How to report on reality

Documentarians of words and images often think alike. Take for example Werner Herzog and Ryszard Kapuscinski, two masters of reportage.

“Shah of Shahs”, by Kapuscinski, immediately grabs you tight. You experience the world written about with your own skin, you care.

From the very first moment of this reportage the author puts his own sensitivities center stage. In the very first chapter he does not describe the reality he is supposed to report on: instead he describes his inability to grasp it. In the second chapter he writes about three photographs and while he describes each accurately the heart of “the photographs” story are his own imaginary scenes about possible (and absolutely likely) scenes leading to their taking or following them. From the very beginning of this story the approach is subjective, imaginary, poetic. So why do people moan and groan now about his supposed transgressions from reporting the facts, about not belonging to documentary but rather fiction?

Kapuściński’s personal approach chimes with Herzog’s who’s master-class I attended a few weeks ago.

Herzog says that since nobody can describe truth, we have to be a little vague.

We can’t find the real truth but still should strive to approximate it. That’s why one should seek the ecstatic truth as opposed to the cinema verite truth.

Furthermore, facts do not constitute truth. Cinema verite was too much based on facts. So, don’t be a fly on the wall, admonishes Maestro. We should be thorns that pierce. Be a director. Be a film MAKER - inspires this almost 68 years old wonderfully alive and insane maverick in his 3 hour long intense lecture.

What’s also interesting is Herzog’s approach to literature. He unequivocally claims that nowadays one cannot be a filmmaker without voracious reading.

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