A nightmare of a documentary filmmaker.

A nightmare of a documentary filmmaker:   For some reasons I am publicly showing a documentary by a noted Polish feature film director Krzysztof Zanussi.  Mr. Zanussi did make a few docs, but is known for his features and one of them -  “Illumination” floored me when it first came out.  I remember that watching it made me feel that I was hooked into the very center of being, whatever that meant.  I am a bit afraid to re-watch it now.  

Anyway,  the subject of the documentary is not revealed in the dream.   I suspect that it wasn’t even a real film.  It was “something out there”, unspecified.   

The documentary is screened in front of a large audience, in an open space, somewhere in between a cluster of drab, tall post-communist apartment buildings from the 1970-is, the setting still typical in many smaller and bigger cities in Poland.  Think Kieslowski’s “Decalogue” and you will get the picture.  

Somewhere behind a screen, the sun is picturesquely reaching the horizon.   Because of the angles of the buildings it is hard to it see from a platform where Zanussi and I sit.  The platform is a makeshift to accommodate the event, something clearly improvised.  The screening is not very formal.  

I am making a public introduction to the film saying that we don’t know if the shape of the film is the result of the filmmaker having a lot of material and then narrowing it down to the present shape or just shooting very judiciously and carefully.  When I sit down, the screening begins.  

I want to be near the guest and because of that I have to position myself in such a way that I don’t see the screen (it’s blocked by an edge of the building).  Zanussi on the other hand sits on the platform in such a way that he sees the screen.  However he seems to be more concern about what I just said than with what’s in front of him. 

With irony and almost contempt he repeats to me what I just said about the option of shooting plenty to edit with.  Somehow he finds it ridiculous, untrue and really harmful to understand his process.  Pretty soon, not paying attention to the screening, we exchange the arguments pro and against such a manner of filmmaking.  I try to support what I said with my own experiences, among others from working - as an qual- which I stress, with Chuck Workman, an Oscar winner for his “Precious Images”, a short documentary, the editing ode to Hollywood.  Zanussi doesn’t buy it, and his reaction further strengthens my inner suspicion that bringing up this argument  reveals my weakness and low self-esteem. 

I feel inadequate, like shit. 

What does it all say?  This dream?   That metaphorically speaking I don’t see the screen?  That I am stuck in the old ways with the people of the old?  (Zanussi is old but I am not a spring chicken myself.)  That it all happens in a post-communist projects like settings?  The setting of the mind?  My mind?

After I wake up (with a terrible headache, probably induced by a stupid decision of not drinking any coffee the day before) I try to forget the dream and the headache by checking FB.  

The thing that catches my attention is a post about the new book dealing with the devastation of the post-communist transformation in small Polish cities.  Somehow the landscape from this book (the book is getting raved reviews) chimes in my mind with the setting from my nightmare. 

A strange connection.   Can a dream foreshadow the upcoming internet perusal?  Of course, why not.  After all dreams are meant to foreshadow, so what’s the real question here?  The question is I think: how can I stop thinking in the old ways?  Can I be fresh and look at the world anew?  And if so what does it mean?  

Is it relevant that I am talking about somebody’s else film not seeing it?  (Which would reveal ignorance and a lack of focus).  Being blocked by architecture?  (Meaning positioning myself unwisely, so that I don’t know what I am talking about), trying to be nice to a quest - that’s what causes me not to see the screen.  That’s the lesson number one.  

The lesson number two is that I project onto his work my own limited understanding of what’s possible in the craft of documentary filmmaking.  Cleary that’s inadequate and limited.  To my clumsy introduction he reacts with sneering.  Rightfully so.  His authority (he made a few fantastic films) tells me that I should shape up, that my ways are faulty, inappropriate, lame, shallow.  Now,

that’s enough to make a filmmaker shiver in his nightmare.  

Thinking back I realise why Zanussi: last night, already fighting with the headache I started watching the film “Rose” directed by Wojtek Smarzowski.  Years ago the film made a huge impression on me, and somehow I kept it in my mind as one of the best Polish films ever.  Watching it last night reinforced this opinion.  I noticed that one of the film producers was Zanussi.  That explains “casting” him in the dream. 

The nitty gritty of the dream however is: how to tell a true life story (in a documentary but not only).  Do we gather the material and figure out what it means later or do we go boldly with a preconceived notion what we want to say and shoot accordantly?  

I don’t know. 

The nightmare of a documentary filmmaker.