While selecting the films, our attention was drawn to several filmmakers whose films exhibit powerful authorial voices and distinctive visions on cinema. We have thus found ourselves in the position of having to choose between two films of the same filmmakers. Faced with this difficulty and unwilling to give up on films we fell in love with, instead of our usual retrospective we have decided to present a series of double bills highlighting three different approaches to cinema which push the limits of the documentary genre towards surprising territories.
Sergei Loznitsa and found footage
Sergei Loznitsa is a director of insatiable appetite, who investigates his subject matter thoroughly, in fiction as much as in documentary. His passion for history and the psychology of the masses is evident in most of his films, in one form or another, and he often eventually refines in fiction what he initially sets out to examine in his documentaries. More than anything, for more than two decades, Loznitsa has obsessively studied the history of Soviet Union’s former territories – a history which is insufficiently processed and often never taken responsibility for. Loznitsa draws attention to the wounds that the Soviet bloc has failed to heal, which are still bleeding today in Ukraine and from which we will continue to suffer until Russia undergoes the same process of self-denunciation and redemption that Germany has undergone in relation to the crimes committed during the Second World War. The same toxic machinations of the totalitarian apparatus of the communist regime will keep rebuilding themselves, under the supposed pretense of a democratic regime, until the crimes of the past and those of the present will be admitted to; and until new, democratic values will be assimilated on a profound level.
For this edition we have selected two documentaries of particular relevance in the context of the Russian invasion in Ukraine: “Babi Yar. Context” and “Mr. Landsbergis.” Both films employ techniques of montage, the first consisting exclusively of found footage, while the second combines archives with statements from the protagonist - Mr. Vytautas Landsbergis, the first Lithuanian president after the country’s independence from the USSR. Loznitsa’s films draw you towards them to the same degree that they keep you at a distance, what some often refer to as an out of body experience. You feel as if you are both the object and the spectator, the one looking and the one who is being looked at. You feel the emotions stemming from the images, yet, at the same time, you retain a level of awareness, you suffer for everyone else, but you also judge each and every one of them. Perhaps history can be approached only in this manner. The director’s editing style reveals mechanisms of social dynamics which may at first appear chaotic, but which Loznitsa depicts spontaneously and with the greatest of ease in clever juxtapositions of images. What many historians struggle to explain through words, the director manages to express through images which often contain no dialogue at all.
Loznitsa’s use of found footage supports a more profound understanding of all the parties involved in the dynamic socio-political processes that have defined the history of the Soviet bloc. Often times, after seeing the director’s films, what one is left with is not rage or indignation, but a calm acceptance and the thought that next time things should be done more carefully. While they radiograph the most painful moments of the last century, Loznitsa’s films are, after all, an invitation to healing.
Chloé Galibert-Laîné and the ‘desktop documentary’
The films of French researcher and filmmaker Chloé Galibert-Laîné bear the touch of a simultaneously personal and analytical lens, which plunges into the subject of the investigation, deconstructs it, and studies is piece by piece, until processes are revealed, rules are extracted, and theories about social phenomena are extrapolated from individual behaviour. One of the most original and daring representatives of the ‘desktop documentary’ genre, Chloé shows us how a documentary can be made without leaving the space of your living room. Her films make use of resources that are very common in the age of technology: images, comments, and forums on the Internet, that each of us is being bombarded with on a daily basis, in a chaos we can barely understand. Chloé stubbornly sets herself the task of making sense of this amorphous and chaotic mass flooding our screens, extracting pieces of truth concerned with sociological phenomena and social psychology, while retaining a personal tone. We can thus say that her research is qualitative rather than quantitative, with the filmmaker finding herself at the crossroads between a scientist and an artist, acknowledging, at the same time, the subjectivity of her own gaze.
The films which captured our attention were “Forensickness” and “Bottled Songs 1-2,” co-directed with Kevin B. Lee. Both use footage from the Internet to study the germinating circumstances of conspiracy theories, fake news, and other media manipulations that are based on images and culminate as forms of virtual “lynching.” How is the image of a terrorist formed in our collective mentality? How are terrorist organizations representing themselves to the public?
Chloé’s films question the ethics and responsibility of image dissemination and consumption. Through her meticulous analysis the filmmaker reveals the fictions of the Internet whose authors are all those who comment, share images, distort them, creating phantasmagorical stories that are sold and rapaciously consumed as truths. Her films question and even denounce the complicity of mass media and cinema, reminding us of the vulnerabilities that the people in these images are exposed to.
Nicolas Klotz & Élisabeth Perceval and the experimental documentary
Last but not least, two other films in our double bill series belong to a directorial duo formed by two French filmmakers who have made more than 14 feature films together and numerous other medium-length films, short films, essays, and video installations, and who represent one of the most singular voices of world cinema. This duo goes against the traditional modes of cinema production, as well as against classical aesthetic and narrative conventions, as their films playfully operate at the intersection between cinema, dance, theatre, music, philosophy, and literature. The result is a fresh, poetic, and personal interdisciplinary cinema, the empathic gaze of which always focuses on human vulnerability. Their films are lyrical, with a tendency to reinvent cinematic formulas, as much as they are political, and they don’t restrict themselves to questioning social realities, violence, and the inequities of the modern world, but seek to transform them.
The two documentaries we present this year – “The Wild Frontier” and “Let's Say Revolution” - are merely two examples of their unconventional style. The filmmakers immerse themselves into the worlds of their protagonists, being carried away by them without expecting anything in return and without preconceptions, being driven only by empathy and curiosity, thus offering their films the potential for self-liberation and for fulfilling through cinema the aspirations of their protagonists - refugees, migrants, always on the run and condemned to a perpetual marginality. “The Wild Frontier” documents the refugee camp known as “The Calais Jungle'' during a period of crisis, when the thousands of residents of the camp were threatened by intensifying racism in the West, by the restriction and violation of their rights and the authorities' intention of disbanding the camp. Instead of leading, the filmmakers’ camera lets itself be guided; it does not dictate, but lets the protagonists whisper the path the film should take, the camera thus becoming a medium of expression for the people it films and going beyond the sole and simple role of a recording instrument.
An even more daring experiment is undertaken by the directors in “Let's Say Revolution,” where, in the form of a free adaptation of a William Faulkner short story about a man escaping from slavery, the two redesign the text with the aid of migrants from three continents. Discussing issues of slavery, colonization, and their consequences in the context of globalization, the film is a kaleidoscopic work-in-progress comprised of different moments, an improvisation on the subject of identity executed with a freedom one could easily envy, as only a virtuoso can deliver. The sonic universe of their films is as original as the visual and narrative ones - the directors make bold sound design choices and use varied, or even contrasting pieces of music, which turn their works into veritable odes to life in its most diverse and exuberant forms. Both films give the feeling of a work-in-progress, which could eventually be perpetuated indefinitely in a dazzling and inexhaustible cinematic expression.