Fiction truer than non

How much fiction is allowed in a documentary? A recent biography of the famed reporter Ryszard Kapuscinski (“Non-fiction” by Artur Domosławski) brings forth the issue with gusto, power and craftsmanship. Being half way through this book I do not understand the controversy it has caused. Supposedly Kapuscinski betrayed the reportage pact with his readers by embellishing reality, fictionalizing events and dramatizing situations.

Back in my Film School days during a seminar with W.J. Has one of the students was feverishly attacking a film scene for being not realistic. Has allowed the exalted student to finish, looked at him for a long time, sighed and quietly asked: “and what is reality?

Indeed. What is reality? How to talk about it? Does a documentarian (using either written words or moving images) need to show events as they are or rather their essence? If we stick with the “as they are” concept, we still need to answer the following: “as they are” to whom? Can representation be devoid of its maker? What is objectivity?

Isn't "objective" just another word for "subtle"? Isn't subjectivity in actually a bow to reality, which in our human perception is always personal?

Perhaps objective does not exist. Perhaps a good documentarian has to be a poet and a storyteller. The differences between (good) subjective reporters and (good) objective ones could only be quantitative.

Some of the poets work so subtly that they are called “realists”, “cinema verite” stylists or “objective reporters”. Kapuscinski at first perceived as the realist, according to the current analysis of his work, was in fact a creator, servicing reality with poetry disguised as reporting - in the name of truth.


What's in the air?

Early April, a city in Europe

Three weeks before a havoc creating volcanic cloud descended upon the continent.


The Presidential Crash

Warsaw Presidential Palace

In my currently conducted film workshop I insist that effective storytelling does not present an event but its meaning.

If so, what did crash in Smolensk? Wasn't it a physical manifestation of many tensions that have been tormenting Poland for decades? Perhaps this one:

The unbelievable grandiosity, hatred and hubris have kidnapped Polish politics ever since the country become drunk on a vicious political post-Solidarity confrontation. On the one side there was the conservative, martyrdom fueled, often right wing leaning, catholic church supported populist movement. On the other liberal, “live and let live” democratic, western oriented, progressive, mostly youth supported orientation.

Such telegraphic distinction clearly can’t give justice to the complexities of the new post 1989 nation particularly since both sides claim tradition, progress, social solidarity, modernization and the well being of the citizens as their utmost concerns. Yet, the cores of their distinctively opposite stands were screamingly clear. I was increasingly glued to the TV screen watching dueling political opponents eagerly assuming roles of modern day gladiators - their weapons being wit, quickness, intelligence and cold blood. All employed in the name of the only truth.

The spectacle was reaching such a high pitch that (it surfaces only now in the post-crash reflections) some of its participants felt the need to back off. Yet, the main line of the confrontation continued to escalate. On the front-line were the President and the Prime Minister. Behind them - the presidential cabinet and the government. It was not a pretty picture. A tiring, shameful and unwise spectacle - resulting in belittling of self and millions of co-citizens.

When it became unbearable - it exploded, or tragically (plane) crashed, if you will.

Now the entire country sincerely and profoundly mourns. We weep for the crash victims who were flying to Katyn to pay respect to the 22 thousand polish officers executed there 70 years ago, orders of Joseph Stalin.

We also weep for the fragility of our own existence, for its own mystery, brutality, shortness and incomprehensibility. Last night a former First Lady on a TV show was talking about her warm relationship with the tragically departed First Lady. A talk went smoothly until it turned to the Wife's coffin publicly transported to the presidential palace two days (the time needed to identify her body) after the coffin of her Husband traveled the same route.

As the former First Lady talked about the poignancy of the fact that the Presidential Wife after all will be buried next to her Husband, tears started forming in her eyes. She only managed to say “I would want the same” and choked.

The host, a seasoned TV personality (and the past frequent critic of the departed President’s politics), choked too, not hiding her tears. She was only able to turn to the camera to utter "thank you very much”. The show, in its half time, was cut to black and not resumed.


Where is Pandora?

written and directed by James Cameron

Does the dialogue in “Avatar” at times scream paper? Obviously. Do certain exchanges give off a stink of “let me explain what you are looking at”? Yes. However I registered such pains only a few times during the screening. The rest of the time I was enveloped in awe. Clearly, designing ‘Avatar”, James Cameron had been smoking some heavy duty shit. Thank God for that.

The resulting parable is a truly extraordinary bow to the indigenous traditions and the Gaia concept. Its simple yet powerful ecological message is coupled with a furious cry against the corporate assault on the environment.

Yet its message is extrapolated into another world (which is not a fantasy world as would Slavoj Żiżek want in his New Statement review of the film.) It is extrapolated for a few reasons: first it allows for the post mescaline like visions to attain the status of reality. The world of Pandora is real for its inhabitants and is “narrative real” for the moviegoers (sorry Slavoj). That way the whole issue of whether the “new age” shows the real dimension of reality or is just a mind trip has been solved: Pandora is real enough that a corporation from Earth furiously robs its precious resources, willing to exterminate its population.

In our reality of 2010 Pandora is nothing else than our inner world connected with Gaia (in the film called Eywa). It is as things should be here on our planet if we lived in harmony and respect with nature.

The second reason for placing the “let’s not destroy our treasures” message far away in time and space is our preference to consume Truths via metaphors. A metaphor is a knife and a fork in our feast on Truth. Consuming Truth directly, with our fingers, would lead to death by choking. Or in another words: we are constantly hungry for Truth and yet unable to keep it in our stomachs.

Imagine a planet consisting of moronic beings who, unable to cope with reality, design strange narrative games of diluting Truth so that A: a weak version of Truth can somehow reach their shallow minds, B: once it travels down to their hearts its potency weakens enough that they do ... nothing. Bingo - they know a little bit (a safe amount) and remain idle. Happy consumers.

Or/and we became so jaded that the meal has to be “metaphorised” just to reach us and be properly digested. If art is not the way, we’ve got plenty of substitutes to deafen and numb ourselves with: psychosis, delusions, mayhem and other assorted goodies we serve ourselves with strange gusto - if I may borrow some Freudian sauce from Mr. Żiżek.

It seems that the possibility that Na’vi are us upsets many. This upset may lie beneath the common dismissal of the film (I keep hearing it from many earthlings) - “yeah, the film was beautiful but the story is simply not there, it's full of cliches, it's shallow, not deep enough”. Oh really? So you so very refined moviegoers go to see a Hollywood extravaganza and later complain that it aint’ Dostoevsky? Please!

Some professional intellectuals, especially those bitten by the “leftist” bug, writing about the film equally trip over their own legs. The already mentioned Slavoj Żiżek describes the “Avatar” as “the ordinary world of imperialist colonialism on the one hand, and a fantasy world, populated by aborigines who live in an incestuous link with nature, on the other.

Once sentence - two infuriating wrongs. Why does Żiżek deny Pandora its reality? Perhaps because in a world perfectly balanced and harmonious he and other Marx quoting fellas would have nothing to do. Secondly, why is the harmony labeled “incestuous”? Why does he degrade the harmony of nature? Professor Żiżek - would you please lied down on the coach now - you have some serious issues to work with. It will take many sessions, I am afraid.

“an array of brutal racist motifs: a paraplegic outcast from earth is good enough to get the hand of a beautiful local princess,” - do I read it right? What’s wrong with a paraplegic getting the babe? How dare Żiżek to insinuate that the less fortunate of us can’t get laid with the most beautiful of our women? “Good enough” is clearly sarcastic. As if being crippled prevents somebody from being fully alive. If my fury is politically correct so be it. I wonder what is Żiżek’s whining the sign of? What does it telegraph?

The film teaches us that the only choice the aborigines have is to be saved by the human beings or to be destroyed by them.” - hello! Have we stayed till the end of the film? Doesn’t look like it.

Yet, in later in the review Żiżek returns to his previous form (I am a big fan of his Hitchcock and Kieślowski analysis) discussing what he calls the Hollywood coupling formula. It says that all script events service the main story goal which is the coupling of the heros. Indeed while watching the extended battle finale of “Avatar” I felt it to be a necessary ritual to repair the broken love affair.

Does the finale also mean that getting rid of our sick selves and protecting the planet can’t be achieved without violence? That’s really upsetting.


About fear

A week ego I had a privilege to watch works competing in the final round of the Polish edition of the 2010 Democracy Video Challenge (http://www.videochallenge.america.gov/index.html). One of the two winners already chosen by the Jury (we could vote to select the third one) was a documentary style impression from Belorussia.

The video shows glimpses of students’ life, street commotions, the opposition activities. Among a few characters presented is Aleksander Milinkevich, the opposition leader, a former presidential candidate.

Politics in Belorussia is not for the timid. It’s a tough, brutal and dangerous struggle. It seems that once you start rocking the boat - intimidation, arrests, beatings are possible at any moment. At the end of this short (got to be under 3 min.) piece, the filmmaker asks Milinkevich:

The filmmaker: - Aren’t you afraid?”

The response is immediate, with wide open, curious and warm eyes, containing a mixture of curiosity, amusement, certainty, commitment and power. All communicated with a smile:

Milinkevich: - “Of what?”


Academic resurrections

“The Visitor”
written and directed by Thomas McCarthy

The Easter-Passover spirit has moved me to ponder rejuvenation. Recently I’ve watched two flicks about lifeless academicians overcoming their deadness: “The Visitor” and “Disgrace”. Both are “on the nose” metaphors executed with hugely different skill level. (Why one works much better than the other should be a separate entry). Together with one of my favorites ever - “The Wonder Boys” they belong to this peculiar campus film (is it a genre already?) about a weak eggheads’ struggle to become a mentch.

The Economist in “The Visitor” does not live. He is all shallow and empty pretenses, has no joy, just displays meanness, or carelessness. By the end he has found his own voice and takes a stand.

The Professor in “Disgrace” is a cold blooded manipulative fuck, full of himself with no clue about the other. The unfolding of the film allows him to find humanity embracing the feelings of others in a compassionate way.

The Literature Teacher in “The Wonder Boys” just can’t wake up from the self imposed and degrading wasteful life spin. The finale finds him powerful again.

Each of heros overcomes his spiritual death reaching deep within himself. It is possible when confronting the Outside; either because of a chance meeting (“The Visitor”), personal tragedy (“Disgrace”) or life pressure combined with inspiration from others (“The Wonder Boys”). Each “resurrection” happens as a combination of the inter and the outer.

While religious myths (for their believers - realities) at the core of resurrection place the metaphysical, the will of God, something that acts from Above, the "normal life" stories in the discussed films are driven by a tightly connected dance between the external and the internal. This human level of their metaphorical spin I find truly inspirational in its reality.

Come to think about it, perhaps most film stories with wide and profound audience reach are in fact more or less disguised resurrection metaphors.

If so,

Happy Resurrection Everyone!