criterion, more and more often it is understood, that one can choose from several truths, hence the reality also can be chosen. Therefore one of the main tasks of documentary cinema is to prove the existence of reality. One has to exclaim: « the Reality exists! », as before death Susan Sontag has proclaimed on a TV show.

Recently modern documentary cinema uses ambivalent tactics: a) it defends the reality, it proves, that it exists; b) it demonstrates, that the reality more often is nothing but semblance and that semblance distorts the sense of everything on the screen.

Let's begin with second tactics - detection of semblance, its imperfection, the imperfection of devices revealing different tactics of semblance. Well-known Czech director Karel Vachek using the methods of documentary cinema has exposed the senselessness, absurdity, virtuality of the political reality and at the same time has found in it meanings which demonstrate the versatility of human consciousness – deep beyond semblance lays the truth about the existence of a human being (“ Novy Hyperion aneb volnost, rovnost, bratrstv ”, 1992 and other films). The school of Vachek - “ The Spoiled child ”, « Zlopovestne dite » - the portrait of the hero discloses the deeply hidden mechanisms of a new mythology - mythology of the Holocaust, which exists on the verge of the mass culture (« Predat?r in the Holocaust »), as well as the subconscious bent for evil, admiration of evil. It is also difficult because the exposure of semblance requires many additional plot, exploration by experimental means of expression, and frequently enough also the knowledge of the political context (from the spectator).

At the first sight the protection of reality is easier. Seemingly one has to accept it completely, ponder about it, display it. Sometimes it is enough of to contemplate it like in the fragments of films by Michael Piltz screened at this symposium.  The social documentary cinema has no doubts about the existence of reality - but in «The Green Youth” (” Ungdommens raskap ”) Margaret Olin demonstrates the mutation of society and, in comparison with “ High school” by ”Frederick Wiseman where it was revealed, how human personality is formed by accepting standards of behaviour, of thinking, etc.; Margaret Olin evidences how the young people lower the level of obligations solicited by those standards. The Finnish picture « Northern star » discovers the degradation mechanism of democracy and how it gradually influences our everyday life, our relations with others. Therefore, I presume, the social cinema often moves from institutions to family where opportunities to discover the truth are still present. The film of Lisa Munthe and Helen Ahlsson « Armwrestler from Solitude » first of all is a hymn to a humble family perceiving the essence of life.  .

      Other obvious tendency – the yearning for intimacy, the expansion of intimate space which several years ago was related, first of all, with journal style films or fiction films. In the program of this symposium, I believe, the greatest interest arouse films where the audience was immersed into this intimate space - « The Mind of My Father » (Vibe Mogensen), the film about Pyatnitsky « The Run Away Philosopher ».

Intimacy here is almost indissolubly linked with the tragedy of human existence, the desire to throw a glimpse beyond the semblances of existence, the trepidation of death - in a word, from desire to glance at what all art and philosophy is trying to embrace. In this context, it seems to me, is worth drawing attention to the fact, that films feign to demonstrate their antiaestheticism, refusal of beauty, of completeness, of accomplishment in the classical sense of the term; and it is linked with the desire to return the art (in this case – the cinema) to itself. The most vivid example - « Szczur w koronie » (Jacek Blawut) - the director refuses everything, that could give the slightest pretext to accuse him in aestheticism, he tells and shows nothing but what is utterly necessary, and, very symptomatically, reduces to minimum the distance between himself and the personage of the film. This method, presumably, is linked not to the cinematographic but rather to the photographic experience – it is not inadvertently that the portraits of peasants by Raymond Depardou are recollected, though it appears to me that this experience is shared also by the author of the film «Roma. Rozdol. Rostok ». To insert the reality into the framework of everyday life and simultaneously to master, to domesticate, to tame it; Audrius Stonys by the structure of his film « The One Who Doesn’t Exist  » discloses all the strategies of this type of quest for reality. In his film the desire to transgress the boundaries of appearances is conveyed consistently, like a larva turns into a butterfly: the traditional documentary where friends recollect somebody, then a poetic etude about a vessel sawn in pieces - a tribute to the poetic, metaphorical language reaching as far as reflections about virtuality in a person’ s room without the person itself, but with a TV set. But in the end he simply shows the personage smoking a cigarette. In real time, without cuts, in one take. A man who do exist but who is hidden behind a dense cover of the present time semblances

Finally - some short notes, prognosis as to where the discussions might lead:

The documentary cinema will exist as far as there will be a need to grasp the sense and value of the reality as one of the arguments that they exist;

b) film as a particular form of an audiovisual product gradually disappears - it is not only due to the influence of seriality, but also to the mutation of the concept of film (and by the way also of the cinephilie), film more and more often becomes a "project" (not only in a negative sense);

c) nostalgia for a film and the black-and-white image will grow (a brilliant proof – the short-film from Ukraine "Travellers");

d) experimental elements, all attributes of "innovations" become more and more factors of marketing (the new shampoo, new flacon, etc.).


Therefore it is clear, that in such situation the value of criticism is very much increasing. It should help to discern the nonexistent films from the existing ones, disclose the semblances of the new documentary cinema and non-verbally name it Reality. - Home
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