Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sergey Dvortsevoy: "Film Is Closer to Music Than Literature" | GreenCine

Sergey Dvortsevoy: "Film Is Closer to Music Than Literature" | GreenCine

Why did you make a fiction film?

Sergey Dvortsevoy: I like documentaries, but I want to go deeper into relationships between people. And I feel a very strong ethical barrier, because the deeper you want to go, you're using someone's life, and this is a private life. You make a choice - to go there, which means you can destroy somebody's life, and for me the problem is that I destroy myself also, because I feel that I can do everything, I feel that I can do anything I want with people.

Documentary for me is like some kind of absurdity. The worse for people it is, the better for the director. At the same time, the most interesting films you see are on the borderlines. Documentary is only on the borderlines for me. This is why I've decided to stop making them for now, because maybe I'll continue. The most important problem for me is the ethical problem.

Also, there is the problem that more and more television people are running foundations that give money to documentaries. So it is more and more difficult to convince them to give money. When I asked for money for my previous film, In the Dark, there was a young woman directing a foundation, and she asked me, "Why do you need so much time to make this film?" I told her, "When you see my films, you'll understand. It's very difficult to shoot like this. You need time for this. It's not possible to shoot it during one week." She said, "Our commission says you don't need this time."

You have to prove all the time that you are not a camel. The problem is that people funding films are more and more people who do not understand this. They deal with video mostly, and they think that everything is possible, very quickly.


They want documentaries to fit into a commercial business model.

I understand that, but at the same time, I don't want to make films only for TV. It's different for a director. It's a different dramaturgical composition, a different picture, different sound. Of course, I do make films for television as well. But these are the two main problems for me - the ethical problem and technology. In Moscow, now there are more and more television programs. I can't call them films. They are more and more reportage. I was on the jury at a festival in St. Petersburg, and saw many films, different international films, all of them one half hour. And they are the same. You understand that people don't care about dramaturgical composition. You don't feel energy. You don't feel what you feel on film. They make them like bricks, and you don't feel who made this brick - no author, nothing - information, that's all. It must be interesting for some audience, but this is not for me. I don't want to make simple TV programs.

You have sheep giving birth in this film. How many pregnant sheep did you have to choose from?

We had a herd of a thousand sheep - and I knew we could not shoot this scene without having our own herd, and having our own shepherd. When sheep are about to give birth, they run away from people. It's very hard to follow them, and especially if you want to shoot this kind of scene, when they give birth.

We spent the first two weeks with the crew, because the camera people were ready to shoot immediately. Sometimes it's very important not to shoot, and to stop people, just because they want to shoot immediately. This was a Polish crew and they said, "Come on, Sergey - you see this donkey, you see this sheep, you see how it's good. Let's shoot this sheep giving birth immediately."

I have a lot of experience in documentaries with animals. I know that if you will wait, if you analyze a situation, if you try to understand how to shoot, and you plan how to shoot this, you'll shoot it much better. We spent the first two weeks just following sheep with a small camera, with a video camera, and then with a big camera, because I told them that. I told them that it must be one shot, one take, no cuts inside. And also because of language in telling the story. That was very hard.

We had a special system. Our shepherd had a radio. He was all the time with the sheep, with this herd, and the whole time I also had a radio and was listening to him. He'd say, "Sergey, there is a sheep and she is ready to give birth." We had a car, an old-fashioned car outfitted for emergencies. If the shepherd said, "Okay," we would move - we would put the springs behind the actor's [Ashkat Kuchincherikov's] ears, because unfortunately he had very small ears. It was very hard to do this, because it took one and a half hours to place these springs.

Will you ever make another documentary?

I'm not sure. I have to have a strong motivation to make a film. I don't have motivation now. It can only be a film about me or about some people close to me. I'm not ready now, but we'll see. I like documentaries, but this contradiction with documentaries for me now is too strong.

When you create every piece of something, you see that it's a parallel life. Of course, you understand that it's made of nothing. Actors have played for you, but it's what you have thought up in the kitchen, in fact, with friends or just by yourself, but you see that in this life there is something very serious. You catch something, you can tell something very serious, sometimes stronger than in documentary.

Errol Morris: "The Photographs Actually Hide Things From Us" | GreenCine

Errol Morris: "The Photographs Actually Hide Things From Us" | GreenCine

What I think is so amazing about that is that, through the course of the film, you deconstruct the photos. You interview all these people, you uncover all this evidence from these witnesses, yet the only crimes that were prosecuted were those that were photographed, the ones that had the visual evidence, the ones that were seen by the public.

EM: But it gets even worse than that. I have this essay coming out in the New York Times this week on Sabrina's smile, the photograph of her with her thumb up, the smile and the body of [Manadel] al-Jamadi. Now I remember seeing this photograph for the first time and thinking, "God Lord, what is this? It's monstrous."

She didn't kill him. A CIA interrogator either killed him or was complicit in his death. The brass of the prison was involved in a cover-up. In the log, he's described as Bernie, from Weekend at Bernie's, the body which people have to get rid of. It's an inconvenience because they don't want to be, in any way, implicated in his death. He's the hot potato being shuffled about.

Sabrina takes these photographs as an act of civil disobedience, to provide evidence of a crime. In her letter to Kelly, immediately following this whole deal, she says, "The military is nothing but lies. I took these pictures to show what the military's really, really like." And here's the weirdness of it all. The people responsible for al-Jamadi's death, the people responsible for covering up a murder, skate. Sabrina spends a year in jail.

I think this is the heretical thing. It's not just that the photographs direct us in a certain way, but they actually hide things from us. They make us think that we know a story when in fact we don't know the story at all, or we know the wrong story. It's endlessly fascinating to me and I would like to set the record straight. That represents to me an incredible miscarriage of justice. Taking a picture of a body to expose the military and to expose a crime, to me, is not a crime. Murder is a crime.


EM: I kept thinking about baking a cake. I have all my ingredients in front of me. I have the photographs, the digital photographs. I have the digital files from Abu Ghraib so, anachronistically, I put a light border on them. There shouldn't be a light border on them but I wanted somehow to say visually to the audience: These are uncropped, these are the photographs, bam! There they are. They're all squarish, more or less, squares with light borders, you see them floating around and so on. And of course the letters. Sabrina's letters are other pieces of evidence from the Fall of 2003. And I had Sabrina read each of the letters. Then I have the interviews, everyone shot with the same background, lit differently. And then the illustrations or reenactments, taken from the things that people say.

So when Diaz says to me, "A drop of al-Jamadi's blood fell on my uniform," I had this one moment shot in ultra-slo-mo with a thousand-frame-per-second camera, the Phantom V9. It's not reenacting anything, it's bringing you into that moment in his interview. For what it's worth, I remember when it was said, I heard it for the first time, I'm listening to Diaz and he's really trying to explain his own feelings at that moment, his feelings of complicity: I am involved but I'm not involved but I am involved. And I started to identify with him. I think, don't we all feel exactly like that? I'm not involved in this but I am involved in this. And the drop of blood becomes a way of bringing you in, of hearing that line and thinking about it.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Lance Hammer: "Achieving Truth" | GreenCine

Lance Hammer: "Achieving Truth" | GreenCine

What I ultimately decided to do is make a film about very universal and fundamental existential concerns like grief, sorrow, hope. I designed a process that would recruit people that live in these places that we were gonna shoot, that would bring the specifics, either in more subtle ways like their physical comportment and choices of words - I think that's a more direct way, the actual things that are said - and hopefully the very complicated subtleties of place that deal with race, deal with the brutal history of this place would be communicated through people who have the authority to communicate that. That's not me. But I think, obviously when you do turn a camera on there you have to tackle the subject. And I'm white and the characters are black, so a lot of thought has to be given to how you pursue a process like that. Accuracy was very important to me. I relied upon the collaborative process with the actors and the people from the region to bring their own experience to the film as much as possible. ...

The actors never saw the script, so we would rehearse everything. Talk about it verbally, create the language, re-create the scene, if necessary, and then go and shoot it. So we were always rehearsing in advance of what we were shooting, and then the next day we'd shoot it, and then be rehearsing something else. The actors never knew what was gonna happen next. That was very important, that they had no idea where it was going. They had some forward vision; they would see what was gonna happen tomorrow, because they'd rehearsed it already today. But they really had no idea what was gonna happen, and that was very important, because that's the way life is, right? You don't know. It was important to keep the actors in that state. It'd be hard to do with professionals, because they'd have to read the script first to sign on to it, they'd have to know what their character was going to do because maybe they wouldn't want to put themselves in that position... Another argument for non-professionals.

...A lot of stuff doesn't work. Usually, when the actors try to act, that's because what I've written is not true, and so they have to try and do something that's artificial and not familiar to them. And those scenes didn't work, and they've been cut from the movie. ...

How do you prevent a film like Ballast to avoid presenting a touristic view on poverty or hardship?

I think the suffering part of it is about death, and it's a very simple primal thing and it's shared by everybody. A fear of death, and sympathy for those who experience death. I feel a very direct connection to that. It's not tourism; this is me, and the writing came from me, and I'm not touring. The site-specific conditions, in this case poverty - that comes from a desire to achieve accuracy of a place. I'm not interested in touring that either. I'm interested in, again, in a documentarian's approach to a place. This detachment that we have, and objectivity, and emotional impartiality, never using the camera as the point of view of one of the characters. I'm interested in being as emotionally removed from the subject as possible, which is a paradox because I'm supremely interested in the emotion of the characters. But in order to achieve that I have to have impartiality. The locations were found. What you see is not constructed. They're real - that's a way to protect yourself from being a tourist. So in a lot of ways this is a documentary in a sense. You travel through a place, you record. The photography of what's there is the truth. And you don't comment on it. It's just a context. That was my attempt. That's how I approached it.