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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
Fourth debate, after the films by Catarina Mourão, by Zhong Hua and by Ivo Ferreira
20th SEPTEMBER, FRIDAY
Films shown before the debate:
Restless, Catarina Mourão
This Winter, Zhong Hua
Around, Ivo Ferreira (shown the previous night, as part of the public screenings, and also discussed in the presence of the author)
José Manuel Costa (JMC)
Catarina Mourão (CM)
Zhong Hua (ZH)
Ivo Ferreira (IF)
JOSÉ MANUEL COSTA: There are three things I would like to underline at the beginning of today’s debate. The first is that I think yesterday, on the third day, we reached a very strong level of global participation, namely from the student or ex-student community, and it would be very good if we didn't turn back. Hence, my hope is that today we have a debate at least as lively as yesterday's, and that everyone remembers our will to produce a “cumulative conversation" – in which, consequently, some of the issues raised yesterday, which for any reason weren’t followed through, could be discussed now, or could be associated to those of today. The second thing has to do with the fact that, from a certain moment in yesterday’s debate, several people confronted themselves with the question of knowing if “this” is a documentary, or “what is really a documentary". Faced with that, I think now is the time to say that, as far as we, the organizers of this meeting, are concerned, it is a question we did not make – that we did not want to make – that question is, precisely, “what is a documentary". In a certain sense Doc’s Kingdom was thought as a meeting beyond that question. To us it could make sense to ask “what is cinema", but not “what is documentary". The meeting began from a very simple realization which is the fact that, independently of what each of us thinks documentary is, there continue to be people in the world making films with that label, making them in many different ways… The meeting is about that diversity, and, from the moment the films are here (and that is the only thing you cannot change), our idea was to discuss them, without this discussion being clouded by such a problem. From the moment they are here, we want to discuss how they work. What makes sense to us (that was the question I wrote in the poster), is to ask where are these films going – “these”, namely, those that their authors call documentaries… and those that, among them, we ourselves wanted to see and discuss. Where are these experiences that have been made in the last years heading, the more original experiences, those that best represent the different paths…? Those were to us the productive questions. So, we always thought it could be productive to see and discuss “unclassifiable” films, which don’t belong to any previous categorization – without that actual categorization being considered a problem… The third thing that I think is worth underlining concerns the process of construction of a film (which isn't the question of its definition), of its original structure and its final structure, and in any case the way in which a structure is created in it. These are questions that are specifically raised in all the films we will approach in this final phase of the seminar, including those that will be discussed today and tomorrow. In that sense, in a totally distinct way from what we saw in the initial films, – in many cases opposing that of the initial films, since none of these last ones is a first degree reflection on the nature of images – we will have an opportunity here to go back to some of the questions from the beginning of the seminar, although through other means. And in that sense, also, we must take into account the presentation and debate by (and with) Gérald Collas, which will take place today, later this afternoon, between today's and tomorrow's sessions.
Moving to the films, I will begin with lvo Ferreira’s film (Around), seen last night. Being a “travel film", I think it is relevant to remember that, although the theme may be considered very Portuguese, its cinematographic form has almost no traditions in Portugal. And so, from our perspective, there may be insufficient references, or what we take for a reference may provoke misunderstandings in its reading – which I believe have already happened. It is obvious that this is one of those films that invest in the confluence of different records, and that, in itself, this is nothing new in Portuguese cinema… But there is one structural aspect that seems very curious, and that is the fact that this confluence goes through, at least, two major phases, and that the crossings occur in different ways. There is a long first phase in which the two devices make themselves clear, that is, in which the device traditionally seen as fiction and the device traditionally seen as documentary succeed each other and alternate. There, we have actors, characters, a creation of a narration that, later, is also confronted by scenes of a meeting – with places, with people, the look towards “the other"… – in which the style is what we are used to identify as documentary. Afterwards, somewhere in the middle of the film, there is a mutation, which I don't know exactly where it happens but it marks the entire Macao episode, which, to me, was one of the most interesting and successful parts. In that episode, based upon the great historic transition of powers, the solution is no longer the same and no longer obeys to any such canon. There, things are told not as an alternation or a confrontation – by hypothesis, the alternation between “fiction” scenes and “documentary” scenes with an historical background – and not a “melodrama with an historical background” in a pure style of fiction… It is something stranger and more subtle, which, anyway, is practically only treated on the level of the individual sphere (although there is a collective background that subtly invades the soundtrack), as if, having reached that incredible scenery at that incredible moment, we only really wanted to talk about History through those individual destinies. When we get there, we loose all references that the actual film had, in any way, introduced. There, everything is inverted. There, contrary to the rest of the film, we can no longer tell what underlines what we call fiction and what underlines what we are used to call documentary. Suddenly everything is totally fictional, totally constructed, but it is staged in a way that has nothing to do with the first fictional scenes of the story, those initial scenes with the characters, from which he frees himself to “enter the documentary". And that happens in the most identifiable filming location, the most marked by the seal of reality. There, we are in another dimension…
In relation to Catarina’s film (Restless), it is unavoidable to also discuss the structure. For those who don’t know, we must take into account that before this one, Catarina had made a film that can be considered (I do) a landmark in the recent evolution of documentary in Portugal – a film made with an observational approach, filmed in Goa, in a house and with only one character from present day Goa, in whom, contrarily to what is usually done in Portugal, the whole History, of our History and the relations with other peoples, is treated rigorously and exclusively through the observation of the present daily life. There, suddenly, in a completely natural way, there was an assimilation of an “observational” tradition, of direct cinema, that practically had no roots in Portugal (despite some strong one-off experiences that had marked Portuguese documentary). Now, with the first story of today’s film, it seemed evident that Catarina had a strong enough subject matter to make a feature film with that approach, following the daily life of that estate agency, from its internal relations and the relations with the customers. The field was excellent – it is excellent –, precisely as the field-community and field-microcosm, in which we can speak of everything, and what seems evident is that, having been able to do it, she opted once more to do something else, which is more unknown and in that sense riskier. As she cut from that “safe” film to jump into that other thing – the other two stories and their tenuous, renewed, conducting thread – Catarina entered the domain of the “film in episodes", to which there are many antecedents in fiction and, precisely, as far as I know or can remember, few or none documentary antecedents, at least with this type of connection device. Obviously, from that moment, the discussion about the film becomes a discussion about what she wanted to do with those three stories, with the collection, with the connection – and that takes us to a different method of analysis to what happens here with most other films.
Setting, for now, that question aside, I move on immediately to another one, which I wanted to approach also because it establishes a bridge with Zhong Hua’s film. It is an aspect that, to be totally direct, was not even a great factor in joining the two films of today's session – but that, now, as I watch them, one after the other, kept coming to my mind… I’m referring to the fact that Catarina’s film is about a transitional period, the moment when things change, and to the fact that this theme is crossed there with one other theme, which ended up being a leitmotiv in this seminar, and that is the question of the relation with the space where you live, how people transform the space and how space transforms them. Now, Zhong Hua's film, which comes from a distant context in all senses, is globally very different, it is a film about lives in community, about a communal space and a very particular moment in those lives, which is of transition and choices. Here the context is extremely tough, under great pressure, and the choices are determinant for the rest of their lives and can be almost desperate… Because that can be the last moment before the intersection, in which they have to decide on staying there or not, going back to the places they come from or not, leaving the big city or not, leaving that context to another type of activity or not… We understand this is not a normal choice, even if it is the decisive “choice of a career", but it is frequently a very dramatic moment surrounded by a great social pressure. The scale of the questions is not comparable… and still there are themes that pass from one film to the other.
When we saw This Winter in Yamagata, it seemed absolutely necessary to have it here. My reaction was to think this was a film that focused only on the essential things, namely, in which that movement with the camera, apparently light and casual, was permanently leading us, in the end, to face specific things and essential things. It is paradoxical, because there is that perambulatory dimension but it coincides with an absolutely concrete, surgical discourse, in which everything comes out of the almost anodyne daily life, but everything is in fact essential. We follow the camera's movement and what we are trying to understand is that each shot has a meaning, produces a meaning, there is no plan or camera movement that doesn’t carry that weight and precision of meaning. It being a film in which the camera is handheld with great freedom, and thus points once more to the question of the use of small digital cameras, the truth is that there are no "effects" nor the search “in emptiness", and that, consequently, the free movement does not produce a meaning by itself. What seems aleatory is vital, the questioning that each of the characters carries, to the group, to the world that is closed there, and that, being closed, is around.
I also think it is a film that faces that other issue which is the sphere of intimacy in which it is done. The author shares that world, knows it perfectly. Being immersed in it, he looks it in the eyes and takes the most difficult issue of all to the limit, which is the exposure of feelings. Takes it to a limit point, and the way he does it seems exemplary, not refusing to look and then knowing when to cut. I was particularly touched by the two moments (I believe there were just two) when the sound is out before the image: the group that is singing and, obviously, the final shot, when, besides that, we again have a situation in which “the author turns the camera to himself". l think that moment is supremely revealing, it is revealing of the great distance that separates us from the avalanche of films in which the directors are at the same time subject and object. In that shot there is an emotional rupture that envelops the author, and, if the camera goes to get it, this is because he cannot leave it in “off”. The emotion of the face and the cut in the sound are moral demands. They are not the reason of the shot; they are its ethical salvation.
Another key shot is that before the group who is singing, in which that song is sung by only one character – the boy standing alone, sitting at a table, from whom the camera moves away through a 360 degree rotation, returning afterwards to him when, also in that case, the emotional rupture happens. The movement is closed, it seems perfect…, and, yet, I think the way in which it is done leaves everyone with the sensation that it “happened like this", that is, that it wasn't planned from the outset. It is a metonymic shot, which serves the film’s reading: it deals with something unexpected, if finds an adequate way to face it, it doesn’t underline and it doesn’t escape the emotional explosion. These are the questions I wanted to leave for now.
CATARlNA MOURÃO: Zhong Hua, how did you know that was the moment when you should finally show up on camera and that it would be the end of the film? In the film, there were several possibilities for different endings, but that was the right ending.
ZHONG HUA: When we got to the end of shooting, there were, as you said, a few possible ways of concluding the film. During the shooting, I discovered that he (Ren Yong) had become my main character. At one point, he had lost everything: he had no money, nothing, his situation was terrible and he was, as we say in China, like a single bird in the big sky. We understood that he was in great danger. This was one of the reasons why, in the car, I asked my cinematographer to turn around: for us to be associated with this discussion and this feeling. That is why it is the ending of the film. Another reason (or development of this) is the character’s suffering. He was a suffering person and, l would even say, somehow close to death. This feeling was very strong among us… myself and the whole team. We thought that these feelings had to be reflected and expressed. This is why I cut the direct sound of the sequence in the end. The absence of words, of sound, is sometimes the best way of expressing the righteousness of a choice.
MANUELA PENAFRIA: To ask what is a documentary is the same as to ask what is cinema, so we cannot get a straight answer. An important part of cinema is the spectator. The main point of making a film, I think, is that the film be shown. Yesterday, we talked about the relationships between director and subject. I would like to ask the directors what is their idea of a spectator: if they have a concept, an idea of their spectator or of an [abstract] spectator when they are working. There is a film by Woody Allen, The Purple Rose Of Cairo, in which it is very clear what the spectator is. He is someone who goes to the cinema to get lost in it, to be part of what is shown. The aim of a film is to be shown, so you must have an idea of the spectator, to establish a relationship with him.
CM: I don’t feel very different from Woody Allen in the sense that I want the spectator to become part of the film and to be involved… It is not pure enjoyment (although I hope it can also be that), but something that will suggest new ideas. I never thought about the spectator for my film in this sense.
MANUELA PENAFRIA: My question doesn’t seem to make sense to you. When someone goes to see a fiction film, they can cry and afterwards think it’s just a film, but, in a documentary, they can't say that.
CM: I don’t agree with you. We were talking about Apocalypse Now yesterday and about how it is so strong and yet it is a fiction. Any fiction film can disturb you as much as a documentary.
IVO FERREIRA: I wanted that the film also take people on a voyage. When I talk about it, of course I'm also thinking about that entity which is the spectator. When you are thinking about the construction of the narrative you are thinking about the spectator. You think about him again during the editing. I felt that a lot in the film, that fantastic entity, and there is a process there that I didn't like at all… An almost strange process, of living with this ghost of the spectator. That entity of the spectator materialized to me lately, with the opening of the film and its showing here. Having reached the exhibition, with that ghost that has haunted me, getting closer and closer and now it is here. It is fascinating, it is frightening…
JOÃO RIBEIRO: To us, in Portugal, it is an absolutely relevant matter but at the same time an odd one. The films are normally shown within the scope of festivals and not in the commercial circuit. Documentary is, probably, something more visceral than any type of fiction. It comes from within those who make it. I think the director would like his film to be a starting point to take the spectator to think about other things. Probably, it is more important to talk about the theme of the documentary than about the actual documentary. When that happens, I think the director should feel rewarded.
ZH: I never really thought about this question of the ideal public. It is very difficult for me to imagine what the public would be like and how it would react. It could be a limitation. I'd better take chances, take my own risks, see what happens, and then have the reflections of the person who sees the film.
JMC: I never imagined this issue would be raised but, as it has been, I would like to talk about it from the perspective of the historical antecedents, and would like to know how you approach this. When we look to the history of documentary, and when we talk about the relation with the public – what spectators we have, what spectators we hope to have…–, I think many times we forget that in its entire history, and I literally mean entire, until very recently, the relation with the public was, by nature, very different from what existed in fiction, which was a normally "distributed" cinema… Before the “boom” of documentary in television, documentary always had to search for its audiences and never had, or, rather, always had to search for audiences beyond those who, not being the traditional cinema audiences, were those it had… By nature, documentary – or what I call documentary, or what interests me in documentary… – was always something that was born outside the industrial production and exhibition circuits, and that is the same as saying it was born without a market and was so much stronger when it lived outside a market. To say it had no market is not the same as to say “it had no audience”; it is saying that it had it outside the normal circuits, in a regime of proximity and also of dispersion. We are working with the Joris lvens Foundation and it is the example of those great authors that always comes to my mind… A director like lvens spent his life filming in different places, in different continents, and the films he made had above all to do with those places' local communities, they were born of the relation with them, were made for them and were above all seen by them. With the exception of the last decade of his life – the period of the great retrospectives – to him there wasn't one audience, there were audiences, and to those audiences there wasn't one work, there were works… lvens' spectators were not the usual cinema spectators, and almost no one had ever seen the set of all the films he had made throughout his life… The “normal cinema spectator”, he, came to be to documentary the “normal television spectator"… and then, yes, there is another history that begins, which is the history of a real market. And a market is something with very contradictory effects, and there's no point in simplifying these here… but what is worth understanding, so that we understand the impulse towards standardisation that didn’t exist before, and that we understand, above all, is the degree to which this history changes with its appearance…
JOÃO RlBElRO: The problem with television is that the television audience is not a visible audience to those who make the films. Who is the television audience? No matter how independent we want to be, there comes a time in the production of a documentary when there has to be money, so… By saying this, I'm referring to the, compromise that is effectively the television exhibition or the co-production with a channel.
GERT DE GRAAFF: In Holland there is no way of making a movie like the one I made (it cost about half a million dollars) without the cooperation of a television network. On the other hand, my film was broadcast on television, as part of a normal documentary series, without any time limit, and they didn’t influence me in any way. About the spectators… as you know, I made a film dealing completely with the spectators so I thought about this and to me the answer is very simple: if I like the film very much, the rest will also like it. l work in television, where I edit television programmes and work with many directors who say, “The audience won’t understand this". They have an idea about the audience being very childish, so we have to be very explicit in what we want to say and we cannot make it difficult. This is rubbish, you can… if I like the subject and am talented, it might be possible to make something other people will like as well.
JMC: Well, Zhong Hua has already talked a little about this, but I think the situation in China is particularly extreme in relation to all this… Do you want to say anything else? Do any of the directors present want to talk about this before we leave this matter…
MARIE PIERRE MULLER: When Gert was talking, Zhong Hua told me that he has spent 15.000 Yuans (about 1.200 Euros), including the camera, which he bought himself. Just to give a partial answer, about distribution in China, as far as I can tell Zhong Hua's film cannot be distributed in China. One of the reasons – you will laugh – is that there is a regulation in China that, in a film dialogue, you are not allowed to use “shit, fuck” and that kind of vocabulary. There is a law. If it were the only reason, this would be a good reason for not having the film distributed at all. When we ask the director if his film will be distributed, his answer is not “yes” or “no”, but that “it is impossible anywhere".
JMC: The ultimate question is, after all, how do people see it in China. Do they see it at all?
MARIE PIERRE MULLER: Apart from a small circle of friends, circles of ex-students, film lovers, circles and small circles and rather small circles, nobody. The film will not be widely seen.
AVI MOGRABI: What is his incentive in making films? If he can’t show them to his society, then what makes him work and make films?
ZH: My answer would be the same if you were asking me “why do you like music, why do you like something”. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the only, and best way I know till now, to express myself.
AVI MOGRABI: But then, why make films? If you don’t have an audience at all, you could make films in the imagination. You don’t need to put them on tape.
ZH: l have made three other films since this one and must admit l have never thought that I would never have an audience. There are many of us who live in the hope that our film will be seen, but we cannot create or even change our environment. We have to make these films in spite of it. This environment, which we have in China, should not be considered by us as definitive limitation and impeachment. It is rather tough, but we do hope that it can change and that we can make films in other conditions. This is a good reason to go on making them.
AVl MOGRABI: I have heard that in Iran, where a lot of films were also censored, they developed this system of door-to-door videotapes (not distribution, but lending or something similar). If he makes two or three million copies of his film, he can distribute it to many people.
MARIE PIERRE MULLER: He is already offering a lot of tapes to people and friends, so that is the first step, gifts.
ALEXANDER GERNER: Could you say why you [Avi] film the military and the fences when they say to you “don't film"? This isn’t about the spectator but about the situation you’re filming. He cannot show his film and you have situations where other people would probably not film but you have to film.
AVI MOGRABI: I don’t think that it is the same. I cannot think without the spectator. Of course, I don’t get the spectators that I’m looking for. I'm looking for people who think differently from me and who will change their minds after seeing my films, whereas what I get is people who eventually think like me. Those who think differently don’t even come to see my films. That is another problem, but without the spectators, l would have probably chosen a different way to write poems.
ALEXANDER GERNER: That also raises the question if filmmakers should enter the distribution system.
AVl MOGRABI: Not to me. I’m sure filmmakers should distribute their films, there’s no question about it. I cannot see any artist who… if you are so introverted that you don’t need an audience, then it's not a question of art. it is a different question.
ZH: I would say that cinema, as an artistic form of expression, has such a strong relationship with my life that somehow I cannot do anything else to express myself. What I feel is that it is fashionable somehow to make movies, particularly documentaries. To me, that is like humming a pop song and then going into something else. The movement I feel towards cinema is a research that is developing very strongly in me. I would like to go back to what I consider maybe a starting point, a definition of what I would call “serious" cinema. I don’t have an especially bad temper, a serious temper, but I think cinema is not something to be treated with superficiality, despite all circumstances. To me, it is something that touches the essence of life in many ways and if I cannot express some of these very well, I feel that some of my necessities can be fulfilled, because it is something serious.
JMC: All right, the films are here and we are their audience. So let’s go back to them. I might go on raising questions but I was curious about your own reactions and I am now turning also to everyone in the room in order to know them. And again, I think one cannot avoid the question of the structure, in films which are built, as always, according to an evolving process, but which seem to have, since the start, a concern for structure, or a concept of a structure. Catarina’s film would be the obvious case.
KEES BAKKER: I’m talking as a spectator now and will try to say something about the three films and how I think they worked with me. Zhong Hua’s film was, to me, very strong because of one moment, especially, which was emphasized and stressed in the end. As a spectator you identify with the whole situation. It’s not just a depiction of a group of people who live together and are preparing leave each other. The emotions that are being shown make it much easier for you to identify with the characters. In your film, Catarina, I had a completely different involvement. I didn’t feel any identification with the people because,to me, as an individual, they were not very interesting. What involved me in the film is your structure, those three episodes showing bits of life. You don’t clarify the concrete link between those episodes. I’m thinking “what does she want to tell me by putting these three episodes together?” I’m sorry to say that I didn’t feel any of that kind of involvement in your film, lvo. Although there is a play of identification with the characters, it didn't touch me, neither in terms of identification nor in terms of the structure of the film, maybe because I'm an immoral person. I wasn’t being provoked by the structure nor identifying myself with the characters, as in the other films.
In relation to the first question, about the filmmaker's responsibility towards the spectator, and Avi Mograbi's comment, I feel documentary has two main sources, which establish a very different relation with the spectator: the newsreels (depicting actuality, the world at a certain place and at a certain time) and the avant-garde filmmaking. When you are an artist using film as your means of expression, the role of the spectator is probably much less important to you than when you are an engaged filmmaker wanting to say something about the world. There is a very vast field, in which it is very difficult to pin films down. They are either artistic (and so they have less interest for the spectator or a very individual interest), or they have messages to tell (a political message, a social message) and need the spectator. Then the filmmaker has a greater responsibility to make his film for the spectator. I’m talking as a spectator and you have, of course, a completely different position from behind the camera.
JMC: Catarina, would you like to comment…? Besides the question of “filming for the spectator" – I would like to go beyond that now… I do think that the question of identification is an important one.
CM: With my film (although it is something more on the level of structure, of the formal side), ultimately, it is a question of identification or connection. What I was trying, by filming these lives, of people who have nothing special to say, the idea was that they should have some echo with the spectator, to make him reason or think about his own life in the city… the structure was meant to reflect about life in a modern city. José Manuel was asking me whether I acknowledged that there was this kind of regression from the exterior to something closer at the end of the third story, and from an “upper class" to… I don’t think it is a question of class or economic power. It is a journey from a more materialistic way of life to a more idealistic one. So, in the end, it is a question of identification.
BRAM RELOUW: Did you have a pre-structure of the three episodes or did this appear during the making of the film? The last episode was very powerful and reflected the restlessness of the title, with all these people just being dictated by money, work, and also the manipulation of that man to his personnel while he himself is manipulated by the upper management. You leave all that and I think you had a very strong point there. That is why I had a big disappointment and have this question about the identification… of the three episodes.
CM: During research, l felt the houses were the common denominator and that it would be interesting to explore these in the different phases. When I was filming the first story (we didn't film them separately but we did start with the first story), I had this three-story structure, but was quite happy to be open if something came along that was a revelation. I thought it was interesting to use these different stories to show different approaches as we do in our lives (we have different approaches towards people). I know this structure is a shock when you are seeing the film, but to me the last character kind of wraps the situation by reflecting upon this. His comments, obviously, are not directed towards the people in the first story but they echo theirs.
BRAM RELOUW: I understand what you are saying and I agree with you but I’m still a bit disappointed, because I would have liked to know what becornes of the characters involved in the first part. There being a distanced approach… I think it’s beautifully done, but…
JMC: l was curious to know whether you agree that this kind of structure is unique. I can't recall any similar experience – something that doesn’t really break the storyline or the narrative development but that breaks them in relative terms. Even between the second and the third stories, which have one common character, this line is broken when the main central character of the middle story is suddenly removed.
CM: The idea was also to allow people to share different points of view. This is why I really felt that instead of having a conventional parallel editing, these three stories should be going along. I felt that the film would be much stronger if I was very strict about this separation of points of view… It was harder to watch, maybe.
JMC: So, as a matter of fact, you did think for a moment that the film could be done not by successive episodes but rather with the three stories crossing each other?
CM: I always wanted it to be this way, but when you’re filming you have to be open and I was… For me it wasn’t a possibility, but academically you think about it.
GERT DE GRAAFF: You did this experiment with the structure and then the question is, “does it work?" To me, it didn't work at all. It was like telling three stories at the same time and it seems like three different films. After the second, I was looking for some sort of connection and I didn’t see it. I educate people in editing and l always say you choose one theme and you stick to it like heII. That’s the rule. You had the movers but that's just people in the city; houses, okay, restlessness, yes, but that’s so common…
CM: It's like love. There are many films about love.
GERT DE GRAAFF: If you make a film about love with “three different people having problems in their relationships”, yes, but that is something else to just three different stories that have no relation at all except that they are about houses. You might also say they are about people. Then you are out in the open, you can do anything. To me, it didn’t work. I’m not sure if everybody agrees but I think the structure is unique, as you said, because…
CM: It doesn’t work.
GERT DE GRAAFF: … doesn’t work, you know… That is why nobody does it.
ERICA KRAMER: I liked the three pieces very much and I thought the idea was very, very strong, but to me the reason it didn't hold up was because of the story in the middle. That woman had such serious personal problems that she broke the balloon and the theme that you set up. From my experience as a viewer, I cannot look at that woman without getting much more aware of her depression, of the isolation she is in. The strength of the beginning and the wisdoms of the end, which are interesting from a class and sociological point of view, would have been held together if you were able to find another person to play that role in the middle, which I thought was delightful, you know. But it is really a problem of the audience's intelligence. We cannot look at that woman without getting stuck in there.
CM: Yes, I agree that there is a feeling in the second story, which somehow breaks the feeling that l was creating in the other two stories, and I was aware of this. I went for this risk and what I really enjoy when people react to the film is that everyone has some story they connect to more.
ERICA KRAMER: In any piece of work that is shown after it’s finished, we see the whole. What I was trying to say is that we, as the makers of things, should respect the intelligence of what we put into it and also the intelligence of the receivers, as equal parts. The particular character that you chose for the middle was treated in such a way that it literally broke what you were trying to do. Yes, dessert is sweet and soup is salty, but somehow there’s a plate at the end that I feel unbalanced the meal. We moved through three courses and one course dominated, by the weakness of the maker. We were left out of balance.
JMC: I would like to say something about this. To me, the second episode didn’t work very well until the shot of the sea. But the last shot of that episode provided meaning for that entire section, when she’s in bed and she closes upon herself, by the end, in a foetal position. To me, that moment was very strong on an emotional level, and was even a key to the entire film, since it is a film about how space affects you and how you change with it. These last shots of the second episode were, to me, the moment when space closes around people, when it becomes narrower, and when this narrowness is stressed by the sudden irruption of the sea – because we feel that it is not really there, you show it in a kind of dreamy way, because the apartment has no window facing the sea…
CM: There is.
JMC: … but you don’t show it that way, it's more like a “vision”. And this idea that we suddenly enter another dimension, a dream level, while at the same time the house is closing around her, leading her to close upon herself, can be seen as a door to enter the last episode… An episode where there is also, in a way, a different type of character, – a bit lost, a bit empty, a bit strange – completely closed upon himself. The way that man talks to the others around him, the way he talks to his wife and so on, shows that he isn’t really interacting. His is the path to emptiness, to this final passivity… Suddenly, in the end, the film is about something else, it becomes something else, deeply moving but also deeply abstract…
KEES BAKKER: Maybe there is a problem of balance between the processes of identification with the characters in the different episodes. To Erica, for example, there was a strong identification with the girl in the second episode, which I didn’t feel. To me, it was about the three episodes together. My involvement as spectator was to reflect on what connects them. So maybe there is a difficulty in your film. On the one hand, it starts a process of identification and, on the other, it requires a reflection about the overall structure.
ERICA KRAMER: It’s not a matter of identification, it’s a matter of intelligence and as a viewer I am relating to the filmmaker. There were real breaches there, I felt, in the balance between the three parts. I felt that at one point, the control you had in terms of our conversation, of our rapport began to filter away.
CM: I agree entirely with what you say because I was aware that suddenly there was this character… something in-between. Suddenly, there was something that transcended me and I could choose to go with her and loose the rest, I could choose to change the character because she was probably too complex or I could risk to show her in this way and to provoke these questions. The second story is always a difficult one because in some way this universe is closer to us. You connect more with that than with a sales agent.
CAROLINE BARRAUD: l saw your film some months ago and I must have some time to let the film move in me and take its place. When I saw it I had a big cinematographic pleasure, but at that time I was left with big doubts. I wonder if, when you structured the film, at any moment you had the feeling that the character was stronger than your structure… although, to me the film is very strong, because I don't have that impression. Are their own lives bigger than your film or your structure? I feel that they fit your structure but perhaps they could fit more, you know? You could perhaps change the characters if they don’t fit your structure.
CM: I understand what you say; of course there are doubts when you’re filming. And this structure… it was an idea I had in the first place but that could change. As I was filming, I felt these three stories were connected and when l filmed the last story, with the ending, I really felt it was an ending. It worked for me, there was a meaning that transcended the three stories, and people could pick on it.
KLAUS WILDENHAHN: I think it worked quite well because it reminded me of a collection of short stories which then combine to give you a final impression. As I’ve learned here, there is a particular Portuguese sort of sentimental melancholic feeling, which was very strong in your film. Contrary to what José said, I thought the last shot superfluous. It would have been better without it. What I liked about the middle part was the enigma. You hardly know (l didn’t know) what she was doing there… and the mother, the struggle. Something finally becomes clear when the son enters. To me, it would have been a bit more mysterious… The second episode seems to me to collect the personal feelings of the author and it becomes very strong. Then, the third episode rolls by itself, so if the second episode would have been shorter, more enigmatic, to me it would have been better. I could have done without what José apparently appreciates very much. I could have also done without the music, but apparently the Portuguese can’t do without music.
CM: No, no, it was an experiment, I never used music before.
KLAUS WILDENHAHN: I wanted to ask one question because something worked very well in Zhong Hua’s film. When that one soldier was sitting there and he was, if I got it right, singing by himself… a song which was picked up later by the collective. I was just wondering how it was possible to get that situation. The camera was observing him, it was observing the room and suddenly it comes a bit closer and he is just humming, but the words become strong.
ZH: If you remember, this part has a small title. He is about to leave the placement in which he lived for so many years. The main feeling I wanted to convey was the very strong relationship between the person and his environment. This is why I thought about that shot, leaving him a while, going through the environment as if he was haunting it or this was already a trace in his mind, then going back to him humming the song. Then, of course, I did it in the next shots, with the group singing and crying together. It was, in my eyes, a way to link this person and the environment he is about to leave.
JOSÉ MANUEL TAVARES: About Catarina’s film… I saw it three times. The first time, I decided to organize in my city, which is a small city, a debate about working relationships, and as the first and third episodes have a lot of questions related with working relationships… l agree that the film has quite a discontinuity problem, but it still is a very lovely film.
MADALENA MIRANDA: Unlike Gert, I think your film works very well and there is something I would like to ask. ln the streets of Amsterdam there are some parts of the city where the windows don’t have any curtains because the protestants feel they have to leave their houses sufficiently open so that everyone can see they have nothing to hide. What l felt in your film was that we had to look away at the right moments. The feeling of many people here about the film, a desire to go further in the first story, and you held back and that is knowing when to look away and leave the shot at the right moment. I wanted to ask how to work from this point, if you think this is something that can be sustained, and if you think it can be sustained in documentary?
CM: Each film is a film and is an experience. My other film was completely different: it was an 80-year-old lady in a house, a character from beginning to end, without major ruptures, something that flowed, very organic. Maybe a next film will be closer to that. What l felt in this film was that I wanted to talk about what living in a city is like, in a more abstract way, and didn’t want to go into details about the life… of course I go into people's lives but it is a colder film, more controlled. I can’t tell you what will follow, but after an experience like this I will feel the need to return to something more involved, maybe with a character, but… I have to fall in love with something and that part I don’t control, right?
MIGUEL COELHO: I wanted to know if you fell in the temptation, or maybe that was what you wanted, in which much of the audience fell, which was to choose one part of the film with which you identify more. I wanted to know if that happened to you?
CM: There are parts that I think work better but those are not necessarily the ones I prefer, because I feel the need to protect the others which are weaker. It is… I can’t say… the final story is less clear in terms of its objectives, but in a certain way it is the one I’m more attached to, because there is a greater proximity to the character (who can be empty but I don’t consider him empty). It is difficult because I wanted to choose a structure but it’s obvious I relate with the people I am filming. However, it is interesting to see there are different reactions. I'm not going to say there is one with whom I identify more because as I was trying to orchestrate a feeling that came from the three, that identification comes from the sum or from the relations that are established between the three.
JMC: I would like that Zhong Hua return to a question that I raised before, which is this combination between a preIiminary conception of a structure for the film and the way it develops.
ZH: Before shooting, I had only a few – I would call it – principles, but I didn't have a script. My main goal in preparation was to intensify my exchanges, my relationship with the people I was about to film. One of the principles I had beforehand and still have is to guarantee that each person's reality is secured and is expressed very concretely. In cinema, particularly in documentary, I am about to film people and so my job is to find a way to preserve the fact that in front of the camera is a person. l know very well that the persons I am about to film are, if not influenced, very much changed by the determined environment they live in. This is also why I stress the moments of filming. I let the concrete situation guide me and what I try to preserve is the living aspect of these people. Of course they become characters but they are living persons who go through processes of changes, influences, etc.. In my opinion the presence of the director is to be felt by the viewers, as it is concrete and physical for the persons he is filming.
I don't want to stress the previous planning in my own work, what I stress, as I believe in the moment of filming, is the real set (in Chinese the expression is “the set of reality"). And this set of reality is more important than any previous written work because I don’t want to do a report on reality, I don’t even want to describe reality,
I'm not doing a report. The only starting point I have on hand is myself. I can only go from myself and the things that interest me. As I was telling you the money situation is a context l have now. Hopefully it will change but the basic thing for me is to start from that, to grasp my own position in front of him.
MARIE PIERRE MULLER: He is the filmmaker all along, the cinematographer all along. With the exception of the last sequence.
SATO MAKOTO: About Catarina’s film… I found it very mysterious; there is a certain transparency of the camera as if you would refer to Frederick Wiseman’s films. It is sort of an invisible camera, and that is probably the strongest characteristic or your film’s first part. We are surprised to see that nobody is aware of the camera, or that they act as if it does not exist. As we go on to the second episode we begin to see the existence of the team and the director, and we see a relationship with the subjects, especially in the third episode when the mover starts to shout to the camera, in a so called interview. Taking that into consideration, my opinion is that if you wanted to create a film about houses and you want to bring that theme to the forefront as an underlying theme tor the three parts, then perhaps you should have gone through with your invisible camera way of shooting throughout the film. Even if you have encountered a relationship with the subjects, sometimes you must have the courage to cut that away in the editing process.
ln Zhong Hua’s film, This Winter, initially we see a similar kind of invisible camera, but gradually we begin to notice that you are part of this group. And we realise that they are looking at your camera in a very suspicious way, so the invisibility of the camera disapears. However, in the final scene as we have talked about already, the invisibility of the camera is completely destroyed because you give it to someone else and you yourself appear in front of the camera. I feel a lot of us were moved cinematically, especially by the fact that you have chosen to eliminate the sound, I’d like to ask you why you chose to eliminate the sound in this final scene.
ZH: I found that the words pronounced, including mine, were not the important point, and I wanted to express that, to reflect that in the sound editing process, because we were all associated, the characters and ourselves, in one feeling. I didn’t cut off the dialogue and also the noise of the car for technical reasons but because I find that it is, at this time of the film, not important. We were all sharing the same ideals, not sure at all about our destiny, our future or our hopes. And we all felt this uncertainty throughout the film. This was the way i wanted to express it in the last scene.
JMC: Still on Zhong Hua's film, I must say that we discovered the film in Yamagata and the person who made us discover the film in Yamagata is here. Asako chose the film for the “New Asian Currents”. Asako, may I ask you what made you very especially select this film, how do you see it, from your point of view?
ASAKO FUJlOKA: I would like to give the film a bit of a context instead of analysing it. I watch a lot of films from Asia and recently there has been a big surge in digital video, especially documentaries coming from China, where people are starting to shoot with their small video cameras and to edit at home without the restriction of government or money. Most of the films I see from China are sort of in the style of Frederick Wiseman, if I can follow Mr. Sato's analogy. They are shooting a lot of footage over a long period of time and think that they can do something with the footage in the final editing process. In the end, the films are actually much too long, but because of the subject matter that they are dealing with they are very exciting. Among the many, many films that are being made in China, I think Zhong Hua’s film is very special because it is not made in that way. He did not shoot at random when he went into the shooting. As we were talking about structures, I would like to ask him if he had that structure in mind when he was shooting (he features several soldiers and gives a chapter to each soldier). In the end, it becomes a film about Ren Yong, who is the main guy. I see a kind of self-documentary in there and that he himself, his life, is probably reflected in that film very much.
ZH: The storyline I had chosen was about leaving, going away, finishing a period in one’s life. In the second theme, with the second storyline I wanted to transmit my understanding of youth. I had chosen a rather simple structure because maybe I am under the influence of my own personal life but you have to know that in the army, for these young people, life is very much organized, it's one, two, three. This order, structure, influences and changes them of course, not only giving them habits but changing them inside. It is a very deep influence. Somehow, young lives are, if not broken, influenced in a bad way. They loose something.
l was telling you about life in the army because in my view the army gives them some kind of abstract existence. And, in a way, the society we live in is an abstract society. I wanted to stress the fact that in this one, two, three abstract and almost deadly environment, people have strong, deep feelings, hopes and a strong will to fight this battle. So I discovered, only in the end of shooting, that it was a semi-biographical theme. I have been a projectionist in the army myself and then I left the army to study at Peking Film School. I also decided to leave my original province and stay in Peking, as the character, and try to live my own life and make films and so on. This is where I feel a lot of common points between the characters and myself. I would say that in a way we represent each other. Anyway, in spite of that I’m very happy to be here but this film is now past and I go along and I hope you see the next films and that they’ll be better.
JMC: You be sure to be here next time… with all the other films, because actually we didn’t know you had finished another film already and worked on two more.
KEES BAKKER: I wanted to ask a question to Ivo because I was the only one who talked about lvo’s film, and I don’t think it was in a very optimistic way. In his introduction, José Manuel remarked about its relation to Portugal (about the Portuguese value in it), especially in relation to the last part in Macao. I’m not Portuguese so I couldn't recognize that. I recognized the issues about love, about travelling, maybe to find someone’s own identity (maybe that was an autobiographical part), but could you explain a little bit more about your intentions for doing your film in this way and about what you wanted to convey with it.
IF: The idea of the character going to ask different people what they think about love was a good beginning for the travel issue. I’m not from anthropology or ethnography, but that was the basic line. The first thing was to see if this was a cultural thing: is love cultural? The idea was to cross from Muslim societies through Hindu societies, till we lose the sex thing. So I went to see some minorities where man loses the important role, then we go through this part where men and women have no different things, and then we go to this Rashi society which is a matriarchal society. To me there was also another thing, even in the beginning: being in the desert and then going into the confusion of the metropolis forest and China. It was absolutely clear that we had to film these shots in China.
Then Macao, of course, and I had the idea of the handover, from what happened in Hong Kong (it was really a mess, at midnight all the tanks got inside Hong Kong, it was like a war). I wanted him to cross this battle. I wanted this night of the handover to be a battle that he had to cross, to arrive to the self-interview. It was also the idea of getting this political thing: there were these changes, this run for nowhere that was on the characters. I wanted to get a bit of emotion out of the situation, then in the interviews, although we didn't use them on the film because… I don’t know. In the end, the handover was not a big deal, but for some seconds it was strange because they come from nowhere.
JMC: Thank you. We really have to close now. As I said you are all invited to the short conference and informal debate with Gérald Collas at the house of the Marqueses da Fronteira. I also call your attention to the projection of Robert Kramer’s film tonight – Robert’s last film, still to be shown in our country.
Before we leave, I would like to remind you that tomorrow we have the final debate, and that, at the end of that debate, we will challenge you all to comment on the actual progress of the seminar and to make your own suggestions regarding its future. As I think you all understand, the method we are following is still an experience… It is still not clear to us how it will actually be done in future editions, should we be able to do them… We haven’t yet fixed a structure of projections and debates… Of course it is possible that we shall come to look back one day and think that, precisely by being like this, these initial meetings were especially interesting, even if they were occasionally chaotic or directionless… If we provide this seminar with a future, that means we are living its beginnings, and all beginnings are good… I would like you to think a little about all this until tomorrow and leave us with the commentaries, suggestions and interrogations that you feel we should take into account for the preparation of future editions.