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About the 2002 edition
The seminar concentrates on strong examples (not quantity) and on film language, rather than on production or distribution issues. It comes out of the need to interrogate the state of documentary film in a period when its obvious momentum carries out new contradictions. It aims to look into the documentary potential to renew the whole cinema practice, as well as to its resistance to the recent corset of standardization. And it looks into documentary not so much as a genre itself, but as a large territory of crucial representation issues present in all modern film.
The 2002 edition features a special dialogue with Eastern Asia film directors, following the Doc’ Kingdom seminar journey included at last year’s Yamagata film festival.
Also as a new feature, the seminar incorporates two thematic lectures/ debates, one on the Japanese documentary film and one on the present issues and challenges of documentary production in the world. In parallel to Doc’s Kingdom 2002 a special public program dedicated to the local audience will also be presented.
Transcription of the debates
First debate, after the films by Jean Breschand, by Gert de Graaff
and by Kawaguchi Hajime
17th SEPTEMBER, TUESDAY
Films shown before the debate:
Je vous suis par la présente, Jean Breschand
The Sea That Thinks, Gert de Graaff
Variant Phases, Kawaguchi Hajime
José Manuel Costa (JMC)
Gert de Graaff (GG)
Kawaguchi Hajime (KH)
Jean Breschand (JB)
JOSÉ MANUEL COSTA: I will begin by asking you all to come closer, to the seats in the front, so that we can be distributed, as far as possible, in a circle, to make an informal table, without any separation between the directors and the remaining participants. One of our conclusions from the first year’s debates was precisely that there was still some formality and the disposition with a “conference table" contributed to that. The seminar’s idea is not to have the directors face the remaining participants, as the producers of speech, or as the targets of questions, but rather to have the word circulate among us all. We explained that before to our guests: we insisted that the objective is not, in any way, to provide an opportunity for them to answer questions raised about their films, although that can be interesting – and will, no doubt, be interesting in many of the days – but to have them be part of a group reflection. What we want to launch here is a group reflection, cumulative, throughout these five days, that always sets out from concrete examples – and concrete films – , and that, little by little, through the relation that is gradually established between them and taking advantage of the road opened by them, will move to wider questions. In that reflection, we will always begin by challenging the guests but everyone can take part on equal terms and you can all present questions. The guests are also invited to question themselves and to question you, if they wish to do so.
Accordingly, in this edition we decided not to begin the debates with very long analysis. In each day, there will be a moderator for the debates, but what we want to try is that, from the beginning, the word circulate as much as possible. And, in that sense, I will begin by presenting a simple question, which comes from the actual organisation of this first program and of the sense it might make to each of you… Obviously, there were some ideas behind the grouping of these three films, and naturally even more regarding the last two… So I would start by asking the three of you – including Jean, who arrived only after the second film –, to react to this idea of putting them together. in my mind, the obvious question is: do you believe that somehow you were talking about the same things, or that, on the other hand, that possible similarity (mainly between the last two…) is just on the surface, and therefore, deep down, those films were dealing with completely different matters?
GERT DE GRAAFF: l never compare films, but in this case I saw a lot of similarities between my film and the third film (Variant Phases), and didn’t see many similarities between the first (Je vous suis par la présente) and mine… For instance, I have wanted to use Glen Gould's Bach music in my film for a long time (it appeared to become another part of Bach – the trumpet, not the piano – but anyway…). Also, it is quite amazing to have the cat in his film (Variant Phases) and the cat in my film… On the other hand, I read a short piece of the article in the catalogue you gave me, about “matter”, “particles”, and my last film, the one before this one, was about quantum mechanics and dealt with the same problem. So we might be part of the same family, somehow hidden, we should find it out…
In the first film, I thought the screen was moving because of the sounds, this sort of wind in the images… The third film was quite interesting because it was like he was asking several questions and I was giving the answers… Questions about “subject” and “object” in my film… So I was constantly debating the film in my head. I don’t know how you dealt with this, but, to me it was like some sort of conversation between me and the film, and I think that is the kind of thing I also tried in my film. The Americans always ask you to present a film in less than twenty words, and, of course, with my film it was quite difficult… and then I found out that l can say only one word and the word is “you”. It is about you, about me, us, how we look at and how we think about what we see and all these illusions. It is about what we believe in and I have seen a lot of simiIarities there. As you probably noticed, my film is about optical illusion and | used this mechanism to get the audience to a point where they are doubting what they are seeing, and I hope that, in the end, you are also doubting what you are thinking. I don’t know if you liked it, some people really hated it, they walked out in screenings – which is a good reaction for me too… – but I hope those who stay are in a way confronted with their own thinking.
KAWAGUCHI HAJIME: As I did not explain how my film was made before the screening, maybe I should start by explaining it a little bit. Before the film you saw today, I made another film called Phases Of Real, which also dealt with the space between reality and fiction. ln this previous film, I used ordinary snapshots from my life, which I shot without any deep intention, but I wanted to make something that was totally unreal out of these very realistic images, by the use of editing and the use of language (subtitled language). For this new film, I was thinking of doing something with a totally opposite methodology. That means that I would become an audience member myself. Instead of me controlling the audience, I would become an audience member and try to make an image that has no falsity in it. I thought of a style that is multi-Iayered. The way I went about it was to create “phase one". After making “phase one”, I showed it to an audience and I became a part of the audience myself. I watched my own film and felt something from it. The reaction I got from “phase one” was incorporated into a new part called “phase two", that was edited onto “phase one", and then I had another screening and so forth… This means that I would make a new version of the film in response to the feedback that l, as an audience member, received from my own film.
My only concept at the beginning was a very general structure. I would move, for example, from something very simple to something more complex. Start with one person and gradually go to a second person, third person and so forth. Other than that, I had no idea about the methodology. I thought this as I was making the film, and was waiting for something to happen by itself. In “phase three" you see the ghost of the cat appearing and this was exactly the happening, which I incorporated into my film.
GG: It’s quite an interesting method of course, but did you re-edit the first part after showing it to the audience and had their reactions, or did you just leave it like it was and started on “phase two" and “phase three", etc.? When l have all the reactions of the public, I sometimes want to re-edit some things. It’s like a test screening. I did several test screenings with audiences in order to find out what they got and what they didn't. But that’s a different way of working…
KH: Basically, the rule I told myself was that there would be no re-editing along the way… I only made a very small and detailed change after finishing “phase seven" and decided that this would be the finished form of the entire piece. The basic idea was that the film would grow by itself and that I would be attaching the new parts to something that was there already.
JMC: Hajime, would you like to tell us how you saw Gert’s film?
KH: I also found many similarities between Gert’s film and mine. I was very surprised to see so much synchronicity in my work and yours. As l prepared my own work, I had different ideas that came up, which could have been incorporated in my plan. Some I used and some I didn’t, but I actually saw reflexes in your work of some of these ideas, which was a surprise.
In my case, the idea was to make something very simple. That means using very few actors and no special effects. If I had taken up some of the things that are in your film, it would have turned out to be a very mediocre film, I think, without having gone to the extreme… In your film, I see that you have gone to the extreme; you have really done all the detailed trick effects. You use a lot of special effects and visual imagery that I chose not to do in mine. In that sense, I think you have really gone all the way and l was impressed by that.
GG: Well, I might tell you something about how I felt about my film when I started, fourteen years ago – it took fourteen years to make the film… I wanted to get to this problem, this Buddhist theory that the film was about “who am I", things like that. I wanted to have the audience really reacting to and noticing their own thoughts about it, not like a theory on the screen. One of the strong points in this theory is the mechanism of identification, which we do in a normal feature film, where we identify with the screen character. And I thought that was a good beginning, to make a sort of feature film with a character you might identify with. Then, in the end, I say “well, look at what you are doing, you are identifying again". That’s not really a problem inside cinema; it is a problem outside cinema. It is a problem right now: we are all identifying with our own character. That is why it is a sort of mixture between feature and documentary; nobody knows what it actually is. I don’t care, of course… I won prizes for best documentary, but also for best feature with the same film… and it was denied on documentary festivals or feature festivals, or it was accepted in both…
It has to do with reality also, as you said, and l thought that in order to do it realistically l needed a special kind of acting, not a normal, let's say, “Sean Connery acting", which you want to believe but you never doubt. If I see Sean Connery crying I am never doubting if he is really crying. I know he is not but I want to believe it. I wanted actors that were doing real things, like the people in the streets, being interviewed, being asked what they are. They had to be very real, very realistic, and in order to do this we discovered a trick. As I did the camera myself, a friend of mine did the directing. I’m not good in directing at all. Getting an actor to a point where he does exactly what I want is very difficult. So, if he has to be surprised, we thought of things in order to surprise him, instead of telling him he should be surprised. When he gets his tea and it is hot, it was really hot and he didn’t expect it. There are a lot of tricks in it, in order to get you doubting if he is acting, if it is really done. I hope you got this doubt, somewhere…
ERICA KRAMER: I didn't think very much of your film. I thought it was a moralistic film and an emotional film. in an intellectual film, you don't have that experience. I have an experience with this zone of real and unreal in my life around cinema. I have been in films as a comedienne, real and non-real, so it’s not a new subject for me. I understand it very well. It doesn’t matter to me that I never once believed that he's crying. I just wanted him to commit suicide so I could move along. It was a film about the death penalty and I think that the issue, in the end, is: do I live/or not? I thought it was a film yes/no; live/die; right/wrong. I think that is a very pertinent subject in the world today. It is an emotional subject and it was handled emotionally. He had no choice. He had to say yes. But then, the film was made, so the paradox is there, we have the film…
GG: It is always surprising to get all the reactions. l have been to 23 festivals last year and have got thousands of reactions. Nobody ever mentioned the word suicide; it is death penalty. I think he is not killing himself. He is killing the ideas he has about himself. Like he doesn’t believe any longer in what he is thinking about himself.
ERICA KRAMER: What is so fascinating about the death penalty is that it is about a cultural morass, about killing ideas. I'm American; the death penalty is a major issue in this period of history, where in most countries it is not. People actually have discussions about the death penalty and they watch it on television. The person becomes quite unimportant: it's the ideas – this person is a bad person or a good person, these ideas are good ideas or bad ideas. His ideas are worth killing for or not.
GG: I wanted to make a film that is doubting all the ideas. All these words are dividing the world and to me the world is not divided in words. Words are a way of describing the world and by using words we think that everything is divided into small parts, small particles, small meanings and ideas. My thinking works in words, but the world is not an idea, I’m not an idea. The moment I think I'm wrong, good, ugly or beautiful, whatever I think, this is only an idea. That is why people in the streets cannot give the right answer. I took that out during the editing, after seeing the film so many times. We also asked this small girl, about five years old, who she was. First we asked the mother and she said “I’m a housewife" and everything, and then we asked her “what are you?" and she said “I'm not going to tell you”. That was a good answer. Because you cannot…
My previous film was called Two. It was about the idea of two things: the moment you say A you say B, and it depends on who you are. There is a small story in the film, of a father whose son sees everything double, sees two instead of one. One night, walking on a street, the father has just discovered that his son sees things double and he says to his son “point to me: do you see double?" and the son says “no daddy, that's not true, otherwise I would see four moons instead of two".
The problem is perception, the way we look at things. That’s what I try to tell a lot in my film. We believe in ideas and one of the main ideas, one of the main obstacles is this idea of a personality, of an “I”. And the moment I can get rid of this idea of an “I” and kill it, I don't know how, but the character in my film does it, to me, you become totally free, totally spontaneous and open. And that has nothing to do with the death penalty.
BRAM RELOUW: According to you, you don’t need an “I” to function? Not at all? Who is being spontaneous, if the “I” is deleted?
GG: Look again at the film. The whole theory isn’t mine. It is an old theory and l think it is totally true. This theory says there is a lamp in the projector, projecting all reality. The lamp cannot say anything about the pictures on the screen; it won't identify with the pictures, won't be hurt or moved. It is just there to show. If I’m a television set I don't need this this idea that is rolling and rolling every day and every night. l'm just this possibility for this idea to arise. “It”, you might say, is free. Not the “l” – it is difficult, of course, because our languages are totally filled with this word. But I agree, it's also an emotional film, experimental…
KH: It’s not a theory or a language that you want to depict, but something emotional, a life sentence if we can call it. I sympathise entirely and I agree with you. Of course, this theory we are talking about is a very old one and it has been written over and over again in text and in language. it is not new. But the fact that you want to make it into a film and use imagery in order to depict it, is something new, I think. It is something that we want to make into a film, because it is film and not language. When you think about the so-called real world, which is full of chaos, and try to depict it through a camera lens, the image and the camera lens cannot portray this chaos in a very orderly fashion. We cannot depict some of the chaos that is in reality in an orderly way.
GG: You can use words to a certain extent. I personally don't like the films in which… if somebody asked me what the film is about and I can tell it completely, why bother to make the film? Why not write a book or make a radio program? To me, film language is much more than just words. You cannot talk about it; you can only talk about what it does or what it means. This is what it is and it is beyond words. l like the films of Tarkovsky – and what is The Mirror about? I don’t know at all. On another level, I know exactly what it is about, but cannot describe it. That is why he made the film, because he wanted to communicate with me directly, on another level than just words. That is what I like very much in film. A lot of American bullshit in cinema nowadays is a way of making money. It's not about using the medium of film on a good level, it’s just portraying a story, just a story. We try to not tell a story and that is always difficult for a lot of people – people walk away in my films. I think that’s because they want a story all the time. I do it myself. When I looked at your film, I noticed I was looking for some sort of story behind it, where everything would come together. Because the girl was a cliché, and cliché means cliché, so I was looking for meaning. It is difficult to leave this behind, because we are all maybe trained with films where everything has a meaning, with all these tricks they use in Hollywood in order to tell us the story.
SUSANA NASCIMENTO: Your film is very conservative in terms of film language. In the end, it illustrates a story, the images serve a story…
GG: I don’t agree. If you make a film in Hollywood and you say “there is a quarrel with his wife at the end of 15 minutes, and I'm not going to show the wife at all", they would say that’s not possible, it’s very experimental, it's not conservative at all. You should show the actors and I’m not showing the actor in the end at all. I’m just showing other things, all the time.
SUSANA NASCIMENTO: In his film [Hajime], it comes from inside the images, it's something that is reflecting about the nature of image and that is in the actual process of the film. In your film images are made to artificially serve a kind of exterior, which in the end is descriptive.
GG: And what about the images of sand coming across the camera, water or grass, things like that?
SUSANA NASCIMENTO: The first impression – I didn’t see it from the beginning…
GG: When did you come in?
SUSANA NASCIMENTO: He was going on another direction, but in the end those images… It’s not the same thing. Even if they are poetic, they are not much different from many others. They are also part of a mise-en-scène, they serve a purpose.
GG: I agree. But I don't agree with what you’re saying about mine. I agree about the difference. I don’t know. when you came in, because you couldn’t miss any minute.
SUSANA NASCIMENTO: I don’t think I missed much of the film…
GG: In the fifth minute, I have some lines of Wim Wenders’s film about Ozu, and he says that he likes to observe, just looking without giving any meaning to things. That’s in a way what I do through the whole film, just looking at things, not trying to give any meaning. When we see a vase in a window we start to look for meaning. To me this is not conservative at all. It is something else. Not to try to tell a story… but it is impossible, almost. I tell the story of Zen Buddhist monks who have to watch a vase for thirty years if they are unlucky, and they have to find out what they are looking at. First, they see the vase, then comes the knowledge of the vase. And then they see that it is a mental picture inside their heads. They have to come to a point where they don’t see their ideas any more. That’s what I try to do, to get rid of all these ideas – about looking at film, but also about your own thinking, about looking at yourself.
NUNO LISBOA: Maybe it would be interesting if you talked about your own process of doing the film. You said it took you fourteen years. Also, was there a découpage or not…
GG: I started by listening to tapes of a guy who talked about his theory not as a theory because he made a step like my character, he destroyed his idea of an “I”. He wasn’t an “I” anymore. This was so interesting to me and then I tried to convince all my family members and friends and they all thought l was getting crazy because it’s so difficult to explain what it is about. Then I wrote a script, a normal script, because l needed money and of course it took me ten years to get the money, because the moment you say it is a film about spirituality a lot of people with money hesitate. It became a very scientific film, about consciousness and the way we perceive things. And in the end, I think I made a film about spirituality. That is why it took so long.
We had a découpage. I had a normal crew of 20 people, so we had to know exactly what we were going to do. On the other hand, I shot a lot of material on video and had 100 hours of material: The first half hour was sort of invented in the editing. It took me a long time, l edited for one and a half years. That’s too long – it you edit that long, the problem is you can’t see your film anymore. I still can't see it as it is. That’s the main problem for every filmmaker. That is mainly how it was made and then it was transferred to 35mm. I won the first prize at Amsterdam Documentary Film Festival, to my total surprise, because l thought it was not a documentary at all. But they liked it very much. And this publicity started: it’s really a documentary and things like that.
To me, it is mainly what we believe in. The funny thing is that if I see a documentary, if it is about reality, I believe it is true, that it isn’t acted because I know it is a documentary. This label tells me it is true. if l go to see Titanic I know it isn’t a documentary at all, but I want to believe it also. So, it is a strange attitude inside this room: we want to believe what we are looking at. And this is what I tried to investigate.
SÍLVIA HENRIQUES: I found these movies quite philosophical and pointing to existential things, about life, and I had the sensation that this is not exactly a documentary, or if it is… what do you think it is? And why do you consider this a documentary or not?
GG: To me that isn't important at all. This is what it is. There are these labels that we put on it. It is about you. What are you, a documentary or a fiction? A lot of “us” is fictional, I think. The main example is dreaming. When l dream, I make a fiction inside my head and I really believe it. This is fiction but, on the other hand, it is real. I believe it myself. I frighten myself, immediately. This is fiction, but it is real. If I could say that l invented a line in my dreams that it is inside my head, it isn’t really there, I would be free of this belief. But I can’t. We also believe in many things when we are awake. It is the same problem. We tend to believe in a lot of ideas, we identify with films. You can also say, I'm sitting in a cinema and this is just a film. We do it outside also. The moment I realise, then the question is how I am that lamp projecting that film of Gert Graff and I am free.
JMC: What I don’t understand is why you react against the idea of telling a story? When you create a character, you follow him, you are telling a story. It’s a story with all the nature of narrative storytelling method.
GG: Of course. I was only complaining about the word conservative. I use all the mechanisms Hollywood, or whoever, invented and then I try to deny it. It’s telling a story.
CARMEN CASTELLO-BRANCO: How many hours of material did you have before editing?
GG: I had 100 hours.
KATHLEEN GOMES: Since you are questioning the mechanism of identification, is that mechanism such a simple thing?
GG: Actually it is. The mechanism is very simple. You can notice it in the cinema, and then you can step out of it; you are out of this hypnosis. Inside this film that you are experiencing right now, I don't know how to step out of it. If I knew how, I would be very rich, because everybody would be happy. The moment you step out of it, you are totally happy. You don't agree or disagree, you’re just there. Like the lamp is just there.
RICARDO JULIÃO: Your character has a very complicated position. You say that sometimes you can see the ideas are coming and going. Who sees?
GG: Normally we say “I see”, but we are thinking. You might say there's a consciousness, awareness (maybe a better word). I am aware of my thinking and I am aware of some thoughts of this “I” character. If I say that I am stepping into something, that is confusing because l'm not. Something inside me says this is true, this is how it is, this is what reality is. But it is an idea about reality, not reality at all. It is just a construction. We say “I sleep", but that's impossible. It you are asleep, you can’t say “l sleep".
RICARDO JULIÃO: Is this a problem of language?
GG: Yes, in a way. Thinking is language and language tells us a lot of stories.
RICARDO JULIÃO: When you want to break down these ideas you’re presupposing something.
GG: That is why we use all these illusions. If you see through an illusion, I mean, if you see the film a second time and you see this triangle thing, although you see the illusion you know it is done. lt can never get you into this doubting, which you had the first time, probably. You see through the illusion, but you don’t believe it anymore.
ERICA KRAMER: Because you insist on this illusion, we saw three films, all working with ideas. With you, when you use the word illusion l might also say trick. l have tricks in my house, for pleasure. In the first film there is an enormous respect for ideas and image, a very respectful, peaceful storytelling andd I really appreciated this camera and the time with the images. The first time I understood that the images were breathing, I had a very wonderful reaction, I felt taken somewhere, and l trusted you very much, l wanted to go along. At the same time, I was listening to things you were telling me, and it felt like having a rich walk with someone that was smart and sweet, and had something to share. A lot of things gave me a very healthy feeling to be human, thinking, and I loved the illusion of the breadth of the image. Thank you.
JEAN BRESCHAND: I believe these are three films whose form expresses that they are being invented as they are being made. We have talked a lot about the simultaneous construction of an object/theme and of an idea. I believe, precisely, that we are striving to invent a theme that cannot be formulated though language. That is why we have difficulties in expressing conceptually what belongs to the order of sensation. Still, we try to appoint one other subjectivity. It is not about the author, nor about the affirmation of a game, or about a biography or autobiography, but about the definition of a presence in the world. In this sense, I believe it is important to describe how the films are made.
l know that my film is built in a slightly opaque manner, seeing as I had left for the mountains in the north of Portugal for (a film’s) repérage and due to another proposal, I ended up adopting the form of a filmed letter. I came to Portugal with the intention of filming only in Super 8, but had problems with the camera and so I continued the film with photographs. In this process, there was something that troubled me: l didn’t want the photographs to be still. I knew beforehand what I would find in that place, I knew there were Palaeolithic engravings. What I didn’t know was what they looked like and once I found out there was a meeting. That crystallised several things all at once: the memory of ancient desires, a restlessness that was itself the discovery of this place and corresponded to the restlessness I felt at that moment (the fact of having been searching for another film). And the discovery of a territory that was not simply of a place we don’t physically know (a geography), but also involved learning the ties that were, to me, at that moment, broken. It was about being able to cross, to make a territory appear, to make the possibility of a film appear.
The device was gradually created out of the discovery of the limits, problems and possibilities of a technique. The photographs I took were photographed a second time (in EKTA) to make slides which, in turn, were projected in Super 8 over a white sheet, which was moving. We worked with different techniques: the candle flames provoke vibrations in the image and the fog is the result of breaths of air blown over the projector’s lens. I was happy to have been able to make all these extremely simple effects in an attic. We were a team of three people and we built all the devices. Regarding the Super 8, it is dealt with in two ways: there are projections over the sheet (which I didn’t move this time because the images themselves had movement and it wasn't necessary to make them vibrate), and all the black shots are of grass projected over a black sheet with a gauze to intensify the effect of darkness. In the beginning, I thought about working with the sound in a normal manner: l recorded the sounds of nature, however the realism of the sound broke the effect of vibration, of breathing. The musician with whom I was working agreed with me about this idea of a non-realist sound.
SADAO YAMANE: I would like to give you my impression. There is the world and reality on one hand, and a human being on the other. Through the use of the camera we can reflect upon the world or connect to it. This is the issue of the three films. We have the world, the “You” and the “l”. In other words, we have the protagonists as creations of the world. The camera depicts the relation between “You” and “I”. Is that for real or not? In the Japanese film, the connection is doubtful. In ordinary cinema we believe the camera’s image is real, we do not doubt whether it is reflected in documentary. Can we doubt if the image captured by the camera is real or not? Then, what is the relation between “I” and “You” and so forth?
Playing with this idea of the distance is what we call trompe-l'oeil – as we saw in the film with the light. With the Japanese director, Ozu, people believed that his world was a world of realism. There is a story about Ozu: he often has meal scenes, with the family eating together. There would be a table, with plates and food on top, in his style, with a low angle camera shooting that. In Japan there is a beer brand that has different sizes of bottles. The large bottle and the small bottle have the exact same shape and label. So what Ozu did was to put the two bottles next to each other and, with a low angle, he uses the idea of perspective to make the two bottles look as if they both have the same size; in his point of view, if he had put two large ones it would not have looked realistic.
Going back to the films that we saw today, I have a question for the two of you: there was a critical comment made by the lady in the audience about Gert’s film having a narrative structure or having a storyline. I don’t think that having a storyline is necessarily a bad thing, but I do agree there is a narrative structure in your film and that Mr. Kawaguchi's film also has a narrative structure. Especially when the cat appears you feel a certain kind of storyline emerging. Of course it isn't an ordinary narrative but it is a story nevertheless. I don't believe this is necessarily a conservative thing. I find it very interesting that you are both telling a story and that at the same time you are doubting it and leaving that story in the air. I wonder if you agree with my point of view.
GG: I agree. My storyline was in fact very simple. I wanted to deny every storyline. That's why it starts with a character. He wakes up, we see the title of the film and somebody is zapping because he thinks this character isn’t interesting. We leave him and in the end we even go to the editing room where this film is being edited. By denying the storyline, I wanted the audience to step back all the time, “ah, this is not what this film is about, this is what it’s about, the guy editing the film, that's probably the story"… So, in the end, I hope that you step back into yourself. And the main idea is very simple. it's about us being this projection lamp. And we can only talk about or explain ideas. My paradox is that what I tried to tell is not an idea at all. And the only things I can communicate are ideas. So I wanted to make a sort of paradoxical film. If the audience gets confused, that’s a good starting point. When you are no longer sure about what you can believe, you are doubting everything, also your own story…
KH: There are several ways to respond to your comment. I believe there is no single truth and that is probably the only single truth I believe in. That's probably why I don't make any clear statements in my films. I can't say that anything is true or not.
About the narrative in my works, | emphasise the fact that when a narrative emerges it begins to roll by itself. And that kind of spontaneous movement that goes beyond the original author’s intention is something that I expect and wish for when I make a film. When that happens, the original intention of a film becomes secondary to what happens.
PEDRO CALDAS: A question to the three directors and to the general audience… What seems to me to be common to the three films are two things. First, they are films in the first person, in which the “I” is stated frequently – I see, I do, l feel, I think. Not just the word. Particularly in the Dutch film, by the way it is filmed, the “I” is very imposing. Secondly, they are films that trust in the word, in the spoken word in the French film and the Dutch film, in the written word in the Japanese film – as if it weren’t possible to think the world or the images only with images. As if they have a greater trust in the word than in the images. Do you agree?
GG: To me, the world is very complex, because of all these illusionary things going on. If I would make a film without those words, there are some things I couldn’t explain. Life is complex as it is, why make it more complex by not explaining things? I point out an idea and you can do that through words. On the other hand, the actual idea says that it can’t be said. That's the paradox.
PEDRO CALDAS: What interests me in films is when films think with image and sound, not trusting so much in words.
GG: I know. In my case I needed a lot of words, but in the middle of the film it’s my voice you hear aII the time and I say that there is nothing more to say. That is it. I can't say it in another language. Then, I hope I’m doing the same story by using pictures and that my voice is no longer important because I’m repeating the whole theory again. It’s the same story again.
PEDRO CALDAS: Yes, but why can't you just do it with images?
GG: I can’t. I think nobody would understand what I'm trying to tell because it's so complicated.
PEDRO CALDAS: I think it is because all of you rely so much in words (written or spoken) that your films appear so imposing. There is always one “I” in the film that says something.
GG: I'm there, yes. It is an autobiographical film in that way and l can’t say I got rid of my I thought about placing a guru to tell everybody how it should be, like a sort of teacher, then I thought this was rubbish. I would not get your attention if I’m this arrogant, as I don't know about what it is either. That’s why the “I” is there as myself, as a person who thinks this is true but still cannot grab it. That's what we have been doing here for 3 hours: we are constantly using words. We need them to communicate.
SÍLVIA HENRIQUES: We can communicate without words
GG: Yes, I know, but…
SÍLVIA HENRIQUES: I think about how cinema started, with almost no words. Why do you choose not to do it?
GG: I hope that I use images you can’t describe in words. You cannot talk about a lot of things. We are only talking about the surface not the subject, because we cannot. Because you cannot say it. The moment you say it, it is an idea made out of words. It is a paradox and all the examples (projection lamp, television set) are just pointing to something, but it isn't what it is, otherwise it would be an idea. Can you have a thought without a word in it? My thoughts are made with words.
SÍLVIA HENRIQUES: Words are only expressing one’s thoughts. And images, not just words. That's the point.
GG: OK, also images. This is my way; I couldn’t do it in another way. A poet friend of mine once read a long poem to an audience. Someone asked what it was about, and he read it again. This is what I did. If I could have done it in another way, I would have. Take it or leave it.
SÍLVIA HENRIQUES: l just wanted to understand if this was a choice or if you thought it wouldn’t work without words.
GERT DE GRAAFF: To me it wouldn’t work without words. I don’t hope this seminar explanation makes the film explainable to you, but I hope the film did it by itself.
ANA MARGARlDA GIL: I got the feeling that the whole philosophy in your film is about trying to find a place inside yourself where you don't need words.
GG: Words are an illusion. We tend to believe them. This point would not be influenced by words. If you get it, if you like it, agree or disagree, in my film I say it doesn’t matter, the well is not influenced by the winding of the river.
ANA MARGARlDA GIL: It’s about how you feel things inside, not how you intellectualise them.
GG: It’s not about feelings either. Feelings have the same problems as thoughts; you cannot describe what is in there. It's very offensive to say there's one truth, because immediately you have a war between people who say it is true and people who say it isn’t. To me, truth comes out of experience, and experience means you are. The problem in this sentence, “I am", is the word “I”. You can't doubt it. To doubt, you have to be there first.
KH: You asked about the first person and the narrator. l was very aware of how to use the narrator in my film. in the first part l eliminated the subjectivity – it’s basically the video system itself, with no person controlling it. Then I went on the next phase, where there is a first person narrative and then by adding another person, it becomes a multiple person narrative, which breaks up the supposedly perfect and closed first person narrative world. And this is a rule i tried to follow through as I built my story.
I’m now talking about words and language. When I first started to make films, l also had this antagonism towards using words in my work. I thought the only motivation for me to work in the moving image was not to use words or language. I feel differently now. I think language, words and the moving image cannot be differentiated so clearly. You mentioned the silent movie era. Movies without sound or words did create a so called language through the creation of meaning. I think that all moving images contain language or words. At the same time, words and language cannot depict entireIy what the moving image can. On this film, I was very conscious of creating something hybrid, the combination of language and image and making something that cannot be depicted either through language or through image only. "
JMC: Specifically in your case, when you use written words in the screen and when you insist that we should read these, instead of listening to them, and when you do it with silence, it is very obvious that you are also treating the word as image, it also becomes a relation with images.
KH: I superimposed text on my image as you say, like subtitles, but I also doubt the importance of that method. The reason I started this method, is that in Japanese TV there is a lot of text on top of the image, even without necessity. Those kinds of subtitles make you wonder whether they are part of the image or text, whether the producer of the program wants to convey a special message to you. And this kind of ambiguity of the subtitle is very interesting. It is ambiguous; it is in the air somehow. The text represents something that is inside the TV program and also outside the TV program.
GG: One last remark about this use of words. | read a lot about Zen Buddhism. These riddles are putting together words you cannot solve by thinking, and this is meant to get you thinking outside your logic. I think there is a lot of truth in this: they say things like “forget everything", like my main character. And he thinks he must remember that, so he doesn’t do it. How can you ever forget everything? My film is being sold in DVD in bookshops in Amsterdam and, in one shop-Window, there is a big poster saying “reading books won't help you" (a line from the film). It's funny. There is something inside that paradox. That’s what words can do: point out the paradox, but not explain it.
JMC: You spoke about forgetting and the process of memory. I thought a lot about this while watching the films but until now, during the debate, this word was not there. All three films were about the question of memory. Starting with the specific sense that narrative is also related to the memory during the film, once it is a process in time. Then, in Hajime’s film there is suddenly this incredible sentence “voices of those who are no longer in this world". And to me, that was also what the first film was about: the possibility of giving another level of resonance to this question of memory – which, in that case, is the presence, or memory, of those in a distant past. This other level, where narrative and memory connect, we may call it the level of cinema – but also in a sense that existed before cinema itself… The Palaeolithic drawings give a broader sense to this. To me, Jean’s film was a way of opening a discussion about this recording process, which we call cinema, but that goes back in time. Making cinema today you continue a process. You were talking about people doing something that now we call cinema.
JB: You mentioned an echo, a resonance. It is natural that presently, in a world that is a sort of a world in shambles, the problem is to be able to review things at the time of an emergency. The words have, simultaneously, an uncertainty and a presence and, if we are able to provide them with some meaning, we will be able to regain our balance. l believe that this work of restoring in presence is also about trying to hear the mute signs that were our legacy of 2000 years ago and those that were bequeathed to us more recently. And that is why it is a film about breathing.
KEES BAKKER: We are talking about problems of documentary in general. Your comment was very valuable because many people rely more on words than images, although some people rely more on images than on words. What your films demonstrate is not only that the use of language has its limitations but also that the use of images as being a language has limitations as well. Using film is; also using a language that has its limitations. That causes, of course, many problems when we are talking about documentary and the reality we are trying to depict through those images because the filmmaker, who is the “I”, is defining himself through those Ianguage – not only but also images. But that’s the only way in which he can get into a relation with that world.
Documentary is thus necessarily an autobiographical film. Using those languages, with those limitations, putting holes on what we call reality, makes it impossible to know how much it conforms to the reality, between brackets, in which we live. Documentary and reality, with those limitations of languages still aim to tell or represent some kind of truth. Not an absolute truth, but a personal truth or a truth in a certain context. The three of you might have similar or a truth in a certain context. The three of you might have similar ideas about how that relates to your works but I’m also curious to know different points of view from other filmmakers, students, etc. What we see nowadays on TV, like in the last weeks. because of September 11th, what they call documentaries, are to my eyes journalistic documents, without any reflection. Because they try to exclude themselves and that is maybe the biggest illusion. Maybe there are other opinions regarding that sense or relation between language and documentary in its aim to represent some kind of truth.
SATO MAKOTO: In my opinion, the three films do not depend on language. I can imagine them without words. [In Jean’s film,] between the photographs and the camera, there exists… air, wind. I imagined it without frame, because I decided to separate within the frame. There are two types of things, with frame or no frame… and there are those who see with frame and without frame. Also, I can understand your films without words, just by using my imagination. Journalism depends on words, documentation depends on words, but films depend not only on language, but also on imagination.
BRAM RELOUW: It is an important task of documentary to preserve a vision on reality. The memory issue was clearly visible in all the films and there was a clear presence of time, of its passage, of preserving and trying to remember things. And, I agree, there is a great similarity between all of today’s films.
GG: I felt very stupid when I saw your film. I only saw the cat in the second time, with the blurred images when Bach's music starts. I don't know if everybody had the same experience. Was I the only one? You didn't change the image the second time? It was the same as the first?
KH: What happened is exactly as I explained: when l first developed the film, I didn't see the image at all and l cut off the last end of that film. But when I looked at the image I had preserved, over and over again, I saw something there and I decided to go back to the garbage pale and pick up what I had lost. In making this video I enhanced the image a little bit through the telecinema process but when I first saw the film footage there was some very mysterious, a kind of ghostly image.
ERICA KRAMER: To me, part of the magic of film is when there are not so obvious things and in your film there are many examples of that. l was thrilled when you brought Glen Gould, one of the great radicals of all times. When we first heard that humming… he broke every rule of classical music. And, to our generation, discovering an artist doing this… I was crying with the beauty and magic as I was crying when the tree was cut down and you put so many politics in such a simple cut of the sound.
NUNO LISBOA: The first sequence in Kawaguchi’s film seems like a condensed image of history, pre and post technologic and cinematographic. I am interested in the matter of processes and methods, and in the two films I saw (I didn't see the first) that is important. To me, your film is not a documentary in the sense that it follows a determined path from the beginning, in which everything is known. I am curious to know what the 98 hours left out of the film are. In Pedro Costa’s film, two years ago (In Vanda's Room), which has over a hundred hours, I understand what his question of cinema is; he talks in the narration.
I don’t understand what is your question of cinema. It is simply that, in the preliminary construction and in what is worked or discovered during the construction of the film. There are two examples: one, the fetishist or controlled way in which you work the light, which is the other in relation to the editing – which to me, as a spectator, solved my problem. What I was trying; to discover was almost solved in the passage from one shot to another when I heard the sounds of the keys in off. And the whole matter of who counts and who is being counted was, in some way, solved.
GG: These 98 hours of material were of course a problem, partially because I worked with cats, which takes a lot of time and I worked with babies, which takes a lot of time. While shooting, we had amateurs and we never told them what to do, they had a vague idea of what to do. People were reacting and forgetting what they were doing, and that takes a lot of material. I, as a cameraman, was never allowed to tell them what to do.
In the last scene where he’s doubting, yes or no, I wanted him to really act and go through all the emotions, and he was afraid of doing the scene. So we did it in the first day of shooting and my friend invented six words like “camp” (maybe concentration camp, I don't know), the name of a woman, etc.. That immediately put him through the different emotions, from pain to pleasure, and this whole shooting took 100 minutes. This approach takes a lot of material. You can never do this on film, it's much too expensive and the beautiful thing is that I found out that using this method of directing people, making it look real, you get the best results. After these 100 minutes I left the camera run and he looked to the camera, so relieved, and he says “yes” and it is totally different from the other ones, very real. There are also scenes that didn’t work. These leftovers are on the DVD. This gives you an idea why all this material was used.
JMC: We have to close now. We can go on tomorrow. In the meantime, I would like to draw your attention to the film we are showing tonight, included in the public program – Eduardo Coutinho’s film which has just been premiered (and awarded a prize) in Brazil, and which will have here what I believe to be its first international exhibition.
I would also like to take this occasion to present a couple of people who are here not just as individual participants but representing some of our partners: Bram Relouw of the Joris lvens Foundation; Marie Pierre Muller of Lussas (the “États Generaux du Film Documentaire"). As for the Japanese "delegation", I stress the presence of Mr. Sadao Yamane, well known Japanese critic, historian and researcher (who will do his conference tomorrow), Seiko Ono and Asako Fujioka, from the Yamagata Film Festival – and I should acknowledge the help Asako is giving us with the consecutive translation… – and, finally, Sato Makoto and Ono Satoshi, whose films we will see tomorrow. Last, l would like to also call your attention to the presence of Kees Bakker (who was with us since the beginning) and to Pierre-Marie Goulet, now both collaborating in the programming area.