Welcome to Verzio8
In the universe of omnipresent images that shape our worldviews, affect our judgments, and influence our actions, documentary films claim a special status. Their power grows from the mutual trust that the filmmakers, subjects, and the audience develop for each other. This trust is fragile and transient, and it does not always emerge. The films selected for this year’s Verzio program all succeed in building it - each in its own way. Provocative, stunning, subjective, eye-opening, controversial – they set out to explore the world as it changes in front of the filmmakers’ cameras. “Transformation” is the thread that connects the films in this year’s festival. The opening film, Our School, follows an effort to change the practice of segregating Roma children in Romanian schools. The thread runs across a variety of themes in International and Hungarian panorama and in the multiple retrospectives, and through our closing film, Waste Land, which addresses the transformative power of socially-conscious art.
The festival features almost sixty documentary films that tell the stories of lives shaped by military conflict, globalization, the long shadow of history, and surprising personal choices. A Dutch woman joins a Columbian guerilla army (Closing in on Tanja), a Russian businessman becomes an unlikely prisoner of conscience (Khodorkovsky), a Palestinian informer for the Israeli secret services wrestles with the consequences of his actions (The Collaborator and his Family) – all see their lives transformed by choices made in challenging, hostile environments. Children are especially vulnerable, and the films about an Indian slum-dweller (Marathon Boy), a homeless mother in Nicaragua and her newborn daughter, (Karla’s Arrival), and American teenagers expelled from a strict religious community (Sons of Perdition) all tell gripping stories of struggle for survival and independence.
Some documentaries go beyond individual stories to trace larger themes as the global economy continues to transform our lives. Europolis examines how the shifting tides of commerce turned what was once the third-largest port in Europe into just another sleepy town on the Danube delta, while documentary When China Met Africa looks at how China is using its growing stature as an economic superpower to shape the future of Africa. There are stories of urgent political struggles, like regime change (Staging a Revolution), and the long-term, uncertain problems faced by those working to find an eternal resting place for highly toxic nuclear waste (Into Eternity). The transformation of gender conventions is approached in the very different contexts of the Latvian Pride Parade (homo@lv) and in urban Kabul, where a determined filmmaker-policewoman (Kabul Dream Factory) decides to use film as a tool for the emancipation of Afghan women. In addition to the International Panorama, there are eight recent Hungarian documentaries on the schedule, which address the changes in Hungarian society in both urban and rural contexts.
Our supplementary programs and retrospectives are numerous and diverse this year. One of them introduces the works of the prominent Czech filmmaker Helena Třeštíková, known for her special interest in long-term transformations compressed into a feature film format. Filmed over the period of 15, 20, or even 25 years, her documentaries make the destinies of her protagonists unfold in palpably condensed time, producing a profound and lasting impact on the audience. The series “Windows to the Past: Balkan War Reflections” takes a hard look at the long evolution of the traumatic memories of the wars in former Yugoslavia. And the “Archive and Evidence” series considers the power of archival footage as used in a range of films that rely on previously unreleased official recordings (The State of Weightlessness, You Don’t Like the Truth – 4 Days in Guantánamo), offer original reinterpretations of period material (The Siege, Granito), or a new look at private family footage (The Maelstrom). The Visual Lab program continues this year, focusing on documentaries and teaching. Our special guests are Thomas Lahusen and Gulzat Egemberdieva from University of Toronto, with their latest film The Interim Country. Verzio also maintains its commitment to engaging young people in film, with special screenings aimed at high school students.
While our world is in flux, these films offer insights into the lived reality of these rapid changes, and challenge us to play a more active role in shaping the ways they affect all of us, here and now.
Verzio Program Director
Deceiving the Eye?
It seems as if the authority of the documentary film were based on an optical illusion: as if the film allowed the viewer to look into reality, unhindered, as if reality were tangible. The projected document, supposedly, is not an artifact, a representation, as it does not stand in place of reality; it does not recall the absence of it, but in fact allows the viewer to be present somewhere, where he or she was not present in the past. The function of representation is not only to evoke absence but to make visible something that is not present. Unlike representation, which invokes reality that is not around any longer, the documentary film – this is how the assumption goes – shows reality itself.
The documentary film is perceived as if it were a close relative of the trompe-l’oeil that offers the illusion of three-dimensionality, as if we were not being confronted with an image – the representation of reality – but with reality itself. A painting, even a hyperrealist one, produced with artistic ambition, does not aim to produce the illusion of the viewer peering into the unmediated world out there. The painting, the image, made with the ambition of an artist, is obviously an interpretation of the depicted object. The trompe-l’oeil – seemingly – tries to persuade the viewer to uncritically accept the illusion, while a painting by an artist urges the viewer to continue the interpretative work of the artist. The optical illusion eliminates the distance between the model and the image, dissolving the referential relation between the object and the copy. The perfect illusion of direct access to reality does not, however, provide the undistracted joy of recognition; on the contrary, the viewer is confronted with the lack of the promised unmediated access, as the manufacturer of the illusion wants to exhibit his technical virtuosity, and despite all efforts to the contrary, cannot and does not even want to hide the fact that what he produced was nothing but a perfect illusion.
It is not just life but the filmmaker, too, who writes the documentary film, even when s/he he tries to remain in the background, as if s/he were trying to create the impression that the events had simply unfolded in front of the passive camera. The documentary leaves or opens a distance between the events unfolding in front of the camera and the finished film, in order to let the viewer continue the interpretative work of the filmmaker. At the same time, - using visual, narrative and other documentary techniques – the film(maker) tries hard to prove that the depicted incidents of the past are not just fictional renderings, but recorded events that did in fact take place in reality. The documentary is but the cut, edited, interpreted slice of events in the past that keeps a distance even when it consciously and calculatedly does not use techniques of estrangement. The filmmaker, by giving her or his name, takes personal responsibility for both the reality of the depicted events and their interpretation. Thus the authority of the documentary does not rest on the illusion of unmediated access but on the correspondence between the event and its interpretation. The filmmaker should persuade the viewer that although we see the events through his or her optics, s/he has not tried to force an inadequate reading on reality. The filmmaker sees in lieu of us, to help us form a picture of those events that, although they concern us, took place without our presence.
director, OSA Archívum