by Jan Gogola Jr.
This text is combined from two “polylogues” published separately by the social-cultural revue Rozrazil in Brno featuring among others these Czech (Věra Chytilová, Karel Vachek, Jan Gogola ml.) and Slovak (Zuzana Piussi, Peter Kerekes, Robert Kirchhoff, Marko Škop) filmmakers. The logic of this collage lies in the mutual influence that the Czech and Slovak document experience during the recent years mainly in terms of the way of creating situations, adding author’s attitudes or a portion of a “pensive humor” questioning and transforming the documentary genre itself.
DOES THE DOCUMENTARY EXIST?
J. Gogola: “Documentary – that is not especially appropriate term, but let’s keep it for a while.” That’s the first sentence of the almost 80 years old First principle of documentary by John Grierson that became the manifest of the documentary film. It’s rather curious how quickly this not especially appropriate term became a phenomenon in documentary schools, television programs, festivals, encyclopedic records, institutes and institutions etc. Yet we do have terms that are widely used across arts and could be easily used for the documentary as well without reducing it to its all-describing nature: portrait, feuilleton, essay, novel, feature, fresco, drama, analyses etc.
In fact, Warhol paintings are more of documentary than the majority of the arranged documentaries, as much as the diary novel Czech Dream Book compared to Věra Chytilová‘s essey Prague, the Restless Heart of Europe is more of a documentary. V. Chytilová: There are several kinds of documentary. A documentary about reality is something different than the documentary fiction, which is made up, invented. Sack of Fleas was done that way. First you go and study the situations and then you set up different ensemble and let the girls experience the themes you give them. The girls react their own way. You dig into them, trying to learn about them, while you give them enough room. But you build a certain structure in advance. Or you go somewhere, not knowing what it’s going to be like and you shoot what you have learned while shooting. I’m interested in making a documentary when the reality surprises me. Like that one I made about the abandoned flats. You arrive and ask people how live and why they live the way they do, what’s the reason they got evicted from those flats, how they reacted, and so on. It’s really telling me something about life, about the social situation of this world and society that we live in.
M. Skop: I just returned from gypsy habitation, where we played games – mainly like little children’s games – and it was great. How everyone changed the reality depending on what he felt right in the moment and considered it the right for him. In other words, the reality was just like everybody wanted to be in that one moment.
Z. Piussi: When I was shooting a movie about a special police unit, I said to them: “Please take me somewhere you usually go.” And they did. I just turned the camera on and off. There was something was going on all the time. When I was making a film about homosexuals, there was nothing going on. I had to provoke them to make things move. I use the reportage method. I don’t know how to direct. Mostly I just wait because the reality always pleasantly surprises me. To be at the perfect place in the perfect moment does not happen often, so one provokes, inspires. That’s what is documentary to me. I don’t like workouts.
R. Kirchhoff: Documentary has its own expression tools, genres and methods. According to Grierson it’s a “creative interpretation of reality”. We interpret. Therefore we are the interpreters of reality. Everybody is manipulating somehow. That’s the essence of the authorial film. Manipulate, but do it you own way.
P. Kerekes: Recently I’ve been shooting a film in “classical documentary style”, about three generations of family sharing same house. I tried to capture reality with all authenticity, turning the camera on and off. And I felt very uncomfortable doing it, awkward, I was the disturbing element of the Sunday lunch, standing awkwardly in the corner of the room with camera and mike. I suppose, that due to my shyness, I set up surprising situations in my films. In pain and surprise everybody’s equal. When I was shooting a scene with my grandmother and her friends in the swimming bath, it felt as unnatural to her as it did to me. We were playing movie shooting. And the most beautiful scenes have arisen from this game, from the playfulness. Without my initiative or without the camera, most of them would never happen. Therefore in my films people are not only featuring, they are also playing. My way of shooting is not based on well-planned concept, it comes rather out of my inability to communicate naturally with people in front of the camera, unlike the perfect communication of colleagues Zuza Piusii or Jaro Vojtek... In other words: I have a situation (image) on my mind that I create, make happen in front of the camera. But unlike in the feature film I let the situation develop freely and I like let it surprise me.
K. Vachek: One, in fact, documents the actors who memorized their lines, too.
V. Chytilová: Feature film is also documentary.
J. Gogola: Just the fact that the fiction strikes the viewer is a manifestation of a real – in this meaning a documentary – connection and often a more intense one than in the real life. One then feels more real in a fiction than in the reality. It’s about the documentary perception. Filmmaker and theorist Vít Janeček once wrote that the documentary is a movie made “documentally”.
K. Vachek: Even if you compose a piece for violin and there is only violin playing, there you have the clear tones which the musicians learned, but then comes the tone color of that violin, the room acoustics, coughing audience, simply everything that makes a concert sound.
J. Gogola: Maybe the term documentary seems sound because it offers exactness soothing the collective and personal consciousness?
K. Vachek: For sure. The need to seek comes out of not knowing what to do and what has reality prepared you for. Some tendencies have to appear you emphasize them, then the people say: “Yes, this is exactly what we mean” and they go and do it. Italian neo-realism was like that. They went out to the street, made light of how the wops were living and deduced further. That’s why they still have their communist party in Italy.
J. Gogola: The ambiguity of formulations can be due to the fact that there is no documentary theatre, no documentary literature or a documentary fine art, although portraits have been painted for hundreds of years. Meanwhile we use the term portrait in fine art and the term documentary within the art of film, where the painted portraits strived to capture the real appearance of a person. It was not primary about the art itself but about the art of capturing the realistic image of a person.
K. Vachek: We forgot to mention one thing. When you produce Faust you are aware there are a lot of ideas behind it. And there you sit and rack your brain trying to understand yourself and the world. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of stuff on television with no deeper meaning so people don’t get to rack their brains about at all. For example they show a film about Africa, with people shooting one another, children with bloated bellies run around and all one can come up with while watching is saying how horrible this is. There’s no significant reflection in it, otherwise you would come to a conclusion that they have the Africans killed entirely on purpose, but television doesn’t provide this. Than everything is just a reportage and news broadcast. Than people hear the poor unlucky word “documentary” and they think to themselves: “Oh, another one of those films where I’ll have nothing to think about”, on the contrary they imagine lots of blood or lots of happy living, getting rotten. But people need to reflect something.
V. Chytilová: But documentaries also run at the TV. You are speaking about news broadcast, not documentary.
K. Vachek: I’m speaking about the documentary in form of Newscast.
V.Chytilová: And I’m interested in news.
K. Vachek: Well, Vera then go and get yourself a job in the Newscast! But since you don’t want to just state the obvious, because you want to reflect, I won’t say nothing now. Because you don’t want to hear what I have ment now!
V. Chytilová: Oh, you only listen to yourself. No, no, you’re boring me.
K. Vachek: Leave the classroom!
M. Skop: I like situation peaks in life and try to capture them in my films, too. When there’s such a flash and no camera near I’m not afraid to reconstruct the situation with my crew. In this meaning I don’t care about authenticity, most important the outcome. We all are co-authoring in our films, lives, in this conversation.
Z. Piussi: When something is happening, one must roll! Unfortunately, I am hardly ever at the right place in the right time with my camera rolling. So I have to think how to make it look real.
WHY TO MAKE MOVIES?
P. Kerekes: I don’t separate my private life from my professional life because I live according to script. My films are very personal; I often fulfil my dreams through them. My childhood dreams / I’m disposing a real military unit with a tank in Moscow in May /, my erotic dreams / voyeur situations in “66 Seasons”/, dreams about meeting people who already passed away. So, right now I’m hectically organizing the full-filling of my childhood dream in Russia, I’m going to live according to the script for a couple of days - I know the situation at hand, but I don’t know is it going to develop.
R. Kirchhoff: One could say that a man makes films for himself, but the author surrounded by other people needs to evaluate. This maybe just me, but it’s because of the fear at fist, that the I may be taking money from the poor, but then comes the certainty that I actually take from the rich and give to the poor. The film is dedicated to the poor, just like the paintings used to be bible of the poor - in the widest sense of meaning, even the hidden one.
P. Kerekes: I make movies mainly for myself, or for some close people. I made “Morytaty a legendy” for my grandfather, “66 Seasons” for my grandmother and my daughter, “Cooking History” I will dedicate to my father. The production of these films is so challenging, that I don’t see any reason in adapting the result to some group of people. I like to imagine my films. It’s a mixture of real events that caught my attention and beautiful scenes that I would like to experience but they do not happen by accident, so I have to help them, to initiate them or set them up.
V. Chytilová: I was working on a film about the deceased and cremators, how they perceive their profession, what they think about it, and how they perceive life after life, whether they believe in it…I was afraid to look at a corpse just being burned in the furnace, but when you are making a movie you are not afraid anymore, you wan to see it because you need it for the movie. Or when you make film about a tortured child, you’re terrified, but then you know you have to go with it because those people had to suffer through it all. You need to find out why the father or mother does that or allows for it to happen and so on. Documentary has a meaning for me not only because I learn about something but also because it has impact on a person. It’s not only about giving testimony, you also send it out to the court of world for people to see and judge for themselves, whether this is something they can put up with or not and whether they are going to do something about it or not. At the same time I learn something about myself, it keeps changing me actually. A have to digest the material so it becomes more than just a description. Because a movie is missing the real sequencing, editing alone is a creative work. You compose it, based on what you consider important, sometimes finding something unexpected, you didn’t even think about, you didn’t meant for.
K. Vachek: Meaningful are books or films, which we do not understand, assuming that they are well constructed and full of important thoughts. If we do not understand them, it’s because they exceed our understanding and we are just these people sitting in the auditorium not knowing what to say. It means that the man is shifting his thinking into other spheres just like I do when I turn to people who are smarter than me. Dull ones I don’t care for. And the majority of cinematography is oriented to keep people dull. It’s just as clever as it’s viewers sitting there staring at themselves like apes in front of a mirror, there’s no space for progress. Well. I’m happy to produce incomprehensible movies.
Z. Piussi: I’m scared of turning fifty, one day, maybe I will do something to be proud of and will belong to some generation of artists. I’m scared because I’m making a film about Koliba Studios and one generation of filmmakers, which made the studio - the base of Slovak cinematography disappear completely; a movie about a time when everybody tried to save the Slovak cinematography. They hate each other; they fucked up everything they could but if you start to judge them they act like doctors – sticking together. The psychologists say that a man in his fifties begins to worry about leaving this world without a sense. That’s why many artists have their memorials build while they’re still alive. If my film about Koliba and Slovak filmmakers turns out to be a peace of shit, if it helped me to understand all this, it won’t matter. One day maybe they will laugh at me, /how I show Šulík’s Jam Bottles/. I’m afraid to get angry and end up like them. Now I feel fine. Bat what about later? I’m afraid to be classified and even feel happy about it. I’m asking you a favour. If I started to teach at VŠMU, stopped making movies and began to act angry, afraid or started making excuses for myself, just shoot me. Deal me a coup de grace. I want to die like M.M. - mysterious and forever beautiful.
R. Kirchhoff: I don’t think that tendencies of the Slovak documentary differ too much from those of other countries. From the historical point of view, Slovakia was not Plicka’s, not Slivka’s and not Hanak’s tradition of displaying the rural man – as the non-written laws of Slovak documentarism promoted. After ’89 becomes the author a part of his own movies. The scheme remained without changes for several years. Until recently all Slovak documentary producers were supposed to make one piece about the Gypsies and one about the life in a Slovak village. Today, the Slovak documentary carries an outrageous potential, which can be noticed with several remarkable movies. Behind the curtain there’s a phenomena of the Wild East, influencing mainly the production background. The filmmakers are the producers, we are the pioneers squatting blank spaces… Seeking possibilities. I don’t know anything about the future of Slovak documentary, but I guess it’s not going to be easy. But what’s going to happen with me then?
K. Vachek: I think the Czech documentary humour is a phenomenon of world-class. Because the top authors like miss Králová (Lost Holiday), miss Hníková (The Beauty Exchange) or gentlemen Klusák a Remunda (Czech Dream), all of them do philosophy with humour and that is not common... This means we carry a back of Jaroslav Hasek and we have to stick to the findings he made. He wrote Sveyk the biggest war novel and he wrote it with humour. We don’t only reflect that a war was unacceptable, but further we see it’s not only terrible but also funny, and too low for a thinking person. That’s settled in our backs too.
J. Grierson: “Documentary – that is not especially appropriate term, but let’s keep it for a while.”