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About the 2006 edition
A point of view about the world is a point of view about cinema. If one expects any film to incorporate a point of view about the world, today one should also note the importance of stressing almost the inverse: in the midst of the present audiovisual saturation, the productive use of the means of the cinema claims for an even stronger engagement, exigency and clarity concerning the place of cinema in the modern world. As much as a point of view about the world, the production boom claims for a point of view about cinema as a consequent part of our vision of the world.
The 2006 seminar includes some examples of this, films and film makers that define the landscape, and, consequently, may guide us along a journey through some key trends of contemporary cinema. Starting with films where each shot reveals a strong construction method, we will then rather concentrate on the recent methodologies of direct cinema.
Regarding the latter, we will propose a confrontation between different filming strategies, including an analytic approach of various parameters: treatment of space, treatment of time, handling of the camera, sound, editing.
The 2006 edition shall run according to a new structure of debates, in three distinct levels: dialogues on specific films; thematic presentation on formal strategies; collective debate.
Transcription of the debates
Ninth debate, final debate
18th JUNE, SUNDAY
José Manuel Costa (JMC)
Nuno Lisboa (NL)
JOSÉ MANUEL COSTA: During the first editions of Doc’s Kingdom, we always ended the event with a debate on the experience of the meeting itself, and on what lessons can be drawn from it, and this is what we would like to do once again. Those who have been accompanying us know that we have always insisted that it remain an open model, in which there is room for experimentation and change to happen, and there have been changes. What we are trying to do is to introduce them without losing sight of the initial purport. First of all, this purport required some basic choices. In order to organise a seminar to think about cinema, we realised we had two alternative paths. One would have been to opt for what we might call an academic seminar, in which t he main role goes not to the directors or to the dialogue with them, but rather to the researchers, historians, critics, that are invited to take part in setting up the program of the event or simply to chair the debates (there are established models for this). The other – and this was the one we chose – is to have a meeting that is more informal, something lively and somewhat unpredictable where participants are invited to react to the films, seen as whole and on a cumulative basis. An important aspect is the interaction with the directors themselves, in which the way debates are conducted and issues raised doesn’t exactly aim at a restriction to predefined themes. This second model is not as easy to structure – firstly because it is dependent on having with us the directors, which sometimes leads to rather late confirmations of the program – and it entails a higher risk of conversations being less dynamic or fruitful. In recent years, there have been rather uneven results as far as debates and their productivity go. Consequently there was, naturally, harsh criticism about the way these debates were oriented (or the fact that they were not oriented enough). It is, therefore, in this area that we are trying to find a way, trying to find out what this model might be, what should be sacrificed or not in order for the debates to be improved. This year, as was mentioned in the beginning, we tried to give debates a topic to focus on, but without limiting them. To accomplish that, one of the points we insisted less on (compared to previous years) was on conversations between directors, which would mean allowing more time for a dialogue between the director and the invited panel, and only then go to the open floor discussion. It is essential for us to invite everyone to participate. But obviously, that opening carries the risk of drifting off the subject. Whatever happens in the future, we feel that it is all open and, as I said, it should always continue to be so...
There is another point I would like to emphasise. Those who attended this edition from the first day will have noticed that there were echoes of some conversations in the course of the ones that followed. I’ll give you an example. During the first debate held here – about the film by Pierre-Marie entitled Encontros, which was also an emblematic title to open the seminar... – Cyril insisted on the relationship of cinema with time: what does it mean to film a “present”, which on the exact moment it is filmed, is already becoming “past”, the fact that cinema is, above all, an art of the passing (of time)... Then a good part of the debate was about the film by Pedro Costa, Colossal Youth, in which once again this issue came up, what time were those people living in, what is the “time of the film”... When, at a given moment, it was said that that whole community was filmed as if they were living in a past time, we were once again very close to Cyril’s theme... Then, interestingly enough, the following day when we were discussing the films by Catarina Mourão and Pedro Sena Nunes, something pointing to the same issue arose once again, when someone mentioned the fact that these communities or neighbourhoods were themselves facing imminent destruction, dwelling somewhere between their past “history” and a future “with no future”; and that led to a debate as to what was their real time, represented in the film... And later on, perhaps in a more subtle manner, a similar theme came up again for a few moments during the debate with Frederick Wiseman... Well, as far as I’m concerned, that is a typical example of what we meant by a cumulative debate, and of our desire that the seminar would take place – as it always has – with a single group of participants and in a single auditorium... That choice brings along other limitations, in the sense that we could eventually decide to divide up the group in smaller groups, for the whole seminar or part of it, which could have advantages in the degree to which everyone would participate and delve deeper into certain themes, etc... Many international meetings have evolved in this other way and we don’t have a rigid position for future editions... But then again, we would very much like to hear what you think about all this...
BRAM RELOUW: I’ve been here the last two years – this is the third time. This year, what worked really well (and was a change, comparing with the previous editions) were the workshops, and to have one or more directors present, talking about just one aspect of a film. You can really focus on one issue, or one theoretical question, or one way of doing camera work, or whatever. I also very much liked the close reading with Wiseman’s films and his approach, asking the audience what they thought first, then giving his own opinion and really getting into a dialogue. Instead of just having the director explaining as much as he can and then going to the audience, it’s a good approach, to start by asking the audience and then move on with the debate.
JOSÉ CARLOS ABRANTES: I think it’s good to have here a director whose work is as solid as that of Wiseman, who has the ability to get people to think about images. On the other hand, it’s a good thing the seminar remains open, so that there is room for innovations such as, for example, having researchers on a certain theme. What is more interesting is to see the diversity of ways the debates can be organised, the variety of films and perspectives. It would be worth while to develop a project on films made by children. I feel it’s a bit odd that so few people from Serpa participate in the seminar; I know it’s very difficult – given the specificity of the films – but I think a greater effort must be made in that sense.
JMC: Just a word about that before the next intervention. Since the first edition, that has been a very important matter to us. First of all, I would like to emphasise that we are very grateful to this community, to the “place” that welcomes us when we have the seminar. I believe that, gradually, these meetings have acquired an identity, and this place, Serpa, is part of it. That is why we have thought of ways of further integrating the local community. This is an area in which we can do much more, and the fact that the organization still has all kinds of structural weaknesses has meant a significant delay. I think this has to be done during the preparation of the seminar and it entails an all encompassing work around it, and not so much the potential conversion of the project. I believe that we have to completely embrace the basic project of this initiative, which is to organize an international meeting around the paths of contemporary cinema, focusing on documentaries, which is not the same thing as having a thematic seminar, and even less a regional thematic seminar. This does not mean that the subject is excluded, it has sometimes been addressed... The fact that the program has once again included a session dedicated to the theme of initiation to cinema is, basically, our way of saying that that connection must be made and a bridge built – through working with local communities of young people, with schools, and therefore, at a level that can, in the long run, result in the creation of a new audience. But I would like to once again remind you of the importance that organising initiatives outside the auditorium has for us, and the connections established with local entities and particularly with the local population that have been strengthened in that way... That is really an important point you touched on.
PIERRE-MARIE GOULET: There is one aspect that I rather miss compared to the first edition of Doc’s Kingdom, which is a proposal José Manuel had made to directors presenting their film, for them to select a film that was not theirs and about which they would speak. This helped to really open up the debate about cinema in general, and not specifically the reason why one made that particular shot, what technique you had used, and so on... This allowed for a connection to be made between the work of a director and the history of cinema; there was also the possibility of opening up and looking at fiction films, and not remain enclosed in the ghetto of documentaries.
JOSÉ CARLOS ABRANTES: One could try, instead of an interpretation of the work by the directors or any of the members of the panel, a reading made by the people in the auditorium, a kind of image reading workshop.
BRAM RELOUW: It would be interesting to have a director talking with another director. For instance, to show two films, have one director questioning the other about his or her film and vice-versa. First, you can see the films, so you know the views of both, and then you can have them side by side debating their vision on their own films, on cinema and on each other’s films.
PIERRE-MARIE GOULET: The system by which one director talks about the film of another director who is also present is something that does not seem to work well. In the case of the first seminar, Pedro Costa chose a film by Jia Zhangke (who was not present) – Xiao Wu, Artisan Pickpocket , and it was obvious that, when he was talking about Jia Zhangke, Pedro was also talking about himself and his cinema. I found that very interesting: the interface of a director who, speaking of another director, talks about himself.
CYRIL NEYRAT: One of the great qualities of this seminar is its precision and its very practical way of facing work methods directly – whereas so many seminars of this kind immediately launch onto a very theoretical debate where people don’t really know what the subject is exactly. But it can also be a trap (and that goes back to what Pierre-Marie was saying): the seminar should not establish fixed ways of carrying out the debate so that each discussion is circumscribed. The idea is to try and assess the way documentary film is developing, to be up to date on what is new today, to find out about its possibilities. The films were sometimes a little isolated – for example, the second day, the work on ethnographic cinema: the two films were quite close in their basic position regarding reality; whereas I would have liked that one of the two films, even if serving the same purpose, used a radically different method. We must think of ways of bringing together things that are much further apart, so as to avoid a debate that is too technical, too concentrated on the details of making the film. To put together two very different objects might be a way of bringing together the practical challenges with the theoretical ones.
SERGE MEURANT: The afternoon dedicated to Portuguese documentary was the only time I had that feeling. If, at that moment, for example, Pierre-Marie Goulet had been called on stage, that would have opened the debate – regarding the works shown and the themes and practices mentioned. That’s when we had the impression not only of isolated films, but of a category of film, of a school. By bringing back to the debate other elements of Portuguese cinema, the film by Pierre-Marie Goulet and the one by Pedro Costa, we would have been able to make a broader link with the rest of the program.
INÊS OLIVEIRA: Each film and each director suggest a debate. The debate should be adapted to each film that is seen, that much became obvious in this seminar.
KEES BAKKER: I’ll try to make an overview of the last week as I experienced it in comparison to the other years. The discussions and their introductions in the first days were quite interesting, with an input from the audience that worked quite well. It was no longer like that Thursday morning, when there were five directors and two moderators in the front, and the audience was kindly invited not to ask questions. The problem was not so much that there were five directors, but the fact that, as a member of the audience, I had only seen one of the films that you were talking about. I was very much out of the conversation. The input of Frederick Wiseman and the kind of film analysis we had with him yesterday was wonderful. It shows how he is looking at his own films, but especially how he’s thinking when he is actually making them.
One thing I’ve always liked about Doc’s Kingdom are the different styles of debate, be it conference style, film analysis or open discussions. I think that should be maintained. It’s very important to have diversity in approach to assure the dynamics that we were looking for from the beginning.
One point, raised mostly by Pierre-Marie, is that you shouldn’t confront directors with each other. I’m not sure about that, but it depends very much on the audacity of the directors that are present. I don’t mind when they are fierce critics like we had last year. The problem is when the critique is based on preferences which are very personal, and we just have to accept the other person’s point of view. I wouldn’t mind if there was more opposition during the discussions. Last thing, which is more on the structure of the program: some films were too isolated. As for the rest, I was very happy in Serpa. It was very nice not to have screenings all of the evenings, so we could talk and discuss in small groups.
JMC: I think that in all this conversation, there is a theme worth insisting on, and I single it out because it has been a constant debate among us, in particular with Pierre-Marie, and that is the question of a dialogue directors and amongwith directors. I think it was very important that Pierre-Marie made that distinction, because in fact these are two different things. We tried in the first edition and then in the second to have a direct dialogue among directors, thinking primarily that it would be interesting and productive to have directors of different generations and with very different experiences talking among themselves. There was even a director who felt so ill at ease with this challenge that he had to leave the auditorium and went missing for practically a whole day, not because he was angry with someone, but because he felt the business of having to comment on the work of his colleagues was something extremely violent... I think the best – and, in the end, the only answer has already been given: each case is different and requires its own method, we have to pay attention to the differences. But there is, in fact, another approach to be considered, which would raise another kind of problem, and that is to ask the invited directors to previously choose other films to be exhibited, and then they can comment on the films that they chose – which can be fiction, from other periods... It’s a tempting idea, and all I can say is that it requires a program structure that we have not been able to follow. In other words, it would require working on the program and the confirmation of attendance well in advance of the actual event, to give us time to build up a coherent program... And there is always, of course, the question of time limitations, that brings up again the option of dividing the group in various groups and various venues, or not... These are possibilities that can be tested.
Another thing I would like to insist on is that we are making a great effort not to circumscribe the seminar to certain trends or styles, or to a strict view of what documentary might be. This year was a good example... When I spoke for the first time with Pedro Costa about the possibility of coming here, the first thing he said was: “But, are you sure you want the film? It’s a long way from documentary already...” He obviously never wanted to talk about his films in terms of being documentary or fiction, and, actually, he never spoke of In Vanda’s Room as a documentary... But, in this case, it is also obvious that he felt that the film could already be quite distant from the field we are working on here... So I told him I was absolutely sure we wanted to have the film, and that there was no problem regarding the fact that this work was closer to what we normally call fiction. The other side of this happened with La Dernière Lettre, by Frederick Wiseman: we chose to show just two films of his, one of which was one of his rare incursions into the field of fiction and which, in this case, the author himself considers to be in another territory. For us, this was never a problem, because all of that – bridges, frontier zones, zones of contact – was also what interested us in terms of their potential as historic areas of documentary film.
As for integrating films from the past, classics and classic fiction films, the question remains open, there is no taboo, we avoided it simply for reasons of economy – and ultimately of coherence, for we would like them to have a clear role, not an accessory one. But we are still debating that. We will keep experimenting in that area, but without losing track of the primary identity of the seminar, which has not, I repeat, been created with a thematic or academic intention. The first and last rule of this seminar is to try to keep an eye on the films being made now and, instead of restricting them to “a theme”, basically, to start from a desire to question them, to “see what they’re trying to tell us”. It’s possible that in future editions we shall try and have more thematic suggestions to start with. As for the question of where it all leads us, that depends entirely on the dynamic between the group of participants.
NUNO LISBOA: All the documentaries indicated quite clearly the potential and the limitations of the choices made, namely the need for the films not to be isolated – that has always been the strategy: for them to throw light on one another, in a path that must be coherent but does not necessarily have to be completely structured; the need to discuss issues about the making of a film but also the ability to close that discussion.
IVO FERREIRA: Regarding the place of Doc’s Kingdom in Serpa, the open air screenings were the only time the local community was involved. I would also like to remind you that having non Western films here is something that has always had a very interesting influence, because the very things those directors said triggered another type of discussion, and brought along another angle.
MADALENA MIRANDA: That experiment of choosing particular themes such as direct cinema, ended up preventing an actual discussion to take place, as Kees Bakker pointed out. I also felt that it would have been worth while discovering the cinematic affiliations of someone like Wiseman, because his universe is so complete, so coherent. And this takes us to what Pierre-Marie said: to try and include other films. For me, it was important when Pedro Costa brought Pickpocket: I came to understand more about him, it helped me establish connections. I also felt there should be more films (even if we had the whole Wiseman lead to explore), I missed discovering – as has happened before in the seminar – new things by coming to Doc’s Kingdom.
ANTÓNIO ESCUDEIRO: The choice of Portuguese films was a little repetitive: many had recently been shown either at Doc Lisboa or Indie – I think they had no place here (and with the presence of Pedro Costa, perhaps they lost some of their impact). The choice of the two Portuguese films that followed somewhat lowered the level of the festival.
JMC: It is important to talk about Portuguese cinema. At the beginning we thought of this seminar as an event that would alternate between international editions and national ones, showing only what was happening here in Portugal. We gave up on the idea and for the time being I’m glad, because it was very artificial and it broke the rhythm. If our ambition is to put together an international seminar, we have to try and make it fit into an European agenda, and for that we need a certain rhythm. On the other hand, the Portuguese editions did not work all that well, there was immediately the desire to go for new things, to have those films go into a dialogue with other backgrounds, so it didn’t make sense. As for the inclusion of Portuguese films in this international meeting, that has to happen in harmony with the economy and the attributes of the selection in general. The idea is to take responsibility for the choices we made, but that is dependent on what happens each year. We have had pre-previews – and those screenings, before the actual previews, are made possible by the restricted nature of the seminar – and it is clear that the films are here because we consider them representative, and not because they correspond to one particular trend or taste.
The selection is not just a matter of taste, because what we want most of all is, insofar as that makes sense every year (taking into account the coherence of the global program), that whoever is making Portuguese documentary films that are representative works, just the same as those who stand out in the international scene, eventually shows up here... The basic criterion is that the film be strong, or representative, not necessarily representative of “every” documentary or of the “whole” of cinema, but of an area that is worth studying. As someone was saying the other day, this is not a Michelin guide, to give films little stars, it is about choosing representative films to work on the variety of paths that contemporary documentary films are taking, or cinema in general cinema is taking, provided they display a proximity to documentary that has been decisive.
SUSANA SOUSA DIAS: In relation to the Portuguese films, I think one of the problems was the lack of connections between different films. The films by Pedro Sena Nunes and Catarina Mourão were packed together on the same day, and it would have been more interesting to show them in connection with films from different areas, for example. And I also felt it was the program should have been more intensive, which I think goes back to what Madalena said.
ANTÓNIO ESCUDEIRO: It was very important to exhibit here Natureza Morta [Susana Sousa Dias, 2005], a film that was really undervalued by the critics. The fact that it was exhibited here translates a real understanding of what the film means to Portuguese cinema and to Portugal’s recent history.
JMC: A lot has been said about the intensiveness of the program. In the last years, I received some critical comments, saying the program was too intensive, that people never had the time to talk among themselves, because they were always running from one place to the other... Obviously that brings us back to the question of whether the seminar should have just one program and take place in a single venue... It is a crucial question in a meeting like this. I always come back to the example of the Lussas meetings, in France, one of the events we thought were most interesting when we started Doc’s Kingdom, and that began as something much smaller, in a recondite region of the country, and ten or fifteen years later it has an attendance of some ten thousand people, divided by five or six sites where screenings take place, with parallel events. We’ve had no intention of doing that here, and we are fully aware that the day we do, many problems will be solved, but we would have broken with one of the features that has defined the identity of this seminar... This is “the” open question. Perhaps the event’s very dynamics will lead to this, but for now we are trying to maintain that difference. And by doing that, we don’t really have an alternative regarding the number of films exhibited... In this kind of meeting, we continue to believe in the idea of having just one group and it is, therefore, vital that we have an “organic” schedule which gives people time. In these last editions, that time has been in the evening, which seems to make sense and gives people some time to breathe. But, naturally, we will continue to try out different solutions.
ANDRÉ DIAS: I have the feeling that this should be a work seminar, which means that, firstly, we shouldn’t let the authors, as grand as they may be, roam freely. In the case of Pedro Costa, this seems to have happened – it was necessary to cut him short, and that would have required some reading work on our part. As for Wiseman, the opposite seems to have happened: there were a lot of questions, but they were quite repetitive, questions that he has already answered a thousand times. The fact that this is a seminar tied to the dynamic of today’s cinema (even Wiseman showed quite a recent film here) means that the authors themselves are present, and they always point us in that direction. But the films don’t have to be totally contemporary. It would be nice to have at least one session that was less connected to the present time, and more to a particular topic (as was tried this year, with direct cinema), in that way people could come prepared. One must try and combine both.
JMC: I think that is a good way of bringing this conversation to a close. Obviously, participants can express themselves outside this session. Please let us have your comments. I thank you all and you can be sure that we will go on experimenting...