15th European Documentary Film Symposiums
Film d'Auteur.
European Documentary Film Symposium. 25 years
Tue Steen MŁller Denmark
The history of documentaries

The history of documentaries of the 60ís and the beginning of 60ís is of course extremely important. If you have seen films from England and America you would know that in the beginning of the 60's at the same time as the French wave started in fiction, in art, in movies, at the same time wonderful documentary directors were starting with 16mm and synchronous sound, and the names were Richard Vicot, Eva Bleistals, Ann Beithna, etc. It was a revolution in documentaries, and suddenly you could go out there and catch a reality, be present. Some of them are saying itís all about just being there, and they were there. Some of you might have seen for instance a film Primary about Kennedy, well there were many of them, examine this from Lukinen of the 60ís. They had big influence on Nordic cinema as well, and the predominant style in Nordic documentary from then and until today is the observation of documentary. The observation of documentary which also is connected to going out in the society, and describing how it looks like, where the problems are, etc. The rebel of documentary in the Nordic cinema has always been primarily information, spreading information, and creating a debate. I think that is one of the key stones of documentary television in the Nordic countries- it was there to create a debate, to stimulate a debate. Nowadays you can call that a tradition, or you can use another term, but you can say documentaries have always been a public service to the population, serving to create debate. That has also very much with distribution to do. I think itís very seldom nowadays that films are made excellently without really thinking about where are they going to be screened, they still do it in Lithuania, where they consider documentaryís first priority is not a public service, but the priority is this art form. So they produce films and they hope that the film will reach the audience. In Nordic countries Iíd say that generally it has always been the other way round. There has been a distribution system connected to documentary production. In Norway, in Sweden, in Finland, and in Denmark, where I come from, itís very much connected to a state distribution system, to an institution called the ďnational Film-podĒ, which is now a part of our Danish film institution. So films were distributed to a whole non-commercial area: schools, libraries, art councils, children films for kindergartens, etc. So thereís always been a way to the audience and there still is, even though the situation is different and complicated and very much connected to television. Iíll get back to that. So, if I should point at differences, it is of course this 16 mm, it is the distribution, it is the role of the documentary in the society. If I should say something specific about the films that you have seen, I should pick two very different films from the good old 1968, where everything was at the stage of rebellion in Europe. The last Norwegian film is really a film from that time, it is from 1969. And the Danish film called The Perfect Human is a kind of anti film, and this director called Jorgen Leth, who has been the most important documentary film maker in Denmark for the last 25 years and who still is, made a film which was from his side an anti-political film. In political times he wanted to make a film which was non-political, of course he was very criticized for that, you can discuss this documentary. The reason why I took The Perfect Human was also that this film is also going to be very actual, because it is a starting point of the collaboration† between XXX and the Danish film director Lars von Trier. A film called The Five Obstructions, which has this film as a starting point, has got the premium in a Venice film festival, and Iím sure it will reach you some day as well because itís a film that will travel for sure. The other Danish film about the old ladies in the hotel is made by another strong figure in Danish documentary Jon Bang Carlsen who for many-many years used a special method of making documentaries. In this case he went to this hotel, stayed there for a week, made this research, taped interviews with the old ladies, looked around what they are doing, how they are talking, what they are talking about, etc, and then he went back with the script and asked them to play themselves. This is a method we had been using for around 25 years. Heís been very criticized for that especially in, maybe, professional circles. But now he is doing with small video cameras, so many people nowadays are introducing fictional elements into storytelling, in documentaries.

The film from Finland is very common among the Nordic countries and Nordic film people. They always say that the grass is greener by the neighbour, and I think that goes for us as well. If I should nominate a country as the strongest documentary country in the Nordic I would probably, not only from the historical, but also from todayís perspective, point at Finland. And these two Finnish films I think are very exemplary of a high quality in this countryís production. The film The Zarís Officer is a masterpiece in how to keep a rhythm and tell us a story on the basis of beautiful photographs without being bored. You really get the atmosphere and even after the film you donít really know who he was. But it doesnít matter, I donít think so. Antti Peippo† is a big name, heís not alive any more, is a big name in Finnish documentary heís shooting. The Wood Cutters maybe is a clichť about Finland. This is also very typical for Finnish documentary, strong, very disciplined way of telling a story, very brief way of telling a story. It is about a person who doesnít talk, because they donít talk that much in Finland, so that is a clichť connected to that.

The Norwegian Anja Breien is of course to many of you a well known director in fiction, and well itís just a nice film also from the happy end of the 60ís when they were making fun of rituals. Thatís nothing special about the film, I think itís actually not only a Norwegian film like that, it had also been done in Denmark- making fun of ourselves and the authorities, etc. And that kind of film would probably still be made, maybe not like that because style has changed. But anyhow, the film had a lot of humor. It is up to you I think to judge that from films from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. You saw one yesterday and Iím sure you will agree when you have seen this four films that† thereís nothing wrong with the quality of documentaries in our countries nowadays. Apart from one all of them are long documentaries and that is, I think, typical for the documentaries in the Nordic. Again, the combination of the market and the length of the films. Thereís no need to hide that, of course, Stockholm 75 is 58 minutes, that War from Denmark is 55 minutes, and Balance from Norway is 52 minutes, they all have to fit into the main distributive of documentaries today. The films that you saw from the 60ís and 80ís had another distribution channels, they were shown in cinemas before fiction films, this is no longer happening. Television is dictating the length for good or for bad, this is how it is and thereís no reason to go away from that and from that reality. I think the only way you can change that is to try change the television or make new television channels. You just had this workshop before for four days and they asked for those channels which are flexible and channels which are doing high quality documentaries. First of all, the French-German channel ARTE, which is the leading documentary channel in Europe for sure.

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