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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Each choice is a fiction

The documentary is always a sort of creative adaptation of reality, regardless of whether the camera acts as "a fly on the wall" or a voice-over commentary intervenes and interprets the pictures for the viewer. In Filmmaskinen (1979) Jørgen Leth phrases it a bit differently:

Each choice is a fiction. That's how it is in my consciousness, anyway. Innocence is irretrievably lost (Leth, 1979, p. 123; our translation).

Further down the same page in Filmmaskinen, Jørgen Leth also writes: "Like a membrane, style (a series of choices) is pulled down over the authentic material." But the main issue must be how thick this membrane is – whether reality, so to speak, suffocates. And that depends on the degree of intervention, how the cinematic technique is used, and how the material is edited.

All documentaries are somewhere in between inventing and capturing reality, between the subjective and the objective, and although the distance between the two poles is short, you should reflect on where your film is placed between these poles. To what extent is your film obliged to depict reality? Are you inventing your own representations of real life in order to make reality more distinct? Are you placing authentic people in situations that they wouldn't otherwise have been in (as is the case with Nanook in Robert Flaherty's classic documentary Nanook of the North (1920-22))? Are you writing their lines and instructing them on playing themselves (as in Jon Bang Carlsen's It's Now or Never (1996))? Are you arranging tableaux or events which the characters take part in? Asking yourselves questions of this sort is essential in order to elucidate which form of modality you prefer in your film.



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