There are films (usually directed by David Lynch) in which absolutely nothing happens. Nothing. There is no story, no characters, no development. Still, the power of the vision is so strong and has such an artistic imprint that they become masterpieces nonetheless.
Documentaries, as anyone who got a chance to stay for a Q&A here at the IDFA knows, don’t work like that. Apart from a few filmmakers and hi-tech nerds who ask which type of camera was used to shoot a movie, questions are never about the process of filmmaking, or about the director and his/her work. The better the documentary, the more curiosity there will be about its what it portrays, or even better about what has happened afterwards - what is happing right now, during the Q&A, to the protagonist of the film.
The problem with reality, indeed, is not only that the control of a director over it is extremely limited, but that it will always and inevitably be more interesting than the director him/herself. And it goes on, far beyond what a documentary can capture. Documentaries are a tricky art, if we want to consider them an art, and one of the branches of the cinematic universe. They are an even trickier form of journalism, if we want to consider them primarily as a source of information - a way of knowing what’s going on in the world outside. On one hand, they don’t have a tenth of the control that artists and fiction directors have over their work. On the other hand, although they can dig deep into the causes, the background of something, they cannot stay and follow a story forever. They are not journalists who write for a newspaper for 20 years, they are limited in time.
On the plus side, they don’t have to cope with the scariest thing directors face in life: writer’s block. There are so many stories out there, and reality is so incredible, that no documentarist will ever be able to tell all the stories he/she wants to tackle. And if in the end stories get all the attention to the detriment of the documentarist’s work, no big deal: it just means that it’s so well told that the stylistic devices disappear behind the strength of the content.
Editorial Nisimazine IDFA 2010 #4
By Marta Musso (Italy), Tuesday 23 November 2010 | Editorials | | [en]