HOW THE CREATIVE DOCUMENTARY…

CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE DIGITAL REVOLUTIONIN CAMERA EQUIPMENT

EFA Master Class 2006

EFA Master Class 2006 (Picture: Benedikt Bothe)
(Picture: Benedikt Bothe)

It looks a bit like the setting for the dramatic final scene of a road movie: Deserted wasteland as far as you can see, the ground ripped open and left alone. In the far distance, a gigantic conveyor bridge looms over what was once a rich brown coal reservoir. The EFA Master Class 2006 with Stefan Jarl took participants to Brandenburg in Germany, a region struggling from massive unemployment, the consequences of extensive brown coal mining, and the fact that young people move away for lack of perspectives. The Master Class was based in Lauchhammer/ Kostebrau, a village with 700 inhabitants in an area full of deserted buildings.The first two days saw lectures on different aspects of creative documentary filmmaking by Stefan Jarl, on the importance of editing by Anette Lykke Lundberg and on HD technology by Stefan Ciupek. These were accompanied by screenings of different films by Stefan Jarl and group discussions. The practical aspect was an important part of the Master Class from the beginning on: Participants split up into four working groups on the first preparation day and went on a location tour to identify possible topics for the films they were going to make. Each group then had two shooting days and two days to prepare and edit their film. For the final post-production the entire Master Class moved to Berlin where the results were finally shown in a large screen cinema.

Participants’ reports

HUMOUR GROUP
by Diego Borella

On a Thursday in July, just after lunch, 20 people were shortly introduced to each other and then put on a bus to what seemed a mysterious part of the former GDR. We were the participants in the EFA Master Class 2006 with Stefan Jarl - a 9-day workshop. That was more or less the only thing we knew. Stefan Jarl explained what a documentary is and what a documentary-maker is and what they can be, always linking the technical and aesthetic to the individual, human element. It was remarkable. And it worked.
And we had a second master, another Stefan, Stefan Ciupek who revealed to us the mysteries and miracles of HD technology, making the whole thing sound as easy as drinking beer. And it worked. There we were and suddenly we had to form groups and actually make documentaries. But what around us was worth filming?
Piotr from our group suggested to structure the short documentary with a certain irony - humour can be a good key to approach reality. Loneliness was the subject. Humour was supposed to be
the way. All we needed was the substance. On the two-hour research tour we saw a little boy. Was he lonely? Are most of the kids here lonely? Is it because their fathers all had to look for jobs elsewhere? Maybe, but something was still missing. And then a miracle happened: we saw two kids in a garden, no three, actually six, no seven! What a strange place: A tattooed father shouting from inside, a hyper-talkative grandpa and that army of children. The family had some serious and delicate issues. One of the boys had been through a traumatic experience. Still, there was an absurd happiness in the air. It was obvious: We had our film.
We just needed a premise, and a structure, and we worked on that. Everything was going in the right way. But the family was special indeed. In the morning of the first shooting day, the father refused to participate. We waited, we tried again, but nothing could be done. We had to change our story, go back to the lonely child chasing the father through those brown coal mining deserts.
And that’s what we did, we missed a few essential scenes, and had to constantly change structure. We had to take the best of the good shots out in order to keep the mood we had in mind. “Our” story had become a different story, it had become the story of that boy’s journey from his house to a bigger world, our premise about fatherhood and loneliness had become a statement: “also in a bigger world a kid does not become smaller”.
We were there to experiment with a technology and to develop our documentary language. And we did it, together, from start to end. The constant dialogue with the other participants was a great tool to develop a better understanding of what I want to achieve as a “director” and how I can do it. This Master Class offered us the chance to do something we would never have done elsewhere, and to do it with new friends. It feels as if we have been trained to create problems and educated to solve them. And somehow we did.

OLD GROUP
by Günter Berghaus

We wanted to cover the theme of loneliness with a story about watchmen in the ghostly neon world of nightly Lauchhammer. Most of these old men had worked in the brown coal mines that have long been closed, witnessed an era now gone. And we found a fascinating man, an old miner. But he was not on night watch so we ended in a conceptual conflict. Stefan Jarl asked us if we were going to make a documentary based on concept or on character. So we decided to give up the watchmen idea.
After that decision we faced another challenge: how could we build up a relationship with people we met just hours before? We carefully planned how to approach them with respect. On the next morning, when we arrived, we found our hero repairing his old doorbell with his even older screwdriver. He talked about the character of old things, saying that nowadays things were made to be thrown away while in his entire life he had never thrown anything away! It was strange hearing this because a lot of our work is characterised by constantly re-examining, giving up, throwing out, always on the search - or, as he put it, “You have to move soil to reach the coal!” Our coal, a documentary’s gold, is authenticity and poetry. This scene at the fence was full of it but we didn’t shoot it. The camera was waiting around the corner with the rest of our group which was part of our strategy to win his confidence.
This strategy was the next thing to get rid off, we forgot about it at once. And for our new friends it was fun to have this international group in their backyard. We did some improvisational work with them and filled our HD-tapes with wonderful material.
But how were we going to find something to build up suspense, some action to give us a structure? We arranged it so that our hero, in his original minor-outfit, showed us his former work place which is part of a mining museum today. Within our group this scene led to a serious discussion about authenticity versus arrangement, a very sensitive point, where filmmakers’ philosophies collide and it is difficult to find a compromise. Eventually this lovely scene was thrown out completely - because of its artificiality. That was a painful part of these “hours of truth”, the editing process. Suddenly there no longer is a concept or a strategy to reconsider, throw out and replace. The only thing that you can still throw away is your material and what is left in the end is your film. It was a struggle to find the magic again in our material and we tried five different versions of the film but in the end we decided to go for a simple structure: only the house and garden scenes, combined with voice-overs. And then it became clear, the film is about the wisdom of a man who solves everything with his own hands and keeps the rest outside of his garden, behind his fence. It was an amazing experience to compress a process which normally takes weeks into just a few hours. Considering that time becomes more and more the most valuable thing in a documentary that is something to keep in mind!

TEXT GROUP
by Peter Snowdon

Our ambitious idea was to construct a film out of extracts from the school manuals used in former East Germany to teach civic values. We wanted to counterpoint these fragments with the ruinous-pastoral landscapes around the town of Lauchhammer.
An hour later we had not only the school books, but also an appointment to interview the retired teacher who had lent them to us. Frau Mittag became our guiding light. In her small schoolhouse in Kostebrau - now converted into a museum to life under the old regime - we found not only the moral centre of our film, but dozens of untold stories we could only scratch the surface of. We took turns to frame and light, to boom and mix, to intervene and to withdraw into silence. We broke our collectivist principles and delegated two of our team to film Frau Mittag in the room where she had taught for 40 years, so as not to spoil the intimacy, while the rest of us sat and ate homemade cake with retired miners. We tried to imagine what she might be telling them. When they re-emerged having used up 75% of our tape stock, we got mad. Then we saw the interview, and forgave them.
The dilapidated Kulturhaus opposite our hotel turned out to be a pirate’s chest of images that re-expressed everything Frau Mittag had told us in words. Stefan Ciupek - “the most knowledgeable man in Europe when it comes to high definition” dixit Stefan Jarl - stood with us for hours amid the dust of collapsing ceilings helping us reform our pre-HD ideas about exposure. We filmed abandoned theatres, empty power stations, ridiculously green fields. In the video viewfinder, what you see is what you get. But this was HD. We crossed our fingers, and prayed to the gods of post-production to help us realise our vision.

YOUNG GROUP
by János Richter

In order to research our chosen topic “young group”, we visited the youth club of the neighbouring village, Kostebrau, where we found a community of predominantly nationalist young people who all felt very attached to their home village. None of them seemed to have experienced loneliness. However, we heard about two other youths who were not part of this community - Manuel, the only black teen-aged boy in Kostebrau, and Lietze, his best friend, a former nationalist who had become a punk.
On the next morning we met them and learned that Lietze was about to leave his home village for the next three years in order to undergo vocational training. That gave us the story idea for our film. Although the two were very hesitant, they eventually agreed to help us. Our initial fear was that our protagonists might be too shy to open up. But in fact they acted quite natural in front of the camera.
We had to cut our film under tremendous time pressure and the persistent questions of Stefan Jarl and his editor Anette Lykke-Lundberg turned out to be invaluable in working out a stringent narrative structure. The result of our work was good, especially given the limited time, but somehow our most important gain was not so much the actual film but the process of making it and the opportunity to experiment with HD equipment. It was great to be able to share views with filmmakers from all over Europe and, most of all, to meet Stefan Jarl who showed us his unique and fascinating way of making documentary films.

The EFA Master Class with Stefan Jarl was supported by:
Apple/Final Cut Pro * KOPPFILM GmbH * mmpro film- und medienproduktion * the citizens of Lauchhammer and Kostebrau

MEDIA Plus Programme of the EU * Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg