Flirting With Reality

in 44th International Film Festival Rotterdam

by Anita Piotrowska

The future belongs to documentary filmmakers – this is the impression one might have while watching the Bright Future section at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam this year.

What is significant is that almost half of the twelve world premieres were documentaries or pseudo-documentaries and even some of the fiction movies had a non-fiction quality. Furthermore, the best titles of the section, including the FIPRESCI prize winner, were definitely docs. Some of them represented a really radical approach, like “White Coal” by Georg Tiller, a minimalistic study of some aspects of the coal industry. Confronting the anachronistic model of labor in contemporary Poland with a sterile ultra-modern power plant in Taiwan the Austrian director has achieved a level of visual poetry. The awarded “Battles” by Isabelle Tollenaere instead put the sharp observations of the remnants of war into a very sophisticated structure. Both films have something in common – they invite us into a serious discussion on the contemporary world. Tiller goes even further in this challenge and adds a list of some reference books to the film’s credits. In all events “Battles” and “White Coal” are proof that documentary can be an intellectual adventure not only for the film director, but also for the viewer.  

Although some “Bright Future” titles were based mainly on documentary observations, like the intimate portrait of two generations of women in Chilean-German “Legacy” (El Legado) by Roberto Anjari-Rossi, most of the filmmakers preferred just flirting with fiction or documentary conventions. This is the case for “The Bull” (O touro), by Larissa Figueiredo, about the Portuguese actress sent to dwell among the local people of a Brazilian island. The film creates a mixture of fiction and reality and sometimes discreetly blurs their contours. The Dutch film “Hearts Know* The Runaway Brides” by Kris Kristinsson apparently stages all episodes referring to situation of women in different cultures, but the result is a kind of anthropological mockumentary. Another Dutch director, Daan Veldhuizen, in his film “Banana Pancakes and the Children of Sticky Rice” shows the tourist invasion on a remote Lao village, clearly provoking some situations to extract more drama from reality.  

Meanwhile, the documentary filmmakers borrow the stylistic devices from the fiction films; some directors of fiction express their strong belief in unstaged reality. Joanna Lombardi, who in her film “Solos” tells the story of the young people traveling through Peruvian countryside with a mobile cinema, often employs a semi-documentary style to describe the atmosphere of provincial life. Matthew Yeager in “Valedictorian”, like many other mumble core directors from New York, submerges his story in the raw landscape of the city.

Watching the films from the “Bright Future” premieres, one thing seems obvious: for young filmmakers the traditional borders between documentary and fiction are not so significant any more. The winners are, however, those who can combine this freedom of genres with strong discipline and deep consciousness.

Anita Piotrowska
(Edited by Tara Judah)