Evidence: Archival Footage in Documentary

An alluring black and white snapshot of a beautiful, 1970s hippy like family sits on my desk. The photograph, actually sepia in color is slightly frayed on the upper left hand corner, giving the image a more romantic and authentic worth. This photograph was given to me about three years ago by a young Argentine filmmaker when she narrated for me the story of her new documentary; an intimate portrait of her parent's, and ultimately family's, break up. A few days later, inadvertently, but completely unselfconsciously, the Alejandra, the filmmaker, revealed that this was actually not a photograph of her family.

She had found this picture at a second hand bookstore and immediately fell in love with the beautiful young family in it. She imagined that the couple could have been her parents, and the small children, her older siblings. She decided to use this image as proof of her parent's history. That past that existed before she was born, which vividly recreates in her documentary in hopes of making sense about that which she never knew.

Some might call this a silly ploy, or an insignificant attempt by a young artist to get attention. Perhaps. But why have I kept this photo on my desk for all these years? It's a striking image, the couple is quite handsome, but this can't be the only reason. It's a reminder of the past, fictitious, perhaps, but when I look at it I'm reminded of its significance, worth and even 'truth' for Alejandra, as she grapples to understand her family's history.

Bennett Miller's multi million dollar, Hollywood triumph, Moneyball, opens with 'archival footage' of the Oakland Athletics' pivotal game against the Boston Red Sox. It is true that Moneyball is based on a real story (and the non fiction best seller by Michael Lewis), but why does Miller literally begin the film with grainy, archival television footage from a 2001 Oakland A's baseball game when he's making a fiction film starring Brad Pitt? Does Miller also believe that the power of 'archival images' is that it represents truth?

Despite the ubiquitous moving images bombarding our lives 24/7 in the 21st century many still put enormous weight on the absolute credibility of the archival image, why? What makes archival material still seem so convincing on the screen? Oksana Sarkisova and I have selected eight extraordinary documentaries that use archival images to question, confront or reflect on history. Three of these films use archival images as forensic evidence in courts of law, one uses it as a subjective analysis in regards to Hannah Arendt's 'banality of evil' and four use it to rewrite/re tell their country's official history. We invite you to watch these wonderful films with us and help us grapple with the meaning, significance and legitimacy of the archival image.

Bruni Burres
Film Producer and Human Rights Consultant

Algeria, Images of a Fight
Jérôme Laffont / Belgium / 2009 / 52 min / French
“The camera is a weapon,” proves René Vautier, who defied the French-imposed censorship during the Algerian war of Independence and joined the battle of competing images on the side of the independence fighters.
As with all later conflicts, the Algerian War of Independence in the early 1960’s became a high-stakes target in the battle of competing images. Behind the war itself was a media war which was almost as crucial in contesting the sympathy of the world for the opposing points of view. As a counter to the propaganda movies made in support of the French military campaign, a few directors such as René Vautier devoted themselves to documenting the struggle from behind the lines with the independence fighters. Much of this footage – at times moving and at times harrowing, often very beautiful – was banned in France. Much of it has been lost and some even destroyed. A compelling film which raises important questions about the power of filmmaking and the purposes it serves in documenting – or manipulating – reality.

producer: Michel Khleifi
editor: Joachim Thôme
camera:Naël Khleifi
sound: Nicolas Jolym, Matthieu Roche

production info:
Sourat Films Co. & Centre de l'Audiovisuel à Bruxelles (CBA)
28 avenue des Villas, B-1060 Bruxelles, Belgium
tel.: 32 2 375 04 75 / 32 4 73 99 53 18
fax.: 32 2 375 04 75

Centre de l'Audiovisuel à Bruxelles (CBA)
Maison de la Francité, 19f, avenue des Artsm Bruxelles, 1000, Belgique
tel.: +32(0)2/227.22.30 / +32(0)2/227.22.39

Résister n’est pas un crime (2007)
Granito: How to Nail a Dictator
Pamela Yates / USA / 2011 / 103 min / English
What is the role of a documentary filmmaker in the events she chronicles? A 1982 documentary film When the Mountains Tremble becomes forensic evidence to help prove a genocide case against a military dictator.

Granito is a story of destinies joined by Guatemala’s past, and how a documentary film, intertwined with a nation’s turbulent history, emerges as an active player in the present. In 1982, fledgling filmmaker Pamela Yates went to Guatemala to make a movie about the civil war devastating that country. The resulting documentary When the Mountains Tremble centered on guerrillas — including student protestors and indigenous Mayan people — fighting the country’s repressive military government at the time when the outcome of the conflict was uncertain. While filming, Yates was allowed to shoot the only known footage of the army as it carried out the genocide. More than 20 years later, after a change in the government of Guatemala, the country began to investigate the slaughter of the Mayan people, and a war crimes tribunal in Spain even set out to prepare a case to indict the former leaders of the country. Yates realized that excerpts and outtakes from her earlier film might aid the prosecution, and this case forced her to look back and question the role she had played as an observer and filmmaker.

producer: Paco de Onís
editor: Peter Kinoy
camera: Melle van Essen
sound: Richard Fleming, Alvaro Silva Wuth
music: Roger C. Miller

production info:
Skylight Pictures
33 Flatbush Ave, 4th Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11217
tel.: +1 718 797 3125

selected filmography
The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court (2009) / State of Fear (2005) / Poverty Outlaw (1997) / When the Mountains Tremble (1983)
The Maelstrom: A Family Chronicle
Péter Forgács / Hungary & The Netherlands / 1997 / 60 min / English
Family gatherings, birthdays, outings, weddings – a rich family home movie archive. A Jewish Dutch family in the shadow of the Holocaust.

The Maelstrom follows the Peerebooms, a Jewish Dutch family, between 1932 and 1942 via the home movies of one of the sons, Max. With the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the film shifts to comparing the fortunes of the Peerebooms with those of the Austrian family of Reich Commissioner for The Netherlands Arthur Seyss-Inquart. Amateur footage lends immediacy and poignancy to the historical events of the 1930s and 1940s. Additional information is conveyed through subtitles; the soundtrack combines period sound from radio broadcasts with a brooding score by Tibor Szemző. The Maelstrom shows a Jewish family living in the shadow of the Holocaust, but still unaware of what it will ultimately mean.

producer: Cesar Messemaker
editor: Kati Juhász
music: Tibor Szemző
sound: Zsolt Hubay

production info:
Lumen Film Productions
Korte Prinsengracht 17d, NL-1013 GN
Amsterdam, Netherlands
tel.: +31 (0)20 623 26 00

selected filmography
Hunky Blues - The American Dream (2009) / Own Death (2007) / Miss Universe 1929 - Lisl Goldarbeiter. A Queen in Wien (2006) / El Perro Negro: Stories from the Spanish Civil War (2005) / A Bibo Reader (2002) / Angelos' film (2001) / The Danube Exodus (1998) / Free Fall (1998) / Domweg gelukkig (1995) / Wittgenstein Tractatus (1992)
The Siege
Angus Gibson & Miguel Salazar / Colombia & France & USA / 2011 / 88 min / Spanish
34 guerillas, 11 Supreme Court Judges, and dozens of court employees – the death toll of the siege of the Palace of Justice in 1985 in Columbia. Who is to be held responsible?

Bogotá, November 6, 1985. 35 heavily armed members of the M-19 guerilla movement storm the Palace of Justice, home to Colombia’s Supreme Court. Hundreds of people are taken hostage, including almost all of Colombia’s Supreme Court judges. The guerillas have a clear demand – they want the President put on trial. The government refuses to negotiate, and the military open fire on the building. For 27 hours, Bogotá’s central plaza is transformed into a brutal and bloody battlefield, resulting in nearly a hundred deaths, including 34 guerillas, along with eleven Supreme Court judges and many employees of the courts. Twelve others are unaccounted for. Many believe they were “disappeared”—removed from the building by government forces, tortured, and then killed. Twenty-five years later Colonel Plazas Vega, who commanded of the operation, is indicted for their disappearance. The case becomes a touchstone for the integrity of justice in Colombia.

producer: Bruni Burres, David Jammy, Maritza Blanco, Miguel Salazar
editor: Megan Gill
camera: Roberto Quintana, Miguel Salazar, Mauricio Vidal
sound: José Jairo Flórez
music: Camilo Sanabria

production info:
Pivot Pictures
International Center for Transitional Justice
5 Hanover Square, 24th floor
New York, NY 10004-2614

selected filmography
Angus Gibson:
21 Up, South Africa: Mandela’s Children (2007) / Heartlines (2007) / Singing the Changes (1988)
Miguel Salazar:
Stolen Land (co-director) (2009) / The Battle of Science (2007) (co-director) / Hammer (2005)
The Specialist
Eyal Sivan / Austria & Belgium & France & Germany & Israel / 1999 / 123 min / Hebrew & French & German
Edited from over 350 hours of archival footage, the film is a record of the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, the man who coordinated the transport of Jews to the death camps. An insight into the bureaucracy that made the Holocaust possible.

A German in the upper echelons of the Nazi party, Adolf Eichmann was in charge of the expulsion of Jews, Gypsies, and Slavic ethnic groups from the Reich between 1938 and 1941, and then of their deportation from Europe to the death camps. In 1960, he was captured by the Israeli Secret Service in Argentina. His subsequent trial in Jerusalem was one of the first filmed public trials. Eyal Sivan assembled excerpts of this footage to create a tightly edited and compelling documentary about a bureaucrat who fulfilled his duties during a time of war. Eichmann steadfastly insists that his part in the Holocaust was neither active or evil: he was only following orders. Inspired by Hannah Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem, a Report on the Banality of Evil, the film offers profound insight into how the Holocaust was facilitated by bureaucracy and a subservient mindset that allowed people like Eichmann to claim ignorance and shuffle responsibility for atrocious crimes around like so many carbon-copy forms.

producer: Armelle Laborie, Eyal Sivan
editor: Audrey Maurion
camera: Leo Hurwitz
sound: Nicolas Becker, Philippe Baudhuin
music: Jean-Michel Levy, Nicolas Becker, Krishna Levy, Yves Robert, Béatrice Thiriet

production info:
38, rue de la Chine 75020 Paris France
tel.: +33 (0)1 43 66 25 24
Eyal Sivan

Jaffa, The Orange's Clockwork (2009) / Citizens K. (2007) / Route 181: Fragments of a Journey in Palestine-Israel (2004) / I Love You All (2004) / The Specialist (1999) / Itsembatsemba: Rwanda One Genocide Later (1996) / Izkor: Slaves of Memory (1991) / Aqabat-Jaber, Passing Through (1987)
The State of Weightlessness
Maciej J. Drygas / Poland / 1994 / 57 minutes / Russian
Previously classified archival footage from the Soviet space program asks questions about life in space that official reports avoided.
Previously classified archival footage chronicling the Soviet space program: questions about life in space that official reports did not address.
In the same year that we saw the first Russian-U.S. space mission go into orbit, symbolically marking the end of the Cold War's final frontier, filmmaker Drygas takes us behind the scenes of the Soviet/Russian space program. Combining interviews with Russian cosmonauts with never before seen archival footage of the early Soviet space program, The State of Weightlessness explores our place in the universe. Cosmonauts ranging from Herman Titov, who in 1961 became the second man in space, to Valeri Polakov, who spent 241 days in orbit in 1988, reveal facts that were previously suppressed about the life of astronauts before, during, and after missions. These men also divulge the equally carefully hidden dark side of the space program: the enormous fear of death as they left and returned to Earth, and the rigorous medical and psychological experiments that left many maimed for life.

producer: Maciej J. Drygas
editor: Dorota Wardęszkiewicz
camera: Andrzej Musiał, Stanisław Śliskowski
sound: Andrzej Zabicki
music: Paweł Szymański

production info:
Logos Film Studio
90-554 Łódź, ul. Łąkowa 29

One Day in People's Poland (2006) / Stan niewazkosci (1994) / Hear My Cry (1991) / Psychoterapia (1983)
Videograms of the Revolution
Harun Farocki & Andrei Ujica / Germany / 1992 / 106 min / English & Romanian
The Romanian revolution of 1989 and the fall of the Ceauşescu regime, as seen through official and amateur video recordings. The role of image and media in capturing and re-telling recent history.

In the fall of 1989, history was being written across Eastern Europe, including Romania. Demonstrators in Bucharest occupied the television station and broadcast continuously for 120 hours, establishing the television studio as a new historical site. Between the day of Nicolae Ceausescu's last speech on December 21, 1989 and the first televised summary of his trial on December 26, 1989, both amateur and professional cameras recorded events at the most important locations in Bucharest. The filmmakers collected and edited the “videograms” to provide a rigorous chronology of the Romanian uprising and also to tell the story in a new media-based form of historiography. The film is built up of clips from amateur videos, official demonstration footage, and excerpts from a demonstrator-controlled Bucharest TV studio. An investigation into how the mediated image not only records but also embodies historic change.

producer: Harun Farocki
editor: Egon Bunne
music: Bobby Buchler

production info:
Harun Farocki Filmproduktion

selective filmography
In Comparison (2009) / Respite (2007) / Nothing Ventured (2004) / War at a Distance (2003) / The Creators of the Shopping Worlds (2001) / Prison Images (2000) / Der Finanzchef (1998) / Worte und Spiele (1998) / The Interview (1997) / Still Life (1997) / Der Ausdruck der Hände (1997)
You Don’t Like the Truth – 4 Days In Guantánamo
Luc Côté & Patricio Henriquez / Canada / 2010 / 100 min / English
In 2002, fifteen-year-old Canadian Omar Khadr became the youngest prisoner at Guantánamo Bay. A security camera tells the gripping story of a child who was considered a war criminal. Special Jury Award, IDFA, 2010.

A poorly recorded video starts. Behind the table a young prisoner in chains and dressed in orange sits waiting. This is Canadian Omar Khadr who became - at 15 - the only child prisoner at a US maximum security facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. In February 2003 Omar met investigators from the Canadian secret services during a four-day interrogation, mapped out in this documentary. The entire encounter was recorded. In May, 2008, the Canadian Supreme Court ordered the Canadian government to turn over to Omar Khadr's lawyers thousands of pages of documents related to the case, and so seven hours of videotape entered the public domain. With this unique document as the backbone of the documentary, the interrogation is examined by a panel of experts including a Toronto psychiatrist who specializes in treating torture victims , and the US military defense lawyer representing Omar Khadr. He is to be the first child soldier ever to be charged with war crimes.

producer: Luc Côté, Patricio Henriquez
editor: Andrea Henriquez
camera: Luc Côté, Patricio Henriquez
sound: Claude Langlois (sound editing)

production info:
Luc Côté, Les Films Adobe
70 St-Cyril, Montréal, Qc.
H2V 1H8
tel.: +1 514 576 1668

selected filmography
Luc Côté:
Turning 32 (2010) / Operation Homecoming (2005) / Operation Retour (2005) / Cirque For Life (2004)
Patricio Henriquez :
Under the Hood: A Voyage into the World of Torture (2007) / Desobediencia (2005) / The Dark Side of the White Lady (2005) / Images of a Dictatorship (2004) / Juchitan, Queer Paradise (2002)