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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
Third debate, after the filmes by João Ribeiro and José Filipe Costa, by Avi Mograbi
and by Pablo García
19th SEPTEMBER, THURSDAY
Films shown before the debate:
Between Walls, Joéo Ribeiro and José Filipe Costa
August, Avi Mograb
Fuente Álamo, la caricia del tiempo, Pablo García (shown the previous night, as part of the public screenings, and also discussed in the presence of the author)
Kees Bakker (KB)
João Ribeiro (JR)
Pablo García (PG)
Avi Mograbi (AM)
José Filipe Costa (JFC)
KEES BAKKER: This morning we saw Between Walls by João Ribeiro and José Filipe Costa, and August by Avi Mograbi. We hope we can talk about Pablo Garcia's film, which we saw last night, Fuente Álamo. The first day, there was a clear relation between the films, very obvious themes to talk about, the second day more or less the same, and now we have three films that are very, very different. I think that this is a good way not only to reflect on those films, how they were made, etc., but also on the concepts, on why the filmmakers made certain choices for that kind of approach, on what they wanted to convey or if there were other ways to do it. On the first day, we discussed the status of the image, of words and image. It is also very important to take that here, because the films we saw today and yesterday evening can also be related to that problematic of documentary: how to represent things in your style, in your way, with that sense of reality that all the films we have seen do have.
Yesterday, there was one other thing evoked, the family theme: working with a closed community, with a family or a group of people who work together and the different kinds of approaches to those subjects. What I am very much interested and I hope you are too is that because of the difference in those films we have seen, I think there must be some people who didn't like all three films. I hope there would also be some people who would not only say they, he or she, liked the film of Pablo, João Ribeiro and José Filipe Costa or Avi Mograbi, but that they also point out the things they didn’t like. Not to teach those filmmakers but to discuss those aspects of documentary that make documentary valuable, which is our relation, also as spectators, to what we see on-screen.
When we look at the three films and the different styles, one is very personal. Avi Mograbi is acting in his own film and is relating to a more general problematic. In the other films, on the contrary, you aren’t very present as directors. You’re even keeping a certain distance to the subjects, letting things have their own flow. And you film with, more or less, the same style of images but the editing and the concept behind the film is completely different again.
Since, yesterday, you [João Ribeiro] brought up that you thought some filmmakers today put too much stress on the recording process of filmmaking, maybe I can start by asking you your own question: can you tell us what were the important parts in this film’s filmmaking process.
JOÃO RlBElRO: In our film we had a previous idea to, more or less, build a preliminary structure but we wanted always to film things as they were in front of us. Our main idea was to shoot it that way and edit the film as you build a fiction film, like pushing the emotions of the characters, etc... In the filmmaking process, I think maybe you all noticed that we had two different approaches, with different camera styles for the part in Portugal and the part in the Ukraine. In Ukraine, for example, we did it much closer, not so cold. More intimate if you want. We recorded about 35 to 40 hours of material but then, in the editing, we tried to depurate a lot and tried that each scene should have an objective in itself and we tried to avoid, as much as we could, oral information. So, we tried to build emotional scenes and we tried to do things that we hope people feel when they see the movie… we have doubts.
KB: It also brings me to your [Pablo] film in which I think in part you follow this approach, especially in the elaboration after the shooting. It brings up, I think, a very clear concept you had beforehand for what you wanted to do. Can you tell us more about your choices, of that style of shooting and how in a way it is being – how can I say – contradicted by the way you edited it?
PABLO GARCÍA: There really is a very clear structure because the project, although it is a very personal vision of a village in Albacete, Fuente Álamo, began when I finished my cinema studies in Barcelona, where I had also studied photography. So, the two disciplines helped me to structure a script based upon my memories of this village of Fuente Álamo. My grandmother is from there, and so is my father, and I had lived for three years in Fuente Álamo. So, it is in some way the distance, because when I studied cinema l was in Barcelona, and put all my memories and experiences in a very structured script organised in sequences, which above all defined the passing of time, of a day in the village. I think that is in some way the reason why “Fuente Álamo" has such a clear structure, because it was made with a script and was very much planned. The knowledge I have of the village and the people that appear in the film (in some way, I already knew them all) enabled me to structure each of my actions very well. On the one hand, according to a reality, because they kept part of what I transmitted to them, but on the other, and that is even stronger, by the force of remembrance and memory.
KB: We will definitely come back to that, but first I want to go to Avi Mograbi's film, because it is very different from everything we have seen here. Contrary to the other two films, you aren’t working with people you’re close to: it isn't family, it isn’t people you encounter on the street everyday and it isn't a closed community. It's more of a whole part of the society which may also lead, automatically or not, or maybe very consciously, to a more aggressive style. In your filmmaking, also because of the problems in society, the reactions to the camera are of course completely different to when you are preparing a film with a group of people and telling them what you want to do, etc… Can you try to say something about it?
AVl MOGRABI: If I can return to your previous question to the other speakers, my way of making August was being totally unprepared or having no idea whatsoever what it was going to be like. The initial idea was very much like what this filmmaker says in the beginning of the film: just going out. To go out into the streets and let August present itself. Of course, it didn't work. l started in August ‘99 with a cameraman. We went out into the streets and shot for quite some time. Of all this material, only one scene got to the film. When August ‘99 was over, I was sure that there was no film and I thought I would desert it, which I did for quite some time. Until August 2000 started whispering to me in sleepless nights and by then I already wanted again to do what this filmmaker’s wife says, to “go out and film violence", because the atmosphere in Telaviv or in Israel was becoming quite agitated and I experienced, as a viewer, a lot of street violence. Not necessarily bloodshed but a lot of aggression and very strong expressions of violence and aggression. So I decided to look for violence, to go out and shoot violence. I also decided to shoot on my own, which was a decision that I didn't know would determine how my film would be. But this is how it worked. And of course it didn’t work out again, because I looked for violence out there, but there was no violence outside.
When I made the previous film, Happy Birthday, Mr. Mograbi we also had a lot of people approaching the camera, but those were happy people. They were all saying “hi” and “bye” to their families at home and none of them was opposed to the presence of the camera or the mere capturing of whatever happens. The only scene in Happy Birthday, Mr. Mograbi where there is this one guy who doesn’t want me to shoot and eventually pushes the camera until it breaks was a made up scene, a fiction of a situation. Of course, I didn’t know that this scene would become the theme of the next film. I had no idea of what I was going to do and during the month of August 2000, I would come home every night devastated by the fact that I could not capture what I was looking for and instead I was conducting street fights with people who objected to my presence there. It took me quite a long time to understand that this was, in a perverted way, the subject of my film.
MANUELA PENAFRIA: I think documentary is important because all those films, they don't tell us anything about the reality, they tell us about the relationships that documentary filmmakers have with their subjects. Because there is a level of reality, in which we may believe, but we are not capable of looking at that level of reality. we have to make sense of things. As we exist in the world, we interact with the world. After seeing the first film, Between Walls, Klaus was saying that he saw there was an empathy between the Portuguese and the Ukrainians – and that was clear to me, I saw that in the film too. And in Avi's film, it is the opposite. In the first film, we have Portuguese and Ukrainians and there is empathy between them and in your film (you are from Israel, I believe) you cannot find that empathy with the subjects. My question is about the presence of the camera. How do you think, both of you. it can help: to be closer to the people or to be distant?
JOSÉ FILIPE COSTA: Yes, there is some empathy between the Portuguese characters and the two Ukrainians. Sometimes, that doesn’t happen in Portugal, sometimes there is antipathy. But in this particular case, I think it was the time we spent and it was the way I met them. I met these two Ukrainian cousins, because they knew some members of my family, so I came to know them.
JR: We started shooting in November and the first things we did were birthday parties, New Year, situations where the group was involved in something. One of the things we wanted to shoot was the nothing they do in their free time. It was really very difficult to shoot in that environment. Even for us. In the garage, our behaviour was distant because we wanted to build their relation with the Portuguese society, since they are illegal and all. But Avi is completely different with his camera.
JFC: In a way, it was easy because they knew me, they started to know João and there was some empathy also. It wasn’t just bringing a strange object inside the garage without them knowing us. I think it's difficult because they are a community, they fear us. They are illegal as João said. There is also the way we explained the situations and were very detailed about what we wanted to film. João works with the camera, trying to have the right distance and to know how you can concretize this right distance. To be discrete and at the same time not to film when you feel something is not very comfortable.
AM: l'm afraid l am not interested in empathy. I like when people like me, but this is not the objective of what I’m doing. l have a lot of criticism for the society l live in and of course it is a useless mission but I’m out there to destroy, to ruin, to change. Not to create empathy or to empathize with anything. I go out because l’m angry. In a funny way, although people would not agree with me, I didn’t provoke anything in this film. They always approach me and l never approach them. Never. l never stick the lens into somebody's nose. It was a strange situation. I was always reserved in the beginning; I became very animated because this is what I am. I’m part of this place. This is my conclusion from the film.
The mere presence of the camera became a provocation. This was the provocation and it was in their mind, not in my acting. Of course, when you hear me now, you can say “well you were transmitting something”. Things happen in ways that l have no control of. There is this one demonstrator that l shouted at towards the end of the film – usually I stand in line with them. This is a very confusing and embarrassing scene for me to watch because I act in a way I do not respect. I could cut it. I decided not to, because I wanted to be critical and to make this a self-critical situation.
SÍLVIA HENRIQUES: The fact that you had the camera in your hand is already something. You don’t need to stick the camera in their noses. All the things that they were saying, “Are you from the newspaper?", or “Are you making something for America, for here, for there?" It’s like they know, they’re used to, this is threatening to them and they feel it like this. I don’t think what you said is an excuse, “I wasn’t sticking the camera in their nose".
CATARINA MOURÃO: Of course you’re not sticking the camera in their noses, but when you go out, you go to look for places where you know there is some kind of tension, and the film shows us that each time the same reaction happens. So, you know it’s going to happen. But to me that’s not a problem. What I’m interested in is: you said that while you were filming, and unlike Pablo, who l think already had a clear idea of the structure he wanted in his film, in your case this comes afterwards. In a way, when you started editing, looking into rushes. I would like you to tell us a bit about that process, how you proceed with the editing and why and when did you decide that it was important for you to be present in the film.
AM: When I decided to look for violence, I had this idea of the filmmaker as a structural thing… The filmmaker goes out into the streets to look for violence but violence breaks into his house from the back door. I had this idea that I would play myself, like in the two previous films, and would have two friends playing the wife and the person who breaks into the home. My two friends are non-actors because I didn't want the audience to recognize people that they know as actors. Of course this doesn't look like documentary, but I didn’t want it to be obviously played.
CATARINA MOURÃO: In the end, you're the one who is giving some meaning or a kind of organization to the chaos around you. How did this process start?
AM: This started two films ago, in a film called How l Learned To Overcome My Fear And Love Arik Sharon which was shot in the election campaign of 1996. This was supposed to be a really harsh political documentary, in which I decided to stick to Mr. Sharon, to be as close as possible and shoot him – not shoot, film (double meanings are bad for me); to film him when the monster that lives inside him pops out. Usually, when I make plans they don’t work. But my strategic decision to be as close as possible to him created something else and this was kind of a relationship that usually politicians give to journalists, but journalists usually don’t make films or write articles about that. I discovered that on a one-to-one basis – if there is anything like this – he can be a really nice person. And that you can forget the fact that he is a monster. There was a lot of footage of our interaction, which was funny and strange and I of course play a role, because my mission was to be there, as close as possible. It took me several weeks, until very close to the end of the campaign, to understand that this was the subject of the film: how you can forget who the person is or what his ideals are, what his politics are, what his history is. l understood something from the making of the film and changed the story. instead of making a film about Mr. Sharon, I made a film about us: the so called Israeli left – how boneless we are, how we can forget. The fact that Mr. Sharon is Prime Minister of lsrael today is something that is unbelievable. But it is true and because of the way our society is made, he can be a monster and still get the sympathy. So this was my decision, to use myself as the subject of the film in a fictional way. l never really started to like him or became a follower of him, but the story told in the film is how l go out to make a film about Mr. Sharon and found a sympathetic guy. My wife is always in the background, encouraging me to film him in a way that would expose who he really is. Then she realizes that I am full of sympathy for him and she deserts me when I become a complete follower.
KB: The motivation for shooting the films… one is from anger, the other more from empathy.
ALEXANDER GERNER: What I thought when l was seeing the film was that you were really a warrior in a kind of war situation, even if it's not Israelis against Arabs but Israelis against Israelis. You were there and they always asked you “where are you coming from, for whom do you work, what's the function of the camera". And then you say “I’m an independent filmmaker". I would like you to explain a little bit what independent filmmaking means in this context.
AM: Basically, I think it means whatever it means for the rest of us, only people make different uses of it. I'm an independent filmmaker – l don’t work for anybody, I work for myself, I don’t make films unless I have to make those films. My personal situation is that l usually start making them before I get money and, halfway through, I present them to broadcasters and foundations, which is a wonderful way to make a living.
ALEXANDER GERNER: l felt in the beginning, when you said you are an independent filmmaker and that you are not from a newspaper or from a TV station, that they were relieved. But in the end it seemed even more aggressive to them that you would not tell where you were coming from and who you were. So, who are you and what is your identity?
AM: l think most people treated this independence thing as if I was hiding who I really was, not as if I was stating something. The fact that you do not identify with something that they know raises a suspicion… Those guys would say “you probably work for the police", a lot of people actually think like that. This is an expression, I think, of suspicion, of paranoia, etc… But I don’t think that any of them think that “l’m independent" means that I have my own views and this is endangering them, it's not this way.
JR: The point is that our behaviour depends on the results we want. If you want to shoot violence, in a way you can provoke it. Or. if you want to convey the audience that you have empathy with your characters, like in Pablo’s film or in our film, you work in that sense.
AM: In conclusion that’s very obvious, but the truth is that I've gone out to make other films in the same way, with the same angry feeling, and never got such responses. So, this was a surprising situation for me.
JR: I'm sorry, but if I’m with a camera in front of a person who says “I don't want to be shot" and insist in shooting or keep the camera recording, the result is quite obvious.
AM: No. In most cases, they don't know when I shoot. I almost hardly look in the viewfinder, you don't see the light and you don't know if I shoot or not. The presence of the camera was the provocation.
JR: Your presence behind the camera.
JFC: What I feel is that they are very reactive to cameras. Because there is a lot of fear, conflict, hate. lt’s something that, for example, I don’t feel in the news. In this case, things are coming to me that no one is explaining, and what I feel is that it's easy to provoke violence. As a spectator, what I feel is important in this film is to see what is inside. When I say facts, it is about the number of killings, acts of violence and in a way I think you don't have to be so provocative because if you say you’re independent it's something strange for them. What is independence? When you are an independent director, you can make some strange things with your image. I think what has been said about independence… independence is a bizarre object because everyone has to have a political position“
JOSÉ MANUEL TAVARES: When you look to people who have a bad conscience, they don't want to be filmed. So, you were filming the conscience of people. When you looked at them they just felt judged, they were not very comfortable about what they were thinking and doing.
AM: I couldn't agree more. My interpretation is that there is some kind of a feeling of guilt there and the presence of the camera provoked this feeling because, in lsrael, whichever way you interpret reality nobody’s going to be happy. We are in deep shit and no interpretation leads you to see the light. For the past few years, all interpretations are leading us to a bad conclusion, to a horrible future. But the mere situation where they know interpretation will follow, because I think this is already understood, a camera is not just a capturing tool, it is a tool of interpretation and provokes this kind of reaction.
ANA VlElRA: I would like to ask them [João Ribeiro and José Filipe Costa] about the legal situation of those three immigrants and also it to know how their lives would have been if they hadn't done this film. Would they have stayed in Portugal or gone back?
JR: This began because José Filipe, his brother and the guys in the film were friends. Together, we talked and had this idea of doing this documentary. We talked to them, they agreed and we started shooting. We applied for financial support with I.C.A.M. and the first time we didn’t get any money, but we decided to shoot because they were leaving to Ukraine. If we hadn’t started shooting without the money from I.C.A.M., we wouldn’t have the movie you, have seen.
They didn't return because of us, they returned because they had to and we returned with them to film that. José Filipe was there with them a month ago, to show the film. Sergei lives in his house with his wife and his kid, Eddie has married his girlfriend, his beloved girlfriend, and they live in Kiev. The legal situation: they were illegal like most of the guys who live here and they don’t want to be legalized because they have to pay taxes to the Portuguese State.
GERT DE GRAAFF: You said you had a sort of idea before, intimate shots in Ukraine and more distant shots in Portugal and the other film, the Spanish film was very well constructed beforehand and you [Avi] more or less started shooting… To me, a documentary is very easy to define: the way in which it is shot makes me believe it's true. Fiction directors like Oliver Stone use a lot of documentary style ways of shooting to make you believe it is true. Especially Avi really got to me because this is my favourite subject, making things believable. Like with the doorbell; the first time I really believed there was somebody ringing, you know. The second time I was doubting a little bit and the third time I knew you staged it, I think. But still, I liked it very much, because I believed it. But with the Spanish film I had a big problem because it was shot in such a way, there was so clearly a découpage and it was so clearly staged that l was in the middle between fiction and reality all the time. When you have this guy on a tractor and he's having lunch with his men, he's leaving the frame and the camera is tracking towards the other guy and it's so obvious that this is rehearsed several times and then it's finally shot. To me, it was as if this was not happening at all. This is only happening because the filmmaker wanted to. On the other hand, it is probably happening everyday. I was wondering why you chose this style. You said earlier you structured it very well, but this style makes it so difficult to believe, actually. The Ukrainian film was a bit in-between for me also because sometimes I was wondering if it was staged. With Avi’s, I never doubted, except for the doorbell. But what about the first film (Fuente Álamo)? Why did you do it this way?
PG: I didn’t at any time ask myself if what I was doing was a documentary or fiction. I believe that the reason why everything is so planned and measured is, in a way, my formation as photographer. I have seen much fiction but I have also seen many documentaries. The truth is that everything is carefully planned. I would say that there is nothing that wasn't planned by me, nothing at all. Anyway, what can be said is that it is based upon a reality, because I have, at one time or another, seen all the characters do what they do here. However, everything the do, from the moment I position the camera, is provoked. But it is also based upon my memories of the village and of the realities I lived. As I have said before, it is a very personal vision. Fuente Álamo is not like that. Idyllic. But I was left with all those positive feelings and all that sensibility that can be seen in the characters in the film.
SÍLVIA HENRIQUES: I don’t understand why you have said this because I really believe that your film [Gert] is much further away from being a documentary than his film and I think the main thing about being a documentary – this is just my opinion – is not the structure that you choose but mostly what you want to do.
GERT DE GRAAFF: I wasn’t comparing my film to his film…
SÍLVIA HENRIQUES: I know you’re not, but still I thought about it, so…
GERT DE GRAAFF: Well, to me it’s not what you want, it’s the way you do it. I had these street interviews that were totally staged but the way it’s shot makes you believe it’s reality, shaking the camera, not a tripod but just like by accident. The way he shot his film was so obviously staged that I got totally mixed about what he’s trying to do. He is making a sort of fiction film, it is supposed to be a documentary but the way it was shot was so difficult to understand. That’s the whole thing I brought up.
SÍLVIA HENRIQUES: To me it’s completely the opposite, I believe much more in his film as something that is real than in yours. To me, you movie is something that is fiction. Like a dream, like something we think, not something that really happens.
GERT DE GRAAFF: If you focus on the street interview in my film, I think you believe it just because it’s shot this way; if I had done it in a tracking shot, moving along with the people being interviewed, nobody would believe it was a documentary, because it was staged. So it’s the way it’s shot, you know?
PEDRO CALDAS: I don’t know if the issue of belief in cinema is an important issue or not. Maybe it is, but what I’m more interested in is trying to understand why we believe or not in what we are watching. That is, in which way does the construction of the film and the way in which it is filmed make us believe or not, and afterwards, to think. For instance, Pablo’s film made me completely believe in the world he created, by the way in which it is filmed, by its sincerity and the honesty he placed in the characters and by its distance; it is at a just distance, I think. That can also be a matter of much discussion and can be discussed in greater depth. Still in connection to that, in your film (Between Walls), why did you limit yourselves, why was it a partie-pris, of just filming the spare times of these people? I felt an enormous lack of work and money. That is why the come here: to work and to earn money. What I was left with was people who cook food, who eat, who miss their country. I thought it was a film about confinement (and the title indicates that somewhat). But it isn’t just that. I don’t think you fully explored the problem and you could have also made a film between walls in work and maybe it would have been even more confined.
CARMEN CASTELLO-BRANCO: There were two things I didn’t quite understand in your film: when the Ukrainians leave, that is the first day when the image becomes brighter. And the other thing has to do with what Pedro has just said: why is it that it is only after they arrive in the Ukraine that you show them working for the first time, in their home?
JR: Regarding Pedro's question, one of the main objectives of our documentary is precisely to make some sort of a reverse shot to what is generally known by people: where they work, what they do to earn money. We all know from the newspapers and the news that most of these immigrants work in construction. In the first dialogue scene in the film, Eddie talks to his boss and about the relation he has with his boss, and all that comes through not just by the dialogues but also by the presence of the hands in some of the shots.
We preferred to enter the private, closed, space of a group of immigrants, and to do it through the two main characters rather than just film what is generally known by people. That was our challenge, to film what these people do when they are away from their families, in a distant country, illegal, spending over a year locked in a garage. Which can be nothing, but from that nothing to try and build the emotional relations they have with their land, the tensions among them, etc.. Through the simple daily gestures or our cooking lessons, through those very banal things, each of the main characters can reveal himself a little, through his behaviour, his reactions… In the shot of the building with the clouds passing by there is a visual approach that is somewhat different because they are leaving, just because of that.
JFC: It wasn't a question that we didn't put ourselves, of also showing them at work. The fact is that they are illegal, it is difficult to film at work. We could do a little provocation with the camera, but before that there were all these assumptions that João has already mentioned. And, really, the fact that they are confined to that space and that their roots and family were in Ukraine, is completely different. I don't know if we were able to get that idea of space across, but the space… the suburb here is closed even when we are outside, there it is completely open. The light is more or less related to that, also, to that openness.
ERICA KRAMER: What I’m feeling in relation to the flow of the conversation is the impetus or rhythm of necessity to make a film. And how that affects the film. And so when l see a film like Avi's, whatever format he uses, I feel a tremendous urgency to come out of a situation that is very difficult, to speak in the present tense of the situation and try to engage with intelligence, with the right distance. And I think that what you did, Avi, is amazing; to have the instinct to take responsibility on yourself and to balance that with yourself in the real world, to have this dialogue inside yourself. Using humour and risking to do that, risking to put yourself so flagrantly there is for me an amazing example of taking responsibility for the urgency. Like all the differences between someone who has AIDS and someone who talks about AIDS. l look and have conversations with my friends in Israel or in Palestine, and l look to you with that sense of necessity for the urgency of the films you’re making and the statements you’re making. ln a place like this where all the films have validity, love, attention, care and value, as a political person and a person who has walked the walk to get here, I’m very interested in the films. We’re still connected with the urgency of making them and what rhythm there is, and so in terms of these three films l think we can take a pulse on urgency as also part of the discussion. Emigration, memory are important subjects, but what really interested me was how you deal with the urgent necessities.
PG: Rather than to answer the reactions regarding Fuente Álamo, and following what she has said, I would also like to say that the theme you choose and the way you deal with it are very important. They chose a very current theme and treated it with nostalgia, and that seems to me a very interesting way to handle the condition of the immigrants and of people who have to leave a country. Regarding its form, several scenes of your film were impressive, and I will mention only two: when the Ukrainian boy is writing the letter, with no words and no dialogue, it speaks tremendously and with a great sense of nostalgia, without showing any violence. The other is the New Year scene, when they are having dinner and start dancing inside their apartment, which is a mixture of a very cold space and of a tremendous urge to enjoy life. I return to the same: with no words and no dialogue.
JR: l would like to clarify a point here. We didn’t want our film to have this label of immigration. That was not our main objective. Our main objective was to film two simple guys in their spare time. We feel close to them because we have the same emotions they have. As Pablo said, we all experiment nostalgia. Immigration is like a web and after that web come emotions that are known to us all.
AM: I'd like to return to Gert’s comment and say that l think that creating believable faked reality is a very easy task and I wouldn’t put it as one of my values or as one of the values of this filmmaking thing. What is, I think, complicated, is giving an expression that is full of integrity. We are surrounded by liars. Like you, I also shake my camera sometimes in order to create the maniére documentaire but this is what it is, just a maniére, and people tend to think that when the camera is shaking you probably never intended to shake it, which means that it’s true, which is a very good way to lie. Basically, to me, believable is not necessarily truthful. Of course, l'm interested in truth, l'm interested in reality but l'm not sure I’m interested in factual reality or in factual truth. Whatever happens or whatever any of us project on the screen, it goes through this box over here and it comes out differently from what it is, anywhere it is. It comes out with some kind of synthesis.
To me, Apocalypse Now is a wonderful documentary; it tells me something about the world in a way that I need to know. Of course, I know or think I know that the Vietnam War happened, but this is not the point. It tells me something about the war. Whether there was a captain Willard or not is not important. But he is definitely a truthful character to me. And he exists in a way that there are lots of documentaries that are full of truth but, first of all, are very boring and, secondly, distort reality with their truth. So, I don't care for them. I care for some kind of purified synthesis or filtration that will tell me something about the world. Of course, you can always look at it and say “Yes, but this is distorted in a way". Yes. Everything is distorted. I can only interpret it. I don’t know if it really happened. And there is no way we can see reality or understand what’s going on around us other than that.
CATARlNA MOURÃO: I agree completely with what you say of these conventions, like the camera shaking and the difference between fiction and documentary. I believe this is overcome in his [Pablo] work. What is interesting is that he plays with these conventions. Sometimes, truth is a bigger liar.
GERT DE GRAAFF: I agree totally too. It was just that to me he chose a strange formula for making this reality come true. It’s not that, for instance, Apocalypse Now didn't tell me anything about the war. It told me a lot about myself and I think that's the main thing. A good movie, whether it is a documentary or whatever, tells me something about myself. For instance, I was a pacifist all my life until I had to go into the army and four days before I saw Apocalypse Now and found out I was not a pacifist at all. Because of this glory of the helicopters going to this village and everything I was in ecstasy and liked it so much. l would have, maybe, shot the children also, because of this outrageous glory and so I decided not to go in the army, because this film taught me something about myself. As Erica said, you have political documentaries, which are of course very important, and you have the other documentaries, but to me it’s not about politics. I’m not interested in another view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I'm interested in, as you said, what we are. That you can find Sharon a nice guy is very interesting. To me, it's much more interesting.
BRAM RELOUW: The factual reality is not the point – I completely agree with that. In the beginning of the Between Walls film, the camera and the director want not to be present at all, they just want to show the situation of the people who live in a small garage. But the people who live there are aware of the camera, so they start, in my opinion, to act themselves. They are not instructed to, but they just do it because they are aware of the camera. And to me that made it less realistic and l was doubting whether it was written or staged or not. So that’s a bit of a contradiction because you wanted to be as real as possible and to me that is exactly what made it look less real, because they were aware that they were being filmed.
Also, in the beginning, I thought it a bit strange that you chose not to be in the movie as a director and show the situation as it is, but then you break that with the pictures of the trees and the wind and the melancholic music… you just step up and say “this is melancholic". Did you choose that contrast on purpose or did you just want to make different episodes in the film?
JR: That question of when you put the camera reality is no longer there, of course that is true. But we also know that when we aren’t filming professional actors no one can pretend to be another person for more than five minutes. I’m not saying that they don’t behave in a different way, but we were aware of this transparency and we wanted to feel that. When you get the trees and stuff, of course that was our point of view and even when we try to be absent, shooting in the garage, that was also our point of view. To me, the more you try not to be there, the more you are there. Maybe for you it doesn’t make sense because these seem two different kinds of languages but that is why in Ukraine the film becomes more present and our point of view is more epidermic.
SATO MAKOTO: I want to say something about the Spanish film (Fuente Álamo). The point that was made about the connection between reality and the manipulation of the director or the concept of the director is a very important theme and I would like to talk about that in the context of the editing. There is a certain type of time, a style of time that flows in each film. The Spanish film we saw yesterday apparently has taken a long shooting process and whether the scene that we see of a so-called one-day process was shot in the morning or not is not necessarily a big issue. It’s rather how you use the footage together to create an original time span within the film. When each shot is created completely within the imagination of the director, especially in the editing table, the audience can no longer see anything outside of the author’s intention. That means the village probably has a unique flow of time, but it doesn’t appear in the finished shot, that is, in each shot that appears in the film. This is a matter of editing. When we see a lot of footage or many shots edited together, totally controlled, we want to see something that is outside of the shot. We become curious about what’s happening outside of this manipulated image. Something the director perhaps did not realize or did not have the intention to do. Perhaps the editing could have been done so that a shot that is completely manipulated and controlled is put together with shots that are not as controlled. This same issue or problem perhaps exists in the first part of the Portuguese film, in which the movie time does not move. It only starts moving in the second half when you move to Ukraine. Finally, in Ukraine, you find the importance of that segregated time in Portugal, where nothing happens. So, the combination makes it work. Without that, the audiences are left behind the time of the movie, the time of the flow of the movie. Nevertheless, I do like the Spanish film also, because each shot and each scene is so beautiful, as if you're looking at a book of photography. Different images are coming into your mind as you're looking into the pictures. However, with a book of photography, the audience can look at it in different time spans; they can look in a different order whereas in cinema the audience is totally in the hands of the director in terms of the order of the shot and of the physical time that is spent there. Therefore, l think it is a matter of the concept of the filmmaker to create an original time flow and it is a responsibility of the filmmaker to do that.
JFC: What to me is interesting about working in a film, to try to answer some of the concerns raised here, are the feelings, the emotions, things that aren’t dealt with so much in the audiovisual. To me, it seems that the reports, news, what we are used to see, are either numbers or nationalities. And what seems interesting to me, is to focus on those things that have more to do with the human side. I believe a film can be politic, can have some impact in the way we look at people. That seems to be the most difficult thing to achieve in a film, to reach what appears to be more individual and at the same time is pointing to something collective. And there, in relation to what Erica said, although it is a film with people who are immigrants and have a problem which has to do with their illegality, I am more interested in crossing over that and to reach for what they can communicate about ourselves.
In relation to what has been said about whether or not it is very staged, when you work from a specific point of view, when you know the characters quite well, I think there is a possibility of placing the camera in such a way that sometimes might seem staged, but only because you predicted it. There is a shot in the film, for instance, when Sergei is making breakfast and João supposedly knew that daily gesture of his. And from that moment, when he put the saucepan on the table, framing the empty space in such a way, we knew he was going to have that gesture. I also believe in the spectator and, when I’m working on a film, I expect that he will understand why it is framed in such a way. In this film and in PabIo’s there is a great attention paid to the framing of the shots. Looking at the framing of the shots in Pablo's film, I realise that it is staged. As soon as I saw Pablo's film, the way in which it was constructed, the entrances and exits, because they were really entrances and exits of a scene, what I understood was: this person knows this village quite well, but this is staged. However, it doesn't cease to be close to a reality, a reality that is obviously the reality of the person who created the film. So, in that way it seems to me more real, more honest… Honesty of point of view, in the way he created that empathy with things, which seems somewhat like a fable.
Avi's film seems to be a desperate film and, on the other hand, it is also obviously very staged, but also with an honest point of view. Sometimes there is an overacting, and in that overacting is what is interesting to work with, which is that honesty. I mean, that overacting says “the situation is so desperate, there is no way to analyse the issue, violence is everywhere", so this way of seeing things seems to be closer to that honesty. That is, we best try to see this in some other way and not try to see this in terms of a conflict as we normally do.
PG: Regarding the framing of the shots, when you decide what to film, I think it is something inherent to any filmed material, in any film, and not just in terms of a pre-existing planning. From the moment l place my camera in a certain place, things happen in front of it and not somewhere else. Regarding an association of photographs or impressions, it really has some kind of association, because my formation is, as l have already said, that of a photographer. But I also think that if there was only one image after another and nothing more, we wouldn’t witness the flow of time and l believe that is one of the virtues of Fuente Álamo… the flow of time. And the flow of time in those who appear in the film. How time caresses us, each of us, throughout our lives… and to represent that in a single day.
ALEXANDER GERNER: In Between Walls, l was feeling very much the problem of a microclimate that is very small and the camera that is intensifying one aspect of the reality. They're working here but they belong somewhere else, they belong to their country and to their families. They’re thinking about them all the time. I felt just a little bit apart from the reality that I know from these people who live or work here. And there is a kind of changing the reality by having the camera.
The second thing is a question about documentaries in general, that I felt with Avi’s film and with other films that I know, where you see it’s real acting, that it isn't somebody filming a situation that is happening. It's a fact that we all act and that we have images about ourselves and that we represent. When you capture people, you also capture what they want you to capture, or a part of it, although I'm not so sure about the statement that if you have the camera there, after a time they cannot act anymore. That is something I would like to discuss more about, because we make a separation between fiction and documentary and to me it isn’t working.
LUÍSA HOMEM: I will begin by your film (Between Walls). To me, this distinction between working the idea of emotion and the idea of sensibility is not obvious. I think they are completely distinct things. We are sick of watching matters connected to the emotion and its exploration, what in the final instance would give me a very negative view of this documentary. Regarding how I sense the idea of suffering or melancholy, you aren't giving me anything more than an idea of that and, to me, in this sense, there is also something incomplete. Maybe I had a much greater curiosity not to enter so much into the private lives, but to understand more about their way of life and daily problems. I have some difficulty finding information that I didn't already suspect in some way. Then there is one other issue in connection to what Zé was saying. I don’t know how you refer to the idea of politics… the idea of a relation is political, it isn’t a matter of political guidance or party politics, it is simply that any relation or any position is political in some way.
Initially I saw Pablo's film much more as… well, l was expecting to see a documentary, independently of what that means. I didn't see any documentary. I mean, there is a control over a reality, a creation over a different reality and a constant presence of cameras everywhere, which I find absolutely frightening. Talking of political matters, it reminded me of a book titled 1984 where you have cameras constantly controlling everything. I was very frightened by your film. Not to mention the question of the sound, which furthers this idea. I thought your position as a director was extremely frightening, of wanting to have that control, that kind of omnipresence. As a documentary, it doesn’t give me anything to see about the actual reality. I feel that the people either fall short or surpass what they are in reality, they are either interpreting or being sub-interpreted. They are uncomfortable and hence it doesn’t quite give me a reading about their daily life since I always feel your hand present.
PG: As for it not being a documentary, I completely agree. I never intended to make a documentary. As I have said before, I never even intended to show the present reality of Fuente Álamo. It is based in experiences more of memory and remembrance. Hence, there is little I can refute, because this is how it is. As for the sound, the omnipresent voice that, shall we say, falls over the village, it was something that up until a few years ago existed in Fuente Álamo, a speaker informing about…
LUÍSA HOMEM: Yes, but the question is not the fact that it exists. It exists here in Serpa, but it is precisely what you choose. There is a moment when there is an order by the Town Hall President.
PG: Yes. That's right… but from that to fascism there is still… quite a distance, no?
LUÍSA HOMEM: Yes, of course there goes a great distance. It’s a good thing making a film doesn’t bring so many consequences. However, is that a concept of yours? And it was a concept of your that frightened me, I didn’t understand what was your position. Besides the question of the appearance of the Town Hall President's voice giving orders, the cameras are constantly present, and that gives me an idea of manipulation and of control… that transmits an idea of the relation with the people and a notion of respect for them which is very peculiar, which I don’t understand.
PG: Regarding the voice, it is simply that in the village, at that time and now also, the announcements were made, ordered by the Alcaide. it is something real. I could have omitted them, but no… the Alcaide didn't order me to write a dialogue. The Alcaide informs that there will be a ball that night. That particular dialogue is something I didn't invent, it is there in Fuente Álamo each time there is an announcement, it is something concrete. Regarding there being many cameras, yes, the cameras were there, the conversations were filmed with two cameras and everything else with just one camera. And my hand is clearly present, I can't argue about that, in each part of the film. As for the relation with the people, l know them all very well and the people who appear in the film were really moved, the children’s parents were all crying. We did four projections of the film in Fuente Álamo. I planned to make only one and it was full, the second was full, the third was full and the fourth was full. As six years had passed from filming to the projections, the people in the village were expecting something I had promised to them and didn't arrive. But everyone was very moved. I know everyone who is in the film, they are friends, my grandmother is a character, the old woman, shall we say, and at that level I believe I respected them. What happens is that outside the village l don’t really know if…
JOSÉ MANUEL TAVARES: When l arrived here I had some small doubts, now I have one big doubt. I would like you to tell me if you agree that your film is a fiction based on reality and filmed in a documentary style. Because if not, I no longer know what is a documentary.
PG: I would only say that it isn't filmed in a documentary style. It is, shall we say, a fiction based upon my memory, though it is probably filmed in a fiction style. Everything was very much prepared, absolutely everything. The only documentary aspect is that those are real people, they aren’t actors and they are doing things they do in reality, in moments when it is not normal for them to do them. In that sense, you could say it is documentary. But the way in which it is filmed is fiction and the script sets out more from fiction, from the imagination and from my memory, although it remains fictional. The structure is fictional.
LUÍSA HOMEM: People are extremely happy to see themselves on television, we know that, but what does that bring them? Is it momentary happiness, a historic document? About what? That happiness? Such a perfect functioning?
JR: My aim when doing documentaries, and what fascinates me, is to learn about life through other people, and you learn that through the emotions of the people you film. I'm glad that you know their emotions. Because to me it was a surprise to know that those guys could belong to my family, that guy could be my brother or that l could be that guy, because I have the same problems they have. Usually you film actions, not emotions.
RAQUEL MARQUES: I will go back a little bit to the beginning of this conversation. In relation to the first film, the whole matter of empathy… I felt exactly the opposite, I felt an incredible distance, between the people who were filming and the two characters, and l thought one of the main reasons is that strange character, whom I thought at first to be you. I don't understand what he's doing there and to me that increased the distance even more. The fact that they went to the Cabo da Roca, to the bullfight… it seems as if he is visiting a friend who is showing him around Portugal. When it isn't anything like that. He is trying to assume the role of the friend in a totally isolated way, because I don’t feel there is any correspondence from them. I was clearly left with the sensation that these people are being filmed because someone will give them an airplane ticket to go back to Ukraine. I'm not questioning about paying someone to be able to film in their space and their relations, but this was all I felt throughout the film. Another question: the whole film is edited chronologically but there are two shots, which are the only exceptions, the shot of Sergei’s wife and his daughter, who appear before they return to Ukraine. l would like to know why?
ANA ELISEU: l was a bit surprised a while ago. You said you didn’t go to film people at work because that was already known and you preferred to film something that wasn't known. l think that what you filmed is as known as work. I mean, knowing that people eat, sleep, are homesick… I don’t understand how you can think this theme is not political. And what shocked me the most in the film was having felt that you — and now this has also to do with the other films – made a fiction out of that, I felt just cliches. I felt you didn’t come close, you didn’t try to go in that direction as if you were already expecting. I would like to know how you positioned yourselves, particularly in relation to the political/non-political.
ANA VIEIRA: I think we remain in the Portuguese worldview, so we are still and forever in an aesthetic of nostalgia. Then, I criticize the urgency of the theme and the way it is treated, which is slow, not going anywhere and almost an aesthetization of a problem without adding anything to it.
JFC: I said this way of filming could be political, the contrary of what I think you understood. It can be political in the sense that it shows a position and it says “it is possible to look at this problem in this way". Contrarily to what you are saying, there are a lot of people who see precisely strangeness in the strangeness, so they don’t feel anything, they don't feel any identification. They say, for instance, “they even have studies". It you will, to me that political side is there: showing, revealing. Yes, they are people, period. Secondly, about that character, he is my brother. Maybe the confusion comes a bit from that – there is a physical similarity, but that obviously puts another reading on the film.
RAQUEL MARQUES: I felt that character, even if he wasn’t any of you, was there as an aid to some development of the situation, and l can't understand why. The question of taking him for a walk, to the bullfight, to the Cabo da Roca, of bringing the tickets, induces an immense strangeness in the film. I felt that character was there as an exterior presence, of who was filming, as an aid to the action…
JFC: … it’s a sensation…
RAQUEL MARQUES: No, I didn't think it is a sensation. They are being filmed because they are being paid. I felt a great distance, that is, I felt those characters weren’t…
JFC: … being natural…
RAQUEL MARQUES: I can't think about natural or not natural. I felt they didn't have a warm attitude or were at ease. Or that they were closed, that they didn't want to reveal themselves too much. That is why l talk of that distance between the camera, what is filming and what is being filmed. But my question goes in the sense of why that character? What is he doing there? Why is he there?
JFC: The fact is that he was part of the daily lives of those people. That is, he was their friend, the only person with whom they had a closer contact, who entered their house. Obviously he isn’t a marking presence in the film. Other than that, their contact with the outside world, with the Portuguese is made through the boss, the person in the supermarket or… just through that person.
RAQUEL MARQUES: Because I think that person really has an important function.
SÍLVIA HENRIQUES: I will react a bit to Luísa and I will talk in general about many things that I have been thinking about all this day. You said something about sensibility and emotion and you said that for you this was something that was quite different and I totally agree, but you didn’t explain that much about how different you think this is. Still, I think I have a different opinion to yours. You said Pablo’s documentary is not like a documentary to you, you talked about the camera that is controlling everything and I ask if you can make a movie without a camera controlling. The camera is there. It doesn't matter if you have things prepared or not. And then, you continued with this paradigm, this Big Brother/Orwell paradigm, which I think is very interesting but also very fashionable. It’s quite difficult for people to understand something if they don’t even try and somehow I felt this here, in people's questions. There is one last thing that I would like people to consider and think about and maybe to react and give some answers: in the end, what is a documentary? Because that man said something like “your film is like a fiction film made in a documentary style". Yes, it can be. All these things depend on our own concept of things. I think we should clarify things, we should say what we really want and have some constructive criticism. Your critic was not constructive at all.
CAROLINE BARRAUD: I end up by adding to the idea of what that lady was saying just now. | just wanted to give my interpretation of the Spanish film. I think his honesty is trying another approach to a reality he knew already. He knows all these people, he lived with them, spent an incredible amount of time with them. The dishonesty would have been to pretend, as if everything were happening, just now, in front of him. His honesty is trying to rebuild that. The fact of trying to rebuild is a real fact which is also part of documentary, it is part of cinema. And there is control, of course there is control. We are talking about a creative process, an artistic process and all that is in the hands of the director. If there is no control, there is no construction, and there is no creative process. To add another point, talking of empathy, I think empathy comes from the spectator, not from the director. It is there or it isn’t, but i don’t think that has to do with the creative process. I'm not interested in discussing the director’s intentions, I'm interested in discussing each one's creative process, what is the promise they want to fulfil, what is it they want to offer the public. There is the origin of a project and there is it’s realisation. I go to the cinema, I want to watch films. I go to see a promise and the concretization of that promise.
AM: l have the feeling that whenever I hear the word, or a lot of times I hear the word “documentary”, it is meant in a valuative way, as if documentary is better or good and fiction is worse or bad. I don’t think there is such a thing as documentary or there is such a thing as fiction. Both are creations by the need to categorize for academic and for consumption purposes. If I have to say what my film is, then I’ll provocatively say it is a fiction film… And avoid all those questions and then deal with how this fictional film deals with the relationship with reality, which is what interests me, and not whatever is considered documentary in a valuative or any other way.
CARMEN CASTELLO-BRANCO: It's a fact that there is a big difference in what each of us thinks is a documentary film and what is not a documentary film, and about the distance between reality and fiction. The main thing is how we look at things and how we believe in them or not; I think that is why we believe more in Pablo's film than in Avi's or the Portuguese film. Some things in your film (Between Walls) make us not believe its two characters.
JR: Obviously, there is nothing wrong in fiction or documentary as you say, but when you see a documentary, maybe sometimes it is good to forget what fiction told us. In fiction or in a certain type of fiction you usually become attached to a chronology, to having the characters explained and developed. And in documentary you can usually depurate that. Maybe to you it is strange that a character can appear and you don't know where he’s coming from, but to us that’s not important. And I think that it is because of the habit of seeing fiction that we sometimes judge documentaries through the eyes of fiction.
KLAUS WILDENHAHN: I just want to say I learned something from your film today. I could do criticism but (what to my mind is difficult) I still believe in the difference between documentary and fiction. I don’t want to continue this discussion because it bores me to tears. The role of the director or the author in a documentary… he is not the sole possessor of the people in front of the camera. To my mind the people in a documentary, the situation in front of the microphone and the camera, are very often controlling him. And it is, as far as I can define it, a very uneasy process and very often films are not finished because of who gets the better of whom: the situation and the people in front of the camera, or the director? Very often, I find that documentary films are far from being perfect, because you need a structure and you want to hand something to the people who look at the film. Everyone tries to do that, but very often the situation is so complicated and it gets so much ahead of what you planned to do. Something comes out and sometimes you're lucky and sometimes you’re not so lucky.
The way I see it, documentary filmmaking is an approach. You use different methods to get there, maybe, but it’s an approach. I just want to state the fact that I have learned something today, something about immigration which is more than just the sociological question. I didn’t know that Ukrainians are working in Portugal in the black market. I learned something, to me about the identity of human beings who happen to be Portuguese and human beings who happen to be Ukrainian. There seems, to me, a deep affinity in people who have been struck with a necessity, an economic necessity, to work outside their own borders. I learned this. And the second film l saw, I never saw in lsrael and l have the deepest respect for what this guy did today. I cannot quite explain it. I think Erica made a point about the immediate necessity of reacting to something and I think our colleague did something there, which I find quite astonishing and it takes a lot of courage to expose yourself to that situation. To come again and again, and of course it didn't work out the way he planned but still he does something to it. To my mind, of course it is a documentary. I want to say one final thing: I have an unshakable belief that if you shake the camera artificially, somehow you will notice it, the audience will notice it, they are not that stupid, they know if it is intended or not. Maybe you can be cheated a couple of times but in the end you know if it is done because you are trying to get into a situation and it’s just that and you can't help it, or if it is done intentionally. That's my belief, I can't explain it scientifically but I believe and so I somehow believe in a documentary gesture of the author.
SÍLVIA HENRIQUES: I have learned something with you also now and I think what you’re saying was also an answer to my questions. I'd just like to straighten one thing. When I said this I was being quite radical because I wanted to oppose something to Luisa. I think she was quite radical in the way she was putting the questions to Pablo, so I wanted to be radical also. It was the only way to do it, I believe. Although I also thought about these things before and I feel the same. I just think it depends on the way you want to do it, on the structure that you fix.
But, most of all, what is more important? We create the paradigms and then we have things. What happens now? We create paradigms because of the things they solve or do we create the paradigms because things exist and we want, somehow, to explain them? I believe the second option is the best and, for this, I think that somehow, sometimes, we are doing the opposite here: we are just going with the paradigms that we have in our heads, our prejudices… with what we already think. We don’t stop, we don’t go back, as if we know nothing and now we think about things. And, somehow, I believe in things. They get to be not so clear and also not so simple. I think that really gets to something, a wise idea, a wise thought and the wisest thoughts of people that I know, and that we know in general, have come from this point: l know nothing, now I go.
KEES BAKKER: We have heard today that documentary, as a notion, is a very complex one. lntuitively, everybody has an idea of what it is and when we see a film we put a label on it because it is a way for us to understand it, to understand it in relation to ourselves. But the importance of that label is quite relative. l want to thank you all. I know that some people are disappointed because they wanted to say more, but I think this is how it can be and I hope we can continue tomorrow, after we’ve seen new films. New films and maybe new questions.