Alfred Hitchcock once said: “In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director”. One can argue if this is the whole truth, because even if only what the lens of the camera captures while making a documentary, still the angel from which you decide to shoot is a director’s choice. Not God’s. So, every documentary is a creative expression of its director, which reflects reality, something that happens in real life, and there are many ways of creating it, so there are a lot of categories related to this genre. In this article, I would like to elaborate on two different films from the documentary competition shown in the 60th edition – on-line this year – of Krakow International Film Festival.
The Polish production An Ordinary Country (Zwyczajny Kraj, 2020), is an historic piece. The accomplished documentary director Tomasz Wolski created an astonishing puzzle of found footage based on films and videotapes filmed and recorded by officers of the Polish communist security services. He uses the black & white footage, and the recordings, taken secretly between the 1950s and the 1980s by the Security Services of Poland. They did it during the cold war era when the country was dominated by the USSR. The rare footage and recordings were not authorized for showing for many years and were released not long ago.
An Ordinary Country shows how the government’s secret agents were spying on citizens everywhere, for no reason. They were filming from hiding in restaurants, shops and on the streets. They wiretapped phone calls, even with people living abroad. They used the materials in order to blackmail people for the purpose of forcing them to cooperate. This amazing, smartly edited, piece of work, unfolds a story not very known to the public. It does remind us of other strong and dark secret services in countries dominated by communist USSR, such as the Stasi in East Germany and the Securitate in Romania. Its narrative and atmosphere also echo of the great American paranoia films of the 1970s, such as The Conversation (1974) by Francis Ford Coppola and Parallax View (1974) by Alan J. Facula.
The Uruguay production The Champion of the World (El campeón del mundo, 2019) tells us the story of Bolivian former world bodybuilding champion Antonio Osta. In the beginning of the film, directed by Federico Borgia and Guillermo Madeiro, we see Osta coming back to his small town as a winner and a local hero, after winning an important competition. And then, slowly but surely, we discover that things are not so bright for him anymore. His young girlfriend leaves him, his teenage son, Juanjo Osta, lives with him in his modest house and they argue about almost everything, and he suffers from kidney disease.
But still, Osta believes that he didn’t say the last word yet. While practicing weightlifting and giving youngsters lessons on how to become bodybuilding champions like him, he plans to leave for Mexico. Over there he is considered a legend and a celebrity and was promised an important post in his profession that will allow him to live in comfort, physically and financially. He tries to convince his son to come with him, but they have an argument about this too.
In its story, narrative and style, The Champion of the world is built like a fiction film. Like a different kind of Rocky (1976). This is a very compassionate and moving tale that deals with the life of a sportsman, his complicated relationships with his son, their different opinions about women, and it asks what masculinity and strength really are. It is a perfect example of how a documentary could be considered almost a fiction film, and how sometimes there is only a thin line between those two kinds of cinema.
© FIPRESCI 2020
Edited by Yael Shuv