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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
Fifth debate, after the films by Klaus Wildenhahn and by José Luis Guerín
21st SEPTEMBER, SATURDAY
Films shown before the debate:
Far From Home, Klaus Wildenhahn
En Construcción, José Luis Guerín
José Manuel Costa (JMC)
Gérald Collas (GC)
Klaus Wildenhahn (KW)
José Luis Guerín (JLG)
JOSÉ MANUEL COSTA: This is the final debate and, to make the bridge with yesterday’s conference, taking into account that Gérald Collas had the opportunity to accompany all the previous discussions, we invited him to moderate this session. As it is the final debate, we shall begin once more with the films just shown, but would like to invite you to discuss issues that were raised during the week or even to go back to specific films shown in the previous days. As a final debate, it should be about anything you may find important to discuss in connection to the films, of today or the previous days. And, as l said yesterday, l would also like to invite you to talk about the actual seminar.
As you know, this is our second edition and the formula is not yet definite. We are still looking for the best methodology of programming and discussion, in order to fulfil our original aims – the discussion of a few strong films, the analysis of different documentary paths, the stress on contemporaneousness, the active participation of filmmakers, the confrontation between members of different generations and levels of experience… So I would definitely invite you to express yourselves about what has happened here and what you think we could change, or need to change in possible future editions.
GÉRALD COLLAS: I propose that we use the two films we saw this morning as a starting point to think about cinema. I don’t think it would be accurate to consider that these two films share the same theme. In both, construction workers are filmed, involved in the construction of a building, but it seems to me that the objective of each of the films is of a completely different nature. What I consider interesting with these temporally removed films – the first is from the sixties, the second has two years – is to understand how, through two ways of working with cinema, we confront ourselves with reality.
I think it is necessary to avoid questions regarding how things were worked out during filming. A lot of what was said by the director regarding John Cage, in relation to what it means to film during direct cinema, in the sixties, the adventure it represents, it being the modernity of cinema, could be repeated. The paradox is that the film En Construcción is also a modern film, despite being a film that returns to the origins, a film where the camera is always still, with the exception of the closing shot, a long parting shot. And this could also apply not just to this film but to a certain number of films directed in these past few years, in documentary or fiction cinema.
To begin, the question I would like to ask each of the directors, is not so much how they made their films, but how they conceived their films before filming them, regarding the observation of the object to be filmed and regarding the choice of characters. in the first film (Far From Home), we have a character who is a hero, as we classically say in cinema, who is a foreman, a figure who appears regularly in the film and that we see in confrontation with the other workers, with whom he maintains relations either of subordination, of friendship or of forced collaboration. How did this character appear in the film? I don’t believe characters appear by chance. I believe they are chosen, that a decision is made to film them, rather than to film others. In the film En Construcción, there is a genuine work by the filmmaker to choose these characters, as the film is built around them and the whole world is reflected in them, through their mentalities, their dreams, their dialogues. How do you do this preliminary work for a film?
KLAUS WILDENHAHN: I’m not a filmmaker, I work for television. So I’m not a cineaste. After having done a number of films about artists, there was a necessary step to be taken. The television station I worked for was, at that time, in post-war Germany, particularly conscious of things concerning German history and social issues. The step was to enter social reality. The head-of-department and l decided to do a documentary about the reality of production. I started a journey through West Germany trying to get into a production plant. I was hardly possible to enter a production plant; the owners would only let us go in if we did something that pleased them. So tried to get in different factories and nothing worked. Finally, I contacted a protestant priest (it was the time, in Germany, when catholic and protestant priests went into production plants). He said the only possibility was a small construction company, which had recently started their business. I got in there.
This is the first condition of filmmaking that is not your own decision; if you want to work on a documentary film about social conditions you have to work around things. I didn’t choose anything. I just knew I wanted to make a film with the team I had worked with before. This was what we could get: a construction site of a silo. For the preparation I went there alone, met this foreman and we started to film right away. No research done. We were there for about two or three months. This foreman became the main character because all the problems crystallise in this figure, with all his ambivalence. We shot maybe twenty-five hours of material and I saw the material for the first time at the end of the shooting.
GC: The idea is not so much to oppose a work made within the scope and with the conditions of that period’s public television, to what we consider as cinema. To me they are two films. What I consider interesting in its response is that, due to that lack of a previous preparation time and because it is a commission, the film finds its main characters through a process of its own, and the relations are more visibly associated with a given character than with the others. This can be seen as a film in which the director is not satisfied by filming things as they are, where there is all this selection work, which doesn’t precede the film, but gives it strength. In cinema direct, we film for two or three months and, from that, we have 25 hours of rushes (what for video directors might seem little). We must, for that reason, choose well what to film.
JOSÉ LUIS GUERÍN: That is nice because it reminded me of that old Louis Lumière expression, “La maison du cinema”, the notion of a house of cinema, of all this linguistic, babelic chaos referring to this idea. My film, like Klaus’, also has its origin in a commission. When a producer commissions you with a documentary, he doesn’t usually give you a theme, he provides a scope. Construction is not a theme, it is a scope. Thus the game that José Manuel has proposed seemed very interesting to me, of projecting two very different films that could fulfil the same commission of a producer: a film about construction.
It seems to me that the theme is always in the look, in what one is able to see. Cézanne paints some apples and probably the wonderful interest is not in the actual apples, but rather in what the look can project, discover and reveal. In a certain way, Cézanne presents a world for us to discover through some apples. It is the same, to me, if the film begins as an idea I have or as something given to me by a producer, as long as I have the freedom to look my way. This one began has a commission from a university, with the particularity that it had to be made with a group of six students (its team). This film would be inconceivable with experienced technicians because it would cost a lot of money. It was a kind of limit experience. I alway say that it took three years to be made. In the first year we didn’t shoot a single meter of film, we devoted ourselves exclusively to talking among us, to seeing films together, to asking questions together, “how will we film a person, the world, work, leisure?". We saw classics, Chaplin, Howard Hawks and questioned how they themselves did it; we talked with workers, architects and neighbours. Cinema, I believe all cinema, but particularly documentary, is born out of a gesture of curiosity. I didn’t know anything about construction.
The location, the borough, I chose it because it seemed very emblematic, so that we could understand certain echoes of the world in our times. l wanted to strip the film of the local elements that could affect a borough in Barcelona, to reach for those aspects that are more universal and can be followed by any spectator, making it possible for him to keep track of the pulse of the world. ln that sense, my construction is not so much referring to the world of construction, nor to the construction of a house; besides, there are more images of destruction than of construction. It refers to a wider construction that I don’t want to determine because that is up to the spectator. I'm reminded that in the first film about construction which is by Lumiére, titled Demolition d’un mur – they proposed that it should be projected in reverse, so that the demolition of a wall became its construction – those two themes were palpitating… construction and destruction cohabitating in the same little film.
GC: It seems interesting to question the directors of these two films on this point. It is frequently said that for a documentary “les choses sont là", and we must film them. The question is how to film them. Is it that evident that the things are there? Do we see things that are in the film simply because there is an important work that reveals them? How can we, during filming, see things appear and decide that we must work, must dig around that. It’s the image of digging, to show things that aren’t there (we make them appear because we feel something), that is important and real, despite being camouflaged. How to show things that we initially didn’t imagine? The idea that things are given to us is an illusion that direct cinema can cause: to think this is only a document, a record of something that was there already. But is it that simple to make a film in this way?
KW: This question of reality behind phenomena… to me, it is difficult to find my way through that. The condition of having money, of wages, was perhaps interesting. We observed the building of a silo and we tried to do this as correctly as possible and give the viewer an idea of how a thing like this goes up. What types of skills are needed in the people who work there, what adaptation, how many working hours? Behind that is the question of how they can earn their money. After that, comes the question of ten, fourteen-hour working days and what one of those fellows says at the beginning, “if I only worked 8 or 10 hours, I’m off shift at two or three in the afternoon, and what can I do then? I go to a bar, get drunk and spend my money. I’m facing the nothing”. This was a deep feeling and all we had to do was follow that up.
This German title… I don’t know how it will work in English, Far From Home, but the expression In der Fremde has a double meaning. It means just that, far from home, but it also means being strange in this world. This carpenter actually uses this expression because it also means, technically, for construction workers, to work away from home. Perhaps, the sound is also very important to you and I imagine most of you will not get these different voices, which some-times are hard to understand. The subtitling is not always correct. This symphony of sounds, which goes on throughout the film, gives it another ring.
JLG: “Les choses sont là". In Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma is the phrase Godard associates with the Italian cinema of the forties. It is true, things are there and are breaking through there, a new cinema that has the ability to take the things that are there as its material. And the filmmaker’s problem is always how to make them visible – Klaus' and mine. Faced with a house that is being built, each of you would make a different film. The things are there. What each wants to make visible, how to make it visible, that is where the entire strategy of cinema lies, the angle, distance, lighting and situations I will create in order to capture. All these aspects are permanently pointing to the idea of making visible what is hidden in our daily lives: how to reveal what is hidden in reality.
We know today that in the first film made, La Sortie des usines Lumière, there were many takes of the workers leaving and that Louis Lumière supervised their clothes personally. As far as I’m concerned, les choses sont lá, although reality doesn't just let itself be captured. Sometimes we must create a device to capture reality and that is a legacy that Papá Flaherty knew well. If what you have is a coup-d’état in Chile, the way to make it visible is completely different from a father teaching his son to build a ladder. Sometimes the material you have in front of your camera requires a testimonial camera and nothing more, to witness impassively, like the traffic control cameras. The objective power that cinema has over all other mediums, such as literature or painting… But the question is what to make visible, no?
GC: Even so, I would like to tell Klaus that the answer is perfect. It is important to approach the money issue. The money you earn is not just an informative issue, allowing us to know the value of what is earned for working a given number of hours, but it concerns also an understanding of how the money is spent… to understand the reasons why a life is spent working. You work for a living, but what does living mean to these people? The film deals with these issues surrounding alcohol, showing what life is like after the working hours are over.
“Les choses sont là”, is not about a journalistic work, that wouldn’t be interesting. To be a filmmaker, a documentary director, you must see beyond appearances, see beyond the immediate social game. The question of what these workers do with their lives appears in the film, but you could have ignored it.
BRAM RELOUW: I would like to talk about the unravelling of reality – I had some problems with the film. I experienced a feeling of unease with a lot of films I saw here. In my opinion, I saw many shots in the film that were obsolete, were not telling me anything, were not giving me anything, and were not contributing to a meaning, whatsoever. I like to think about images, but I need, as a spectator, a little guidance, to put them all in perspective. Some of the films I saw this week were not contributing to a story. The pictures were beautiful, but why were they there? I would like to ask if any of you agree with me.
GC: Can you give an example?
BRAM RELOUW: The story about the boy and girl, who are smoking joints, just hanging around and talking about nothing [in En Construcción]. Another example was in the Chinese movie, This Winter. To me a lot of the footage shot inside the complex where they lived did not add anything to show how they live. Don’t take me wrong, there are very strong sequences, but I was confused sometimes by all the material in-between and why it was there.
GERT DE GRAAFF: I have the same problem as Bram. To me, being an editor, I noticed in your film – maybe this is a cultural difference, Portuguese, Spanish, German… I would have cut a lot of shots, doing it in a faster way. In Holland we end the sequence when someone is leaving the frame, not after he left the frame. To me, your film stopped in every shot. With Klaus’ film, I was not aware of being in the cinema, because the shots did not attract my attention to themselves. In your film, every shot is attracting attention to itself, and to me this was evident partly because of the editing.
JOÃO RIBEIRO: I would like to answer, because the sequence you refer is one of my favourite sequences in Guerín’s film. In this shot, you can reach, if you want, a poetic meaning of the sense and of the characters. At the end, you will keep an impression, a sensation about the accumulation of a number of shots. At first, they may seem superfluous, but they will be with you for the rest of your life.
SADAO YAMANE: l have liked documentaries for a long time, and here in the seminar, seeing these listening to the discussions I realised why they are gaining more and more momentum, becoming more interesting than the fiction genre. Documentary is something that is supposed to capture or portray reality but it goes beyond the original intention of the creator, because reality is beyond one’s control. So, the finished film often goes aside from the original intention or even against the original intention. In documentary, the most important part comes after the shooting process, in the editing stage. The film becomes an accumulation of the battle between a director’s intentions and his subject matter. The filmmaker discovers or rediscovers what he/she wants to create in the editing process, through the struggle with the recorded material. In this process, of dealing with the footage and sound of the recorded material, what to choose and in which order is of course crucial. During this process you cannot say if one sequence has meaning or not. It is the combination and balance between image with meaning and image without meaning that creates a good documentary.
JLG: First, I'm very happy to listen to the positive and negative opinions. I would gladly spend hours listening to comments about my film. I have always understood the title of my film En Construcción according to its English meaning of “work in progress", something that is in motion, being made. You make a house, but you also make other things and, from the outset, you are also making a film. And it is true that in that attention, between the existent reality in motion and the director, trying to structure that unworked reality, in that friction is where I believe the singularity of a film emerges. In my film there isn’t a single written sentence, everything comes from the people and their words, but there is a considerable structuring work that comes from the classical cinema. That expression, “work in progress”, is the most accurate meaning of my film. In that sense, the film is closer, I would like to think, to films such as La Règle du jeu, by Jean Renoir, since both are constructions in which one sequence doesn't lead directly to another as in the films of Hitchcock or Fritz Lang. Perhaps the filmmaker that I love most is Yasujiro Ozu. During the filming of En Construcción the whole team saw a very complete cycle of Ozu and we were fascinated by his way of constructing. He films small events, such as the arrival of television in a small community and we see how that small event affects the grandfather, the neighbour and their surroundings. That idea of what surrounds us, the democratization of viewpoint, seems fascinating to me and I thought that was where the solution of our film lied. Because, from the sequence in which the dead appear, we discover the film isn’t focusing upon the building of a house, because the entire borough had come into it, violently. The house was just a metaphor for a greater transformation. The borough is being transformed, and so the interaction between the construction and the neighbours is, to me, very important, and a love story between a worker and a female neighbour begins. And she must leave because the neighbourhood is changing… its human morphology is changing.
I think that, in modern cinema, the role of the spectator is very important and he should decide, provide what he sees with meaning and importance, or he is in his right to consider it banal. I believe there isn’t any concession to pretty images. In modern cinema, Bresson and Rossellini said the same. “Painting has taught me that a bunch of old images can give place to a detestable film", said Bresson. Rossellini said the same in a different way, “just an image, a just image". Surely I made mistakes but I didn’t want to make any decorative concession, other than search for just images, capable of making something visible in that sense.
ANA ISABEL STRINDBERG: How did you construct the film’s device? Did you work on the dialogues? Chose the characters' clothes? I'm asking that because I noticed in the end credits there were set decorators…
JLG: There isn't a single written sentence and I always say that what works are the dialogues. There is a pleasure in recovering a popular cinema that makes me think of Jean Renoir, Le Crime de M. Lange, his fondness for the borough, the supporting characters. I apologise for mentioning so many films, but I don’t come from documentary and I pass by it accidentally. My taste for cinema comes from Ozu, Chaplin, Ford, and the great legacies of fiction. I believe that, in fiction cinema, there is a crisis in the representation of reality and that the classical dramaturgy of realist interpretation is in a cul de sac. In that sense, certain types of documentary redeem us, changing in some way the pact with reality.
The dialogues begin with the casting, and that happens much more in documentary than in fiction. Because in a fiction film you write the script and look for an actor, an actress, and that is decisive… If they are badly chosen, the film will probably not work. In documentary, you aren’t just choosing a presence, which can be more or less emblematic, you are also choosing the writer of the dialogues and maybe of the story… There are many workers in the construction site, but cinema is a process of synthesis – we must choose those who have a more emblematic and meaningful power, with a photogeny that fits the cinema. Flaherty faced that for the first time when he was searching for Nanook, and realised he shouldn’t film the eskimos in the plural, but that he had to do a casting and choose, and since then all eskimos have the face of Nanook. The film is indissociable from that face. That criterion was essential to me, as I will provide an image for the borough – through an assembly of faces. When, in documentary, we choose to film a person, we don’t just do it because of what that person means, but also because we are thinking about his interaction with other people. That was why I asked the foreman if he could put the Moroccan and the other worker who is Galician together, because I saw that the contrast between the two was like D. Quixote and Sancho Panza.
In the place of the classical notion of mise-en-scéne, I propose the idea of mise-en-situación. You create a situation very subtly, which begins by choosing the people you will film, the time at which you will film, the distance, the sound background, the climate, your relation with these and the relation between the camera and characters. In Klaus’ film, you can see how the camera has a greater or lesser proximity to the characters, and you have to measure that distance very well, so that things won’t become less natural. In my film, I knew Abdel tried very hard to alert his companion, although that probably happened because of the presence of the camera… That triangle, the relation between the characters, and between the characters and the camera, is to me the basis of my work in this film.
ANABELA MOUTINHO: I only saw José Luis’ film. Your film is to me one of the best I have seen in a long time. What I appreciate most, and from your work I have only seen Tren de sombras, is the intelligence and sensibility. The intelligence, right away in the technical aspects, the manner in which those devices (placement of the camera, what you called mise-en-situation, and the editing), seem to me, as in few other films, to serve the idea of the title. And it really isn’t a film about construction, but a film in which the spectator is continuously involved in the construction: of a building, of lives with which the building interferes and of the actual film.
In one of the first sequences, when we begin to discover the corpses, that was very evident. At the beginning of that sequence, the reality was there and you capture it, intelligently. It reminded me of Robert Doisneau and his sequence of photographs, in Paris. in black and white, when he placed a camera inside a shop. On the sidewall of the shop window there was a painting of a naked woman, and he captured the reactions of the people who stopped to glance at the window and looked to the sidewall. I was what I felt with the extraordinary sequence of the people´s commentaries and the corpses that appeared. The camera is where it should be for reality to come to it, but it is there, guiding us. Guiding us from sequence to sequence, because there is always that double movement, of construction and destruction. The sequence you chose to end the film shows intelligently how your work was honest. You are there manipulating and you don’t hide that, when she is carrying her boyfriend and says “cut, I can’t take it anymore”, and he proposes “now, I’ll carry you in my arms”
PEDRO CALDAS: Nowadays, we know, by the cinema that is made, that cinema isn’t just, or principally, to tell stories. Because there are more effective means to tell stories, such as literature. Cinema serves, among other things, to organise rhythms, something José Luis' film does very effectively. Like music organises rhythms. In his film, the sequence of the boy and the girl has the right times and, more than that, the right durée, because at the end of the scene I understood the time and their relation. It gave me something more from what I already knew at the beginning of that scene or of the film. As for the duration of the shots, I don't agree with what that gentleman said, because in José Luis Guerín’s film, contrary to what we saw in most of the films here, there are very few unnecessary things. In each shot, there is something interesting happening from the beginning to the end, and that requires an admirable courage… to maintain only the strong moments.
There is a cut I didn't understand and I think its weak in relation to the others: there is a white, out of focus, truck covering the shot, there is a cut and there is a white truck leaving the shot – to me, it seemed a very simple raccord and very weak, compared to most of the cuts, in which there is something interesting happening. Why that cut?
JLG: It is difficult to explain that without a monitor. It seems, to me, the necessary distance to be able to identify that composition: the pair formed by the prostitute and her boyfriend, in her house, which had been destroyed, and the contents of the container. People pass and recover things from the container. It seemed to be the right time, needed to identify that image and to move on to the next, already with the neighbours. The relation between these objects of destruction and the borough, how these influence the neighbours.
The direction of building in my film is heading towards games of symmetries, which are needed individually because of their meaning. There is a symmetry in the relation between the foreman at work and the female neighbour watching from the old house in front, with that of the prostitute in the window watching the Moroccan worker. That allows me to see how this work affects the personal lives of these people. In the same way, there is a scene in which the workers are waiting for concrete and an old man finds a baby in the window, and at the end of the film there is a reverse process, with the new inhabitants coming to visit that space and they don’t see either the workers or the neighbours, they don’t greet them. It is a problem of visibility, no? To me, this visibility was violent and is broken by the girl, who greets the old man in his new house, resulting in that communion. The entire film is built like that, through games of symmetries and relations. When we did the scene with the dead (the only possible final scene), we had to close with the new owners – we realise that the entire morphology of the borough is about to disappear. A possible equivalent would be to end with the new human morphology that is going to occupy that space.
ERICA KRAMER: I appreciated your film, felt very comfortable with all the choices and excited by the ideas that dance out of the film. I feel very close to the young couple. If we think about scale, they were on a different scale from everybody else. They were much bigger than everybody else because we got closer and we got an intimacy with them. They were true marginals. Her opinions on everything were fantastic and her precision on what is deformed… her ability to break these essential things. I thought all these conversations they had were seminal. I see them as God figures or as a Greek chorus. The poetry of the film was absolutely useful and beautiful and I’ll take it in my heart for a long time.
GC: I will add something to what Erica Kramer has just said. Through the example of this young couple, who have a particular status, who are filmed differently in terms of the shot values, we could question ourselves: but what are they doing in a film about construction? They help to build the film. I think this makes us return to a conception that takes the imaginary of the characters into account, and not just the fact that such a character is representing a particular social role in a film. This is something that has been lost. Frequently, in documentary, people are there to represent what ought to be represented and to provide a sense of what is necessary to build a discourse. In fiction that also happens (José Luis referred Le Crime de M. Lange, by Jean Renoir). These are films where the characters exist for themselves and the work done with them consists in recognising what they have to give us.
The discourse of the two workers probably happens because of the camera, but we must thank the camera the fact that it provoked it, for ourselves and even for the workers, so that they were able to speak in such a way. That doesn’t actually happen in our daily lives, but do we just want to remain on the surface of things? We can’t, for instance, reduce the young prostitute to her daily life: she is an emblematic figure of the borough, a sort of Ana Magnani of Italian realist cinema, with a strong presence in the image.
JLG: When the film ends with the settlers occupying the space, we live that as a usurpation because this had been the social space of other people. To me, the only moral possibility was to close with them, with the expelled, the outcasts. Countering any previous considerations of formal purity, l transgressed the norm and moved the camera. I couldn’t film that with a fixed shot. The only moral option was to walk with them, to accompany them. Following with a panoramic shot or by physically walking with those people who had been expelled do not have the same moral value.
JMC: l think all this discussion about this film was mainly about how you get a story from an environment where you live. Robert Kramer worked on this all his life. Experiencing something very strong in different countries, but living there and finding stories there. The different films he made were all different experiences to build something out of that environment. Cités de la plaine is a big experience, maybe a very risky one. You worked there, Erica… Could you bring something to this debate about building something in this kind of process, building a form out of this chaos?
ERICA KRAMER: Maybe this is the moment to really underline the idea that we can’t separate the work from the creator. If you think about a work, you have that one work. But if you think about a creator, you think about a body or a life, and about the whole sum… His last film is about death, dying well, and in it he is saying something very publicly that I think was quite hidden in his work for a long time. For anybody who followed Kramer’s work, especially from Route One which was a seminal turning point, it was a beautifully balanced work… It liberated something in him and he begun to show more freedom, more experimentation. Each one of his following films tried to hold storytelling, truth-telling and make it more interesting. Not only to him, but hopefully to you also.
I’m speaking for myself as a voyeur of my lover of 3 decades, of watching him take his roads and dying. The most exciting thing he did was to die. It was a beautiful thing that he did. He died like a warrior and he lived like a warrior. In his death, I understood so much. I played backwards for 30 years and saw this work with all the courage, the unbelievable precision that he used to work on the bones of cinema and to really experiment how to use it. He was violently creative inside his courage and his ability to take risks with such elegance and intelligence. And so, during this last movie, I kept saying “nobody will understand, you have gone too far” and he walked with an intuitive sense to make that story, such a burning story.
You can’t almost see a Kramer film. The copies don’t exist, the work seems to be dying. I’m so thrilled when there is a projection of one of his films but it wasn’t easy to get even that cassette of that film (Cités de la plaine). There is one copy of it somewhere and when that copy disappears, no one will make another copy. For all young filmmakers, this idea of marginality, of frais in contrast to the idea of wanting to be immortal. He was a quiet voice in the end. Walk The Walk was a simple man who learnt a little and died quietly. In the end I feel really good about that life and that film.
GC: Are there any reactions to this or can we continue?
KW: I want to make one remark… that it is possible to make a film without mise-en-situation.
JOSÉ FILIPE COSTA: In relation to the camerawork, and thinking about Klaus’ statement, I say it is possible to make films without mise-en-situation, but also that it is possible to make the others. In Klaus’ film, the camera appears to be searching, it hesitates, it is waiting for something to happen. In José Luis Guerín’s, the camera seems to have predicted what is about to happen. It appears to be a fixed camera. Everything happens as if it were staged, with a great preparation. I would like to know how things happened in the relations with the characters? Was the event filmed or did you ask people to repeat? Then, because I liked the sequences with that couple a lot, I would like to know how they were chosen.
JLG: My favourite filmmakers are extraordinarily dogmatic. There is nothing more dogmatic than Ozu, Ford, Bresson. I believe the more interesting directors, as they make their films, also make their dogmas. Bresson begins by using actors, music, fades, etc., and abandons those gradually. Film after film, he finds his code. Ozu is the fastest of all, he finds it immediately. I began by filming normally, moving the camera, but realised that something was lost and there was no tension. I discovered that during the sequence in which the father and son are building a ladder. There was the transmission of knowledge from a father to a son; it is a form of handcraft, of wisdom. And this happens through very subtle dialogues, very fragile. If we imagine this dialogue in a direct cinema style, with the camera searching, moving, re-framing, the sentence is lost. In a fixed shot, you force the spectator to pay attention, each sentence has a lot of weight, there is an added meaning behind it. it doesn’t have anything to do with how you receive a sentence. Hence, I discover that in my work I will be unable to film conflicts. To me, tele-objectives or hidden cameras do not belong to cinema, they are in the domains of television and I don’t allow myself to use them, it is a dogma to me. They cannot reveal the misery or greatness of people's daily lives, of those who work… I framed the hands holding the tools, those hands framed in a composition that invests them with a certain nobility. The relation between the hands and matter (hands, wood and pencil) is something that transcends the industrial work. It was about making a form of handmade wisdom visible. What I wanted to show required a fixed framing, and that was the syntax for this film.
JOSÉ FILIPE COSTA: But in this case, with the fixed camera, people have to be still, they can't leave the frame. How do you deal with that?
JLG: In a construction, Klaus knows it well, there are a series of rituals repeated everyday… they were constantly making ladders, you could go and watch in different days, take notes, predict their actions, the most troublesome moments. We aren’t facing a completely unknown reality, where we don’t know where a character or a hand will appear. In that scene and in others, it was vital to work with two cameras, so that we had two framings, otherwise it would have been impossible to film the conversation between father and son without constantly losing one or the other. That idea, which horrified me in the beginning, an image associated with the laziest television… I realised it was the only solution.
JOANA FRAZÃO: If this is a narrative film, which strives to construct its own time and wants us to follow the characters, why did you feel it was necessary to introduce the images of the clocks, day and night, which seem to underline that excessively.
JLG: It’s true that those clocks are a leitmotiv that speak of this. The sequence with the dead, which transformed the film… I realised it was a historical film: we have the Romans, a borough that is disappearing and a new one being built. I wanted to film the coming of a new century, the fireworks… André Bazin’s fetishist illusion, of embalming time.
JOANA FRAZÃO: Why did you edit the fireworks with the beggar? What did you want to say with that?
JLG: When I decided to make a documentary about a construction, I decided to go to there on a Sunday, when there is no work, and discovered it serves as field of games for the children in the borough, who dream about their own house, their idea of a house, and I want to see the impact that has. So, in the New Year’s Eve, I was at the construction and we had the fireworks, and there was this homeless man taking shelter, and I felt that his silence and his look were the most eloquent things about the new century that is beginning. Spending the New Year with that person was a moral option. Each travelling, each shot, each option is a moral option. On the other hand, I show the coming of a new century and, on the other, I stay with the one person who doesn’t participate in that great celebration and is taking refuge there, in the construction.
CAROLINE BARRAUD: I just wanted to transmit an emotion. I saw your film and told to myself that the power of cinema is to reach and inhabit the dreams. If the characters in this film are able to give us, with their bodies, much more than their bodies, it is because there is someone facing them who is willing to reach in them for their dreams and to express them.
JLG: To me, right now, the most exciting thing about cinema, fiction or documentary, would be to develop a portrait – to have a human being, actor or not… how to extract something revealing? Flaherty, in Nanook, introduces a gramophone with a record, a completely alien element to that culture and to his daily life, but he achieves a wonderful moment – the eskimo with the record, and he is biting it and he is laughing, and it is a smile in Nanook that is absolutely unexplainable. That was Flaherty’s great quality as a portraitist. You can only extract people’s singularities by spending time with them. In this case, cinema is a consequence of living: first you must live, spend time together and then you have the film. Not the other way round. In documentary and in fiction there are very distinct moral attitudes. That of the filmmaker – of an original script in which the whole of reality is closed beforehand. Facing that other – once more, it was Renoir who said “We must always film with a door open to reality“.
RAQUEL MARQUES: The film En Construcción is a very beautiful film, but to me it uses the borough as a scenario and uses the characters as characters from a film belonging to the classical cinema, a narrative. It being such a troublesome neighbourhood, I miss films that question profoundly, not just the cinematographic issues, but also the social ones.
SATO MAKOTO: Your sound is very nice; not only the dialogues but also the other sounds. You say that your logic is similar to Ozu. I think it is with the images, but with the editing your logic is like Eric Rohmer or Tarkovsky. .. Your atmosphere is something that we can feel.
JLG: I believe Rohmer is related to us. I thought that when he made the Tales Of Four Seasons which is always in the titles of Ozu, and I also saw a very surprising attitude: how Rohmer is able to tell the problems of young women whose greatest problem is whether they want to marry, as in Le beau mariage. Rohmer spends one hour and forty minutes with this girl, and he doesn't laugh. He tried to understand her and left the judgement to the spectator. The other filmmaker able to do that is Ozu. I believe they are very different filmmakers but can be related. It is true that in terms of sound, my construction is very different from Ozu’s. Sometimes, we recorded only sound and described the borough through the editing of different sounds. It seems to me that hound is more universal than image, and I decided to eliminate the shots of the streets, squares, avenues so that each spectator could project a mental image of that borough. I believe we can recognize the places by their acoustic, by their sounds.
JMC: Well, I thank you all and think that now is the time to move on to our final subject. Please tell me what you thought of the seminar’s model, how can we improve it and how you see the future of something like this. I'm addressing everyone here but very specially, now, those who have been here since the beginning and went along with us for several days.
SADAO YAMANE: I think it is very important for these seminars to discuss documentaries, in particular when the filmmakers and the audience are able to conduct an open dialogue, an equal relationship through conversation. And this is very rare. However I have some reservations about moderating the discussions. In a situation like this, when the audience watches the film and afterwards has a chance to conduct a conversation with the filmmaker, the seminar often starts with an opinion about the film, but there are a hundred ways of watching films and it isn’t very interesting to listen to a hundred different opinions, one after the other.
This could be a starting point for some deeper discussions on film theory or for talking about the form of art expression in general. I would like to speak about Takeshi Kitano. I have heard him complain how Japanese journalists interview him, expecting some kind of explanation: why he did this or that in a scene. Kitano is wondering why a director has to explain himself in such a way. Over the many interviews l had with him I tried very hard to formulate questions without that, and it becomes a discussion about cinema on a higher level.
GERT DE GRAAFF: What bothered me was the microphones. We cannot interrupt; because we need the microphone and have to wait to speak. When the microphone is here, the discussion has moved on to a different subject. Maybe with a long table with a lot of microphones… I would suggest a smaller room with better acoustics so we didn’t need microphones. The organisation is very good, even if there were delays. I would like to compliment the translators. And another thing… your intervention [José Manuel] yesterday, it took 45 minutes, a little too long.
JMC: Actually we had decided to organise the table in another way, but we didn't find a practical solution. The idea of putting these chairs here, around us, was not a way to put the filmmakers in front of the audience but rather to try a round circle of chairs, where the whole group should be, with most of you facing the others. But, as you have seen, not everyone volunteered to come to the front… Other possible rooms in the building had other kinds of problems, acoustic problems or lack of sound facilities. We keep trying… But I think we all agree that the main point to discuss is the structure and method: morning projections plus afternoon debates, initial presentations or not, the kind of moderation, what kind of participation we actually ask from the filmmakers themselves, etc…
GERT DE GRAAFF: Because the filmmakers are here, people want to know things about the films they have made and we always start with those explanations. I would rather have a more theoretical discussion. If the filmmakers hadn’t been here, it would have been a totally different discussion. We would be forced to say our own opinions about the films. Maybe if the filmmakers entered after an hour… or were not allowed to say anything. And, maybe because l'm Dutch, to me it is quite difficult to attend a film after a meal. It would be better have the films at 7 pm and so on.
SADAO YAMANE: I want to say some comments about the before screening/afterwards discussions [issue]. I only saw many of the audience in the discussion in one film. I think you need to have one part where the discuss, for example, half an hour for one film, second time another film and so on. Connected together, with such kind of control, I think you need a process, because we had many problems with the translation and there were delays… I would like to control that kind of problem.
CARMEN CASTELLO-BRANCO: I have some suggestions: starting on time, to begin creating a method of work, which is why we are here for. Intervals between the films of no longer than fifteen or twenty minutes, because after that we disperse. There should be a greater space to reflect on what was said, to work, be it individually or in group, to give all a chance to speak what is on their minds. To create groups or a working room where we could speak and work on more concrete things.
IVO FERREIRA: The conditions or projection should be exemplary. And the audience should also be exemplary. People shouldn't leave the room so much.
JMC: What does one thing have to do with the other?
lVO FERRElRA: Nothing. It was tough to me. Not only because the projection of my film went particularly bad. It began out of focus, with sound problems… These projections should be exemplary.
BRAM RELOUW: I think the program is very relaxed, with lots of time for everything, and, at the same time, it is completely packed. Two screenings in the morning, hurry to lunch, hurry to discussion, hurry to dinner. It’s all very relaxed and yet everybody is looking at their watches. Too much information in one day and too little time to reflect in a formal way. It’s a good program, but maybe one afternoon off would be a good idea.
ERICA KRAMER: I think about the responsibility of being here. I appreciate the structure and don’t think we need more free time. Maybe part of the discussion, one day or two, could be in smaller groups, round tables of 20 people who talk for an hour, then come back and make a little presentation… so we don’t feel like we are missing something.
FELIZ SANTOS: I am an ordinary spectator. I don’t belong to the film world. It is a pity so few people from Serpa are here. It is a very interesting event and it seems to me that the participation of local people and regular spectators would be very important. I liked the debates and the projections very much. If we opt for more theoretical debates, they may be very interesting, but the gap to a more indistinct audience is widened.
ANABELA MOUTINHO: What he said may make some sense. Connecting that to Erica's question, before the general debate, there should be a moment for a smaller group discussion. It would be very useful to have the film available on videotape for the group discussions. l always thought the idea of the director not being present was very amusing. He could come later, could be present in the general debate. It is a pity that, within the scope of a seminar, there can’t be more in-depth discussions. What is missing is for this to be more seminar. Because a seminar is a seminar; to work. I would also try to bring Serpa’s audiences in the evenings, to the Portuguese documentaries.
JLG: Maybe it would be more productive to see a film, stop for a little while and then talk about that film. Because they are very distinct, singular and complex organisms, which demand attention. After this first step it would be more productive to have a meeting between the directors, with a more theoretical perspective, to be able to see the link with the rest. I don’t think that can be done immediately after watching the films.
JOÃO RIBEIRO: There could be simultaneous events… No? Alright… Eventually, then, to alternate the afternoons: one afternoon with a discussion, one afternoon with a conference.
JMC: My “no” is not because it is impossible. The choice between having or not simultaneous events was an issue that was debated by us from the start. Until now, the idea not to do that has always prevailed, so that there could be a group dynamic, a cumulative experience. If we are divided in parallel sessions, the seminar can grow more but the group dynamic of sharing things that happen throughout the day will be lost… There are other meetings that have moved for that simultaneity, such as Lussas… In our case, until now, we have wanted to try to maintain a different system.
LUÍSA HOMEM: I thought it very tiring not to have free moments to reflect. I have the feeling that this system ends up being unproductive. And, with lesser experience, it becomes more difficult to participate, to make questions. l didn’t always feel that my place was clear: to be listened to or to listen? The handling of giving the word to the director or the audience didn’t seem evident. I had the sensation that the discussions I was waiting to hear only came at the end of the afternoon. There is a space here that isn’t touched.
JMC: This is really work in progress. We know we want to go on with the seminar but we don’t know yet exactly how we shall do it next time… We had expected that some filmmakers who had been here in the first edition would have come again this time, and will try the same for the next… If we manage this, we may have a better sense of continuity and improvement, and a kind of nucleus that may also aggregate other people… We are aware of the fact that the model we are trying to follow here does not really exist elsewhere. Most of the practical suggestions that people raised last time were taken into consideration this time, and, comparing to the first edition, we solved quite a few problems. The relation with the village is one issue: it’s important for us to give back something to the village and create a relation with it. We are still trying to know how exactly we may achieve that. The evening sessions are part of it, but at the same time their nature is still very ambiguous, since we didn’t manage to decide whether they should be totally independent of the seminar life (as far as the time schedule is concerned, for example) or if they should also be done for the group and therefore adapt to the dynamics of the group… This time we tried the former, but we aren’t sure yet about what to do next. We also thought of having a direct participation of local young people, from local schools. This year there were some students from some regions of Alentejo – a modest participation in numbers but important because of their commitment. We know that this is an important issue and one of the challenges for the next editions. In any case, your suggestions were recorded and we will take them into serious consideration…
One last word of acknowledgement. Before we leave this room, and before the closing session tonight (with Kiarostami), I just wish to stress the active participation of you all. I certainly wish to stress again the active presence of filmmakers, on the one hand, and of students and young professionals, on the other. Because of you all, filmmakers, researchers, participants, we ourselves were encouraged by this edition of the seminar. Thank you all, guests, participants, partners and organization team. We will keep in touch with you.