Upgrading Reality

EFA Master Class RUHR with Nino Kirtadzé and Peter Liechti

by Oliver Baumgarten

This year`s European Film Awards began in Unna Massimo, a former refugee settlement right in the heart of Germany’s Ruhr Metropolis - at least for the 23 young filmmakers from across Europe who accepted an invitation by the European Film Academy and RUHR.2010 to participate in the four-day EFA Master Class RUHR. As a closing highlight of the training project, they all attended the European Film Awards Ceremony in Bochum’s Century Hall (Jahrhunderthalle) on Saturday night. But the days before also offered a busy agenda for this group of nominees for EFA Short Film and European Discovery 2009 as well as students from different film and media schools in North Rhine-Westphalia: ifs - internationale filmschule köln, Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln and Fachhochschule Dortmund.

Nino Kirtadzé

Nino Kirtadzé

After breakfast on Thursday morning, the Master Class started with a first session in the settlement’s conference building, a five-hour workshop with documentary filmmakers Nino Kirtadzé and Peter Liechti. While Georgian-born director Nino Kirtadzé won the European Film Academy Documentary Award in 2005 with THE PIPELINE NEXT DOOR, her Swiss colleague Peter Liechti was to receive this award on Saturday in Bochum. He was to be honoured for his film THE SOUND OF INSECTS, a film essay based on a novel by Shimada Masahiko about a man who starved himself to death in the forest.

The documentary is more popular than ever, just among this year’s nominated short films there were five documentaries. The majority of the participants therefore were in some way familiar with documentary work so that the Master Class “What can we learn from documentaries” acquired a very practical meaning, i.e. what can the documentary teach us about filmmaking in general?

Peter Liechti

Peter Liechti

One example is the characterization of protagonists for in documentaries the creation of convincing characters is just as important as in feature film. In this context, Peter Liechti’s THE SOUND OF INSECTS offered a very special challenge: the main character, the man starving himself to death in the woods, is never seen. He has to be characterised using only the spoken text, sound and the atmosphere of the images since Liechti had decided early on not to work with an actor. “My film is the attempt to re-experience what has happened,” says the director, “because my reason to start this project was that I didn’t understand why this man acted like he did.” Peter Liechti was therefore looking for appropriate images and particularly for a corresponding sound concept: “from the beginning on I collaborated with musicians and composers. Even for the noises I first wanted to find a musical solution that could later be mixed with original sound. In the text the protagonist is portrayed as an educated global citizen with a strong affinity for classical music, especially for Johann Sebastian Bach. That’s why Bach became the centre of the entire soundtrack, we always return to his music.”

Participants

Participants

The Swiss director collected about 60 hours of film material to illustrate the novel’s text (of which he used roughly two thirds). With the help of editor Tania Stöcklin it then took him eight months to create the final 88-minute version. “I never edit myself. I’m always there but I need an editor as a partner, as my alter ego, a person with the necessary distance to the material”, Liechti explains. While shooting he writes a sort of diary already outlining a possible editing structure. But he doesn’t start the edit while shooting: “I am a different person when shooting than when I edit”. Mixing the two he doesn’t think practical.

Peter Cowie

Peter Cowie

British film historian Peter Cowie who moderated the session showed an excerpt from Nino Kirtadzé’s THE PIPELINE NEXT DOOR about a Georgian village effected by a US company’s construction of a pipeline: the boss of the company’s Georgian branch visits the village’s inhabitants and answers their questions - an unequal encounter. “How will these two worlds, the dreamy, imaginative Georgians and the very pragmatic Americans, get along”, is how Nino Kirtadzé describes her interest in the subject. “It was a little like a war of the worlds and I wanted to portray this difference”. Scenes like the visit of the oil magnate can easily be portrayed with a certain social tendency, as participant Valéry Rosier from Belgium points out. Did she want to underline social injustice? “I’m not obsessed by a will for denunciation”, Kirtadzé answers. „I’m interested in portraying the complexity of a situation. How can these different people live together in the same world? That’s what I was interested in, not so much in accusation”.

Participants

Participants

So what can we learn from documentaries? First of all, something about reality, namely that it is to be found everywhere but not in documentaries themselves. “If you want to see reality, stay out of cinema, Peter Liechti states. Documentaries are not about reality, they are “upgraded reality”, as Nino Kirtadzé puts it. “When we talk about documentary film, we are talking about elements of reality. The way how you combine these elements makes it your film.” Participant Iris Olsson, nominated for her short documentary BETWEEN DREAMS, puts it in a nutshell: “Documentaries don’t convey truth, they convey a point of view.” This is also what appeals to Peter Liechti when it comes to cinema in contrast to television and its infotainment. “Films are more than just information. Films are always interpretation”. And still: The subject of a documentary remains reality. But what’s fascinating about that?, Peter Cowie wonders. The stories in fiction, replies Liechti, are becoming more and more stereotypical. “Reality, however, is much more surprising, so extraordinary that we could never invent it ourselves”.

So what can we learn from documentaries? The sharpening of our point of view, adjusting of our perspective. For a filmmaker, that’s already half the battle.

Pictures: Daniel Gasenzer/RUHR.2010

The EFA Master Class RUHR was a project of the European Capital of Culture RUHR.2010 “Essen for the Ruhr” in co-operation with the European Film Academy.