Documents and Documentaries

Programme curated by Gian Luca Farinelli


While cinema is today facing a creative and production crisis, documentary is enjoying a moment of great success, but also of great banality. For cultural and aesthetic reasons – but also because it is cheap, can be made quickly and is open to anyone – documentary allows very topical issues to be addressed with great ease. You will not find any of this in this section, which instead brings together works that have made documentary history – urgent and precious films, sometimes so complex that they were never finished.
This year there are many works from the Sixties. The oldest and one of the least known and most surprising is Mitt hem är Copacabana, by the greatest Swedish documentary filmmaker, Arne Sucksdorff. It is hard to understand how such a film could have been made, with Rio de Janeiro and a group of street kids as its protagonists. Sucksdorff is a master at filming children. Films like this – of which I was personally completely unaware – make you very happy, because they confirm that the best films are still waiting to be seen, but also that there is no justice, even in the cinema.
Jacques Rozier’s two shorts Le Parti des choses: Bardot et Godard and Paparazzi are among the greatest ‘making of’ documentaries even filmed, the product of a master at conveying the joy of the moment, the interstices of life, that which the cinema normally overlooks. Four protagonists of the early Sixties as you’ve never seen them before: BB, JLG, the paparazzi, the fans.
Gideon Bachman also moves along such impossible lines in order to make Jonas, which transforms what could have been an impossible documentary on the icon of New York underground cinema, Jonas Mekas, into one of the most surprising and creative films ever seen, in which the act of portraiture results in a film as free and creative as Mekas’ own works. Everything is perfect and enchanting: the opening and closing titles designed by the director himself; the words spoken by the English-Lithuanian protagonist; and the general climate of the times he shared with Allen Ginzberg, Norman Mailer, the Chelsea Hotel, the events of ’68, the Big Apple.
Monterey Pop is the first rockumentary. The photos published in this section showing the film’s cameramen – some of whom are among the greatest documentary filmmakers of all time – gives a good idea of the extent to which Pennebaker’s film was about a decade ahead of its time, for the way in which it was shot live in order to document such an epochal event.
Salesman, by the brothers Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, on the other hand, deals with ordinary people – door-to-door bible salesman – and solves cinema’s greatest challenge: how to recount ordinary life in a film. Rossellini’s Beaubourg is an enigma. How is it possible that the master of Neorealism’s final work, which tells of the opening of the most important cultural space dedicated to contemporary art in the past forty years, has remained buried for so long? Personally, I subscribe to the example of the Lumières and believe that cinema and photography are close relatives. Bruce Weber, one of the few greats of contemporary photography, demonstrates this with his films. Let’s hope that the screening in Bologna of Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast will put this precious portrait of Robert Mitchum back into general circulation.
Andrei Ujică’s Out of the Present narrates the adventures of the astronaut Sergej Krikalëv, who returned to discover that the nation that had sent him into space, the Soviet Union, no longer existed. It is the first time 35mm was used in space and, like Il Cinema Ritrovato itself, the film constitutes a journey through both time and space.
I chose the seven documentaries of the present for the way in which they managed to present fairly well-known moments in the history of cinema not solely by giving us previous information, but also and above all by bravely venturing into new and unexplored stylistic territories. How Archibald Alexander Leach became Cary Grant; how Antonioni was able to translate the novelty of swinging London into a sublime film; how to tell the story of Salles Gomes, the founder of the Brazilian Film Archive and the first scholar and restorer of Jean Vigo’s work, using only the few frames of film available; how Dennis Hopper became one of the most free artists on the contemporary scene; how to convey the feverish vitality of the first African film archive, in Algiers; how to depict a critic with complex views like Jean Douchet without simplifying his ideas.
One section, focusing on legendary cinemas, overturned many of my certainties and even forced me to speak well of a Tv series. We will show Rêve au Tuschinski, which is dedicated to the marvellous cinema in Amsterdam, the dream of an emigrant swept aside by Nazism. A moving documentary, thanks also to the presence of Max von Sydow.
Documents and Documentaries also spills over into two other sections of the festival: those dedicated to Nicole Vedrès and Bill Morrison. Nicole was the first person to take images conserved in the archives and transform them into new films; Bill was the one who took this technique to its highest level. Two filmmakers who knew how to transform forgotten documents into works of art. And on the subject of the border between cinema and art – Visages Village is not a film, but a metaphor on how to view the future.

Gian Luca Farinelli