Before I started writing this opening speech I wanted to find an origo, a point of departure, so I downloaded and read The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I quote: "The peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom."
In thirty articles, The Declaration enumerates those rights which, after the incomprehensible and unparalleled destruction of WWII, needed to be defended and reinforced the most, without which "the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world" could not have been affirmed. What can I say: while the intention and objectives of the Declaration are elevating, its results and implementation are distressing; it is moderate and evident i.e. radical and subversive. I recommend it from my heart for everyone to read, especially in my homeland where the Declaration has never been as topical since the fall of the communist regime as it is today.
It even occurred to me to read it here: it is not a long text, actually it is surprisingly short, barely more than ten thousand characters.
Ladies and gentlemen, the world and the versions of which a serious documentary film festival showcases, are overwhelmingly uncheerful. How could, indeed, these films be cheerful when what they show is precisely the distortion of these rights, their subtle or brutal denial. This is what documentaries do, and they have a lot to do. As for their influence or reach, I don't know. While giving the diagnosis they set examples. The example, for instance, that anyone carrying a camera, microphone, or laptop is an accomplice of injustice if he/she does not make his/her voice heard.
Yes, talking injustice, deprivation of rights, threats means talking about rights as a striking lack of something, a powerful assertion of what is missing. Or, at least, by involving the viewer in the extreme or everyday, horrible or curious stories, the documentary is making an attempt at making this assertion. It provides the opportunity to think about rights, to be outraged and realize the helplessness and the dire situation of the insulted and humiliated, of those different or even more different – than of the changing minorities.
Ad absurdum, we are universally minorities; any part of any majority can find itself in minority any time and then would badly need those rights they ignored or, in worse cases, dismantled and cleared away to achieve their goals. And then, when they will need them, they will be entitled to these human rights – that is why these rights are universal. Although universal, the majority of mankind cannot fully exercise their rights set out in the Declaration 64 years ago. Not in Hungary where the government amended its own constitution just a few days ago to make it harder for the defenseless to exercise their right to vote; where in the coming winter hundreds or maybe thousands will freeze to death in the streets and in miserable unheated homes; where tens of thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands starve and are undernourished, including many children for which one can find explanations but no excuse.
At the words "no excuse" I stopped writing because instead of an opening speech I felt the need to speak, once again, about the disregard for the poor and for those at the bottom of society, about our fraying democracy and crumbling rule of law, about my country; and I didn't feel like it.
I didn't feel like being depressed, so instead I watched Planet of Snail, the South Korean documentary you are going to see in a few minutes. Having finished it I just stared in the air, at the monitor and wondered if I would be able to say anything about universal rights, interdependence, optimism, love that would not sound totally hollow compared to the story of these two young people with severe handicaps. Can I say anything, do words serve anything at all, and would not mankind be a little more solidary and human if one would talk to the other with one's hands and fingers on the hands of the other, slowly, patiently. That is, if by miracle, one's vested interest were to pay attention to the other's spiritual and physical salvation, if one's survival, present and future depended on it – and I could go on saying big words.
Yet, like it or not, it does depend on it.
I started with a widely cited document, and ideal and common denominator, "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations"; now let me finish with John Donne's similarly commonly quoted and topical words from the mid 17th century:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
Lajos Parti Nagy
Past and Present (death and life)
The first known memorial portraits are closely connected to death: they are the funerary mummy portraits from Egypt, which probably served as the model for the later cult of icons of the saints. According to Likeness and Presence, Hans Belting's monumental study: "(M)ost of the early icons were recognized as portraits. But the true portrait originated as a portrait of the dead and retained this function within the cult of the saints as well." From the early Egyptian funerary portraits, via the Roman wax effigies and panel portraits, then the icons of the saints, the later portraits of Christ and the saints have preserved throughout the centuries the close generic relationship between the image and death. This intimate relationship has not disappeared with the advent of photography, the birth of the mechanical image, captured from a distance as if not by human hand. André Bazin perceived photography as an extension of mummification, and Roland Barthes, in his Camera Lucida claimed that "Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe".
It seems that photographic images, and not exclusively of humans, force the viewer into introspection, as if they produced "an image of consciousness that essentially mourns an absent object or person rather than relishing its presence" – as Jean-Michel Rabaté remarked following Barthes' perception. Viewing a photograph – especially on paper – is a solitary undertaking; the relationship to the image is mostly personal and intimate, and the viewer, often without noticing it, is aware of time elapsed since the past presence of the figures and objects in the photograph. Image, the Latin imago, as the legal scholar, Peter Goodrich observed "is not the same as pictura; the word imago means apparition, phantom, ghost…Historically the imago was a funerary image and was the seat of the deceased soul; it was that which remained after the body decayed and in consequence had extraordinary religious significance as relic or vestige, the living remains…".
The documentary film, although like the photograph (especially the traditional, analogue photograph) it primarily records what is in front of the lens, narrates that which it records, and, unlike the photograph, does not just point at the object but elaborates that which it shows. A genuine, authentic documentary film does not allow the viewer to contemplate just on the elapsed time between the recording of the film and the present, but forces the audience to empathize with the protagonists, the unfolding story, to become part of the ongoing events, to take a side, to form a judgment, to draw a (moral) lesson; to continue (thinking about) the recorded and narrated events even after the end of the movie. Documentary films are often about death, but unlike (documentary) photographs they are not intimately connected to (the image of) death. The viewer, even when looking at a photograph of a loved one, even when the image evokes strong emotions, remains distant – although not necessarily detached – as it is almost impossible not to be aware of the passing of time. The documentary film, on the other hand, strives to bring the viewer close to the narrated incidents of the past, persuading the members of the audience (who are usually not watching alone) that what happens on the screen is a matter of present concern, even if the events, obviously and noticeably, took place quite some time ago. The (documentary) photograph is connected to death, the documentary film to our own life.
Director, OSA Archivum
Eyes Wide Open
This year brought ample proof of the disturbing and sometimes destructive power of cinematic images. A mocking anti-Islamic piece of pulp-fiction induced public outcry and indignation in the Middle East, causing over fifty deaths. A hidden-camera video of torture and assault in a Tbilisi prison had a profound impact on the result of the recent elections in Georgia. Right across the globe moving images are moving the masses in the most literal and emotional ways. As the images become increasingly powerful, it becomes all the more important to enhance viewers' competence not only in world affairs but in visual literacy as well, and to address increasingly sophisticating means of putting visual images to a variety of uses.
Verzio International Panorama this year includes a wide range of themes and approaches. We open the festival with a South Korean film Planet of Snail. This rare example of sensual documentary centers on what cannot be seen but only sensed, smelled, touched, and experienced, broadening our understanding of the limits of documentary. This year's program also includes Patricio Guzmán's evocative Nostalgia for the Light, which contrasts astronomers' explorations of cosmic time with the most disturbing discoveries about human history in Chile. 5 Broken Cameras is a years-long account of life in a Palestinian village situated in the shadow of a growing wall separating it from an expanding Israeli settlement. The humorous and disturbing sides of humanitarian development aid in Zambia are explored in a Czech documentary Solar Eclipse. Another film on Zambia, The Carrier, focuses on the drama of an HIV-positive expectant mother in a polygamous family as she struggles to protect her future baby from the disease. The life and future of children is also in the focus of Girl Model, which offers a behind-the-scene glance at the world of fashion. Palazzo delle Aquile follows the plight of 18 Italian homeless families as they occupy the Palermo City Hall, determined to find a solution to their desperate housing situation.
Complementing twenty-four films in the International Panorama, seven recent Hungarian documentaries prove that despite a difficult year of changes, documentary filmmakers continue to keep pace with changing realities in Hungary. Our additional thematic programs this year are "Eyes on Russia," which highlights some of the problems of contemporary Russian society as seen from within and from outside the country, and "Moving Masses," which explores the mechanisms and dynamics of mass movements in different historic contexts and periods. Our guest at the festival crossroads is One World Romania, with which we jointly present the highlights of last year's program as well as a recent Romanian release. Festival screenings are extended this year by the Verzio DocLab workshop, organized in partnership with Finnagora. The workshop offers filmmakers and film festivals an opportunity to present and discuss their work with internationally acclaimed experts in the field of documentary cinema.
The festival closes with Jafar Panahi's This is Not a Film. This important work is a manifesto of filmmaking creativity which can not be imprisoned or stopped even by authoritarian regimes. We chose it to pay tribute to the talented filmmakers arrested in Iran who remain imprisoned up to the present day. But by showing this film we also want to offer powerful evidence of the force of the creative spirit breaking through the limits of politically imposed boundaries as well as of that of the audio-visual medium. The fifty films on this year's program have been carefully selected to be watched, appreciated, and discussed, waiting for you to discover the worlds they make visible, palpable, real.
Verzio Art Director