Sune Jonsson: Nine reflections /9

Written 13-10-2016 07:47:02 by Allan Berg Nielsen

“…A documentary work is not intended for the esthetic connoisseur or the preoccupied consumer, but rather for people in vital need of increasing their knowledge: of transforming communicated environments, epochs, nature scenes into personal experiential substance - something with which to enrich their own inner landscapes.”


By Sune Jonsson (1978)


Quantity should be a part of the documentary method, a part of the documentary language of form. The 1/125th is a fraction of the historic flow. A great many 1/125ths are needed merely to illuminate one isolated situation. In the 8 years during which the FSA documentation took place, ending in 1943, over 270,000 pictures were taken. Perhaps, all together, those pictures provided a overview of the extent of the disaster and could form a basis for the nation's self-scrutiny. August Sander privately collected his panorama of the Weimar Republic's physiognomies, roles, and uniforms in 20 bulging folders. The definitive publication of this collection in book form, Menschen ohne Maske (1971) is consequently characterized by an extraordinary abundance of pictures, which we perceive as concordant with the documentary conception.

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Categories: Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Poetics, Essays

Sune Jonsson: Nine reflections /8

Written 11-10-2016 07:49:32 by Allan Berg Nielsen

… they had plenty of time - the ultimate documentary resource - they themselves became something of experts in geography and agriculture. They were also sensitive and capable of the profound empathy with the subject matter that transforms certain photographers into depictors of reality in a truly documentary sense. Knowledge also affords artistic freedom. Experienced and versed, the author can move within his subject matter. His depiction of reality then becomes "macro realistic" - that is, a concrete expression of an inner reality.


By Sune Jonsson (1978)


The reportage confrontation is a fragile method of documentary work. But even so unfavorable an assignment situation can be transformed: if the photographer is given sufficient time, if he is given time to gain a knowledge of the environment that will enable his pictures to function as documentary statements, if he has the personal qualifications to deepen his empathy, his social commitment, and his responsibility as a fellow human being. This obviously turned out to be the case with Gunnar Lundh and Sven Järlås. And young photographers like Yngve Baum and Jean Hermanson have also come far along the same road of personal deepening.

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Categories: Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Poetics, Essays

Sune Jonsson: Nine reflections /7

Written 05-10-2016 08:15:53 by Allan Berg Nielsen

… Knowledge also affords artistic freedom. Experienced and versed, the author can move within his subject matter. His depiction of reality then becomes "macro realistic" - that is, a concrete expression of an inner reality.


By Sune Jonsson (1978)


Ivar Lo-Johansson has asserted the authenticity of the self-experienced as a literary life-form and method. It is not enough for the author to have subjects: the subjects must also be part of his own self. Perhaps in this distinction we can also discern the essential difference between the author and the poet.

Knowledge also affords artistic freedom. Experienced and versed, the author can move within his subject matter. His depiction of reality then becomes "macro realistic" - that is, a concrete expression of an inner reality. The opposite method is observation from without - a "microrealism" without a deeper personal sounding board.

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Categories: Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Poetics, Essays

Sune Jonsson: Nine reflections /6

Written 03-10-2016 07:57:04 by Allan Berg Nielsen

… The ideal situation, of course, is that in which the photographer is his own client. Then the assignment is a vital function of the photographer himself; then his depiction of reality will occur at that point where he himself stands as a human being.


By Sune Jonsson (1978)


The assignment situation, upon which the photographer's personal relationship to the subject matter is ultimately dependent, is a vital part of the documentary methodology. If it is alleged that knowledge and insight should be the bases of all depiction of reality, then the assignment situation must be crucial to the genuineness of the documentation. By the way in which the assignment situation is regarded, one can also tell what status – in artistic-professional terms - the client is prepared to accord the photographer.

The ideal situation, of course, is that in which the photographer is his own client. Then the assignment is a vital function of the photographer himself; then his depiction of reality will occur at that point where he himself stands as a human being. From every viewpoint, it must be an optimal advantage to be able to seek out the subject matter that is made up of one's own internal and external landscapes. Assignment and need for expression then become synonymous. The subject matter itself then becomes the client.

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Categories: Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Poetics, Essays

Sune Jonsson: Nine reflections /5

Written 23-09-2016 14:19:30 by Allan Berg Nielsen

... The verbal accompaniment must create new relationships and angles of approach to the pictorial material (even laconic): … Småbrukaren och kyrkogårdsarbetaren Hjalmar Nyberg, Nyåker, gräver grav för avlidne banmästaren Henrik Carlsson (Sune Jonsson)



By Sune Jonsson (1978)


The consummate photo-documentation requires verbal accompaniment. This must have a clear documentary conception and ideally possess formal competence as well. There are, for example, plenty of photographs documenting log driving. The most meritorious is Stig T. Karlsson's 1957 depiction from The Little Lule River. Lacking, however,is documentary material that, from the standpoint of primary worker experience, verbalizes the content of log driving. For that reason, it is regrettable, when Stig T. Karlsson's pictures are published in book form, that documentary consistency is sacrificed, and instead, Stig Sjödin is asked to write an accompanying text that flaunts a poetic empathy with the work depicted, that is surely more literary hypothesis than adequate expression of the log driver's own experience of his toil.

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Categories: Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Poetics, Essays

Sune Jonsson: Nine reflections /4

Written 22-09-2016 08:36:24 by Allan Berg Nielsen

… Their documentation is a distillate of reality itself. Their pictures are freed of all ephemeral, fashionable, and sentimental trappings. They nakedly describe universal situations that are allowed to speak right into the camera. (Sune Jonsson)



By Sune Jonsson (1978)


One should disdain rules but must discuss principles.

I remember the 50s, when Henri Cartier-Bresson’s books began to come out and started photographers dreaming of the pure photographic image, the prettily arranged and seized 1/125th that was sufficient unto itself. Hasse Enström, Managing Editor of Tidningen Vi, went against that tide at the time, doggedly challenging the theory and requiring text commentaries of photographers offering him picture essays for sale.

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Categories: Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Poetics, Essays

Sune Jonsson: Nine reflections /3

Written 20-09-2016 09:16:00 by Allan Berg Nielsen

… One thereby denies that photographs can represent a pictorial manifestation of experiences and personal views, that photographs can be personal messages having aesthetic qualities of communication. (Sune Jonsson)


By Sune Jonsson (1978)


In the 40s and early 50s, when Walt Disney was at the peak of his documentary-film activity, he is said to have remarked that it was better to give training in cinematography to the scientists working in the subject areas of those documentaries than vice versa. He wanted thereby to emphasize how vital expertise is in all depictions of reality. Such an attitude implies, however, that the photographer is exclusively regarded as a triggerer of the camera shutter’s 1/125th, as no better than the lens’ own capability. One thereby denies that photographs can represent a pictorial manifestation of experiences and personal views, that photographs can be personal messages having esthetic qualities of communication.

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Categories: Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Poetics, Essays

Sune Jonsson: Nine Reflections /1

Written 16-09-2016 15:50:41 by Allan Berg Nielsen

“The reportage confrontation is a fragile method of documentary work. But even so unfavorable an assigment situation can be transformed: if the photographer is given sufficient time, if he is given time to gain a knowledge of the environment that will enable his pictures to function as documentary statements, if he has the personal qualifications to deepen his empathy, his social commitment, and his responsibility as a fellow human being…” (Sune Jonsson, from reflection 8. Photo by Sune Jonsson: Prague, August 1968.)



By Sune Jonsson (1978)


It is something of a romantic characterization to describe photography as the art of the instant. It is said, for example, that the art of the camera is to see quickly and straight ahead. And for nearly half a century now, photographers have indeed been intoxicating themselves with the very ability of the 35mm camera to capture on film the most ephemeral and most unguarded of instants. This has naturally been an asset that has both enriched and characterized photography.

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Categories: Poetics, Essays

Til lykke med fødselsdagen JØRGEN LETH

Written 14-06-2016 15:04:33 by Tue Steen Müller

... ønsker vi her fra Filmkommentaren. Vi gør det med et af vores yndlingsportrætter af dig, det er godt nok dit, fra  din blog, men vi tilegner os det lige, for det er et af de mest inspirerende, et af dem hvor du er på arbejde. Og så vil vi bare endnu engang henvise til det, vi gennem nogle år har skrevet om dig og dine film, mest om filmene i vores rå opsummering ”Jørgen Leth - Collected Texts on his Works”, som begynder med en lille kursiv …the Danish director, who has been an inspiration for generations of Danish filmmakers. With Lars von Trier as number one as readers will know from the film”The Five Obstructions” og så fortsætter med første post, som er et af mine mange dagbogsnotater på bloggen: “Mid wednes(day) off from Copenhagen with troubled SAS to Amsterdam to attend the 25th idfa (International Documentary Film Festival). On board is also Jørgen Leth on his way to idfa as several times before. This year to be in the main jury with (among others) Michael Glawogger, and to attend his own ”My Name is Jørgen Leth” exhibition that is part of the idfa ”Expanding Documentary” that opens at 7pm tomorrow November 15th at De Brakke Grond here in Amsterdam…” Læs eventuelt videre og så igen tillykke og hav en dejlig aften! Allan og Tue

Categories: Cinema, TV, Film History, Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Artikler/anmeldelser DANSK, Poetics, Directors, Essays

Lars Movin versus Jørgen Leth

Written 19-05-2016 14:11:20 by Allan Berg Nielsen

MOVIN MØDER LETH, Lars Movin meddeler det på sin Facebookside, og jeg skynder mig at meddele videre, især at det er NU! NU I AFTEN I ÅRHUS!

Movin skriver: ”Så er det i aften, at jeg har den ære at være med til at åbne festivalen Vild med ORD i Dokk1 i Aarhus sammen med den unge mand på billedet her. Okay, jeg ved da godt, at publikum kommer for at se Jørgen Leth – som efter vores samtale vil levere flere Spoken Words akkompagneret af de to musikere i Vi Sidder Bare Her – men ikke desto mindre skal det blive en fornøjelse at lægge endnu et kapitel til den dialog, som vi har ført gennem knap tyve interviews siden 1989. En dialog, som ikke mindst har udmøntet sig i tre bøger: “En dag forsvandt Duke Jordan i Harlem – tekster om jazz” (Bebop, 2008), “Kunsten at gå på gaden – tekster fra tresserne” (Gyldendal, 2012) og “Alt er i billedet – om Jørgen Leths film” (Gyldendal, 2013).Dagen efter (fredag) vil der være flere ord fra undertegnede, nærmere bestemt ved et arrangement klokken 14:30 (ligeledes i Dokk1), hvor jeg med udgangspunkt i bogen “Amerikansk avantgardefilm” (2016) vil fortælle om (og vise) to beat-relaterede avantgardefilm, nemlig “Pull My Daisy” (1959) af Robert Frank & Alfred Leslie og “Towers Open Fire” (1963) af William S. Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Ian Sommerville & Antony Balch. Vild med ord, ja – men også vild med billeder, film, musik …”

Foto: lm / 2015

Categories: Festival, Film History, Artikler/anmeldelser DANSK, Poetics, Essays

Tue Steen Müller: Lithuanian Docs

Written 11-02-2016 14:22:19 by Allan Berg Nielsen


- collected posts by Tue Steen Müller on Lithuanian documentaries, directors, photographers and producers


Lituania is a Baltic country, the most southern, and the most exciting when it comes to documentaries.

They are mostly short and based on images - the Lithuanian documentarians compose the image and treat the spectator as an intelligent person. The information needed to understand a story or a problem or a complex thematic issue is conveyed by the combination of image and sound and montage. In other words, they make FILMS and are still relatively "innocent" when it comes to adapt to television standards.

"They" are directors like Audrius Stonys and Arunas Matelis and Oksana B. and Rimantas Gruodis. I have just been in Vilnius to watch new films to be recommended to Leipzig Film Festival to which I offer scouting services. If any reader of this would like to have contact with the Lithuanian filmmakers, you can google Stonys and Matelis, who both have their own websites and will direct you to where to get hold of dvd's. (Blogpost 12-08-2007)

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Categories: Film History, Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Poetics, Essays

Ugis Olte : Double Aliens

Written 10-10-2015 20:26:36 by Tue Steen Müller

In early August Latvian producer Uldis Cekulis sent me a link to this co-production between Latvia and Georgia. The film won an award as best documentary at the BIAFF, the Batumi International Art-House Film Festival, it is in the Focus Caucasus competition at the upcoming CinéDOC Tbilisi, at the mid-length competition at the upcoming IDFA AND in the national selection at the upcoming Riga International Film Festival. Voilá!

Here follows a review, an edited version of the response I gave to Cekulis two months ago, but first the synopsis:

”Road maps are open, endless texts that may contain any number of stories, including the story of the traveler himself. A filmmaker from the north and a photographer from the south travel to a strange place. It is a land where people are worn out by their history, where time tends to freeze and every encounter is a distortion mirror that makes you look into familiar eyes.”

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Categories: Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Essays

News from Paris: René Vautier 1928-2015

Written 07-01-2015 18:31:47 by Sara Thelle

Grand old man and enfant terrible of French militant cinema René Vautier died Sunday January 4th in his home in Cancale, Brittany, at the age of 86. Originally from Brittany, René Vautier fought the Germans as a very young member of the French Resistance during the Second World War, at 16 he was decorated with the Croix de Guerre and honoured by de Gaulle. After the war he wanted to pursue the combat but not with arms and his friends then encourage him to take up a new weapon: the camera. His battle was to last a life long.

Vautier graduated in 1948 from the film school IDHEC in Paris. In 1949 he gets a command to make a film for the Ligue de l’enseignement about the benefits of the French educational mission in the West African colonies. The result, Afrique 50, became, on the contrary, a violent critique of the French colonial system. Vautier’s first film was also the first anticolonial film ever to be made in France and the reaction was violent in return: Vautier was faced with 13 charges and sentenced to one year of prison!

The film has an incredible story. To escape the limitations of the 1934 decree of the Minister of the Colonies Pierre Laval (forbidding any filming in the colonies without the presence of a an administration official) Vautier went on to film in secret. He almost got his film rolls confiscated for destruction in Africa but managed to get his work back to France where he finally had to illegally retrieve the reels kept under seizure by the board of censors (he got 17 of 50 reels). The film was finished in secret and stayed censured in France for over 40 years though it was awarded as one of the best documentaries of the year at the World Festival of Youth and Students in Warsaw in 1955 (with Joris Ivens as president of the jury). In 1996, a copy of the film was finally handed over to Vautier by the Foreign Ministry during the first official screening in France and only in 2003 the film was broadcasted on French television. The Cinémathèque française has recently made new copies of the film as part of their effort to safeguard the entire oeuvre of René Vautier initiated in 2007.

Afrique 50 is a short powerful outburst, a rhythmic pamphlet, swiftly edited with an attacking voice-over. Playing with the genre of educational state propaganda documentary but turning it against the government, the film pinpoints, with humour and great seriousness, the link between capitalism and racism. Film historian Nicole Brenez, specialist of avant-garde cinema at la Cinémathèque française, has called it the greatest film in the history of cinema. Go see it, it’s on YouTube!

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Categories: DVD, Film History, Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Essays

Kosmorama: Body Language in the Moving Image

Written 02-12-2014 11:29:52 by Tue Steen Müller

Denmark’s oldest film journal Kosmorama (first issue in 1954) presents a slate of articles (online and in English as well) that could interest the true film buffs among our readers. The articles are written by film historians and academics. The titles are ”Body Language and Media Context” (Lennard Højbjerg), ”Figures in Landscapes” (Casper Tybjerg), ”Expression Suppression” (Henry Bacon), ”Making Love Detumescently” (Mariah Larsson) and ”Movie Stars in the Flesh” (Helle Kannik Haastrup). The information about this December issue of Kosmorama I received this morning, so no time yet to read, only to browse. It is all very appealing, with good illustrations and clips from films.

The link below also refers to other articles at Kosmorama, in Danish or English.

And the photo, well you know the man in the middle: ”Occupations” by von Trier – to be found on the internet.

Categories: Film History, Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Essays

Does a Festival Critique Exist?

Written 04-10-2014 21:15:56 by Tue Steen Müller

As a follow-up to the post below... here is a personal essay that I wrote for an academic book on festivals. It did not fit in, so here it is for you, a reflection on what is written on documentary festivals from outside and inside – promotion, reports but real critique on the festivals, does that exist? Hope it is interesting for you. (Photo from this year's ZagrebDox).

But first some film-biographical stuff: You need to know a bit about my background as a festival visitor, organiser and reporter/critic. Yes, I have a close relationship to the world of documentary film festivals. I have been privileged to cooperate with colleagues in Denmark to set up and conduct several national and international festivals in my own country. One of them changed my film life, the Balticum Film & TV Festival on the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. It came to life as a consequence of the fall of Soviet Union and ran from 1990-2000, when the Danish support to the independence of the Baltic countries around 1990 made it possible to start the festival with financing from our government,. Voilá, we started a festival for the countries around the Baltic Sea. Many of

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Categories: Festival, Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Essays

Nordisk Panorama 25!

Written 30-09-2014 11:58:32 by Tue Steen Müller

Nordisk Panorama 25! - a documentary tour down memory lane. Yes, the first one was in Grimstad, this idyllic and romantic spot on the South coast of Norway. I was there and so was she, with whom I have shared my life since then. Grimstad 1990, unforgettable, a place in my heart... I was there on behalf of Statens Filmcentral (National Film Board of Denmark) and as part of the group that was to set up Filmkontakt Nord the year after. Therefore, a thank you for asking me to write about what has happened to Nordic documentaries in the quarter of a century that has passed. I have chosen to primarily go back to focus on directors and films, which I remember and which have made an impact on the Nordic and/or the international scene. You will probably miss some, especially ”newer” ones, I can’t cover it all. You will agree that nothing is so boring as extensive name- and title-dropping. I will try to control myself. And of course it is a personal choice that I have made.


There was a pretty strong line-up of documentaries in 1990. When I look at the list of films and directors in competition (there were no films from Iceland and only one from Finland!), in my view, three stand out and have indeed put their mark on Nordic documentaries.

Sigve Endresen was there with ”For your Life” (”For harde livet”), 98 minutes of strong social documentary on drug addicts, a film that reached a huge audience in the cinemas of Norway and opened the door for the director to make another critical statement on how the society treats its outsiders – ”Big Boys Don’t Cry” (”Store gutter gråter ikke”) on young prisoners taking part in a rehabilitation project. It was at Nordisk Panorama (NP) 1995, followed by ”Living Among Lions”(”Leve blandt løver”) at NP 1998, on three young people who suffer from cancer. In 2002 he took part in NP with the portrait of singerKari Iveland, named ”Weightless” (”Vektløs”). The style of his films is direct, mostly with no sentimentality.

I remember that we Danes were jealous on the Norwegians, who could get documentary films reach the cinema. And also have them used in educational contexts - here we touch upon a typical Nordic issue that I have always highlighted at workshops abroad: the non-theatrical use of films for public education and debate. 

As Jørgen Roos (also in my school time) took me to Greenland with his many films, giving me an insight to their culture and people, Ulla Boje Rasmussen is the documentarian, who has taken me and audiences around the world to her beloved Faroe Islands (Færøerne). ”1700 Metres from the Future” (”1700 meter fra fremtiden”) includes gorgeous nature sequences and fine portraits of the 16 (!) inhabitants, who get a tunnel connecting them to the rest of the world. The film is a classic in Danish documentary history with superb cinematography by Andreas Fischer-Hansen, also the producer. The two stood behind Nordfilm (right name!) that also made the follow-up ”The Light on Mykines Island” (”Tre blink mod vest”) (NP 1992), equally from the islands towards the North... I will send you to another island, said a filmconsultant years later, he happened to be me, to the director, let’s find an island in the South for a new film. Ulla chose Sardinia and out came ”Coro di Bosa” (NP 1998), which as the Faroe films had a fine international career. Boje Rasmussen has later on returned to the North making films in Greenland and Iceland, and one about the independence movement in Faroe Islands. The latter was at NP 2003, entitled ”Rugged Road to Independence” (”Færø”).

1700 Metres from the Future

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Categories: Festival, Film History, Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Essays


Written 18-08-2007 19:55:34 by Allan Berg Nielsen




- Film art / DOX magazine , April 1, 2002 / Modern Times, 2017

Three children sitting on a sofa. The girl recounts their dreadful experiences from the war in Kosovo. A Jewish doctor takes revenge on a Nazi collaborator. A six-year-old boy equipped with a wireless captures comments from people in a park. ALLAN BERG NIELSEN highlights three documentaries from Hungary, Latvia and Poland, films that reflect our world and deal with strong themes and the memory of History.

In recent years, the documentary film has grown into great classic art in my consciousness. It deals with profound themes, profound feelings. Therefore, I must apply profound words from my European background. In my opinion, this is what we have to offer the global community alongside the many calamities. So this short essay will deal with profound words. I want to link them to three films I have seen, enjoyed and thought about.

These films were made in an era when things were really humming: political upheaval, new opening to the East, retrospective studies, the extent of the crimes and the identity of the traitors.


Children, Kosovo 2000 is the title of the film. Two years ago, a girl is making dough in a room of a rural house in Kosovo, then she puts the dough aside to rise. She walks out the door that is allowed to swing all the way open before the cut. She and her two younger brothers walk down the road through the village. In the next scene, they sit anxiously on a sofa in a damaged room. Then they tell what happened:

Interviewer (off): Do you remember that day?

Girl: Yes.

Interviewer (off): Were you with your brothers?

Girl: Yes.

Interviewer (off): Would you tell me about it?

Girl: If you ask me questions.

Interviewer (off): What were you doing at that time?

Girl: When we returned from the convoy we settled here, We were in this room. The Serb soldiers arrived. Dad was lying on his couch. We were outside. I was the only one who was outside, the others were in the house. Three people came and told me in Serbian to stop. Three times. I did not stop. My sister came over and warned me they might shoot. Then I went onto the porch. They ordered me to go in. I didn’t want to. Finally I did. My little brother (she looks at him) came in and told my father lying here, the militia were looking for him. Dad went out. I was watching. The Serb militiaman asked him if he was a terrorist. Dad said he wasn’t. ”Terrorists have lived here,” the Serb militiaman replied. Dad said he didn’t know them. ”Aren’t you one of them?” the Serb asked. Dad said he was no terrorist. ”Never mind,” the man said, ”Go over there and raise your hands.” We all left the house. Dad raised his hands, and the Serb shot him with his machine gun. Blood streamed down his legs but he was still standing. We ran away. My sister remained. Then the three men grabbed my sister and took her in here… When it was over they asked her what her father had done. She said he’d done nothing. She collapsed onto her father’s body, his blood was on her face, his body had been shot to pieces, his bowels were out. We covered him with a blanket, except for his face so we could see it…

The entire sequence of the three children on the sofa is unbroken. She is crying all the while she tells the story. Her oldest brother is also crying, while the youngest only feels dread. I see it in his eyes that he averts from the camera all the time. The scene continues after her testimony, and she cries for such a long time that I discover and understand its relief.

The most important aspect of documentary films is their presence. In a presence as great as this, I have brought it as close as possible to a point of pain in the history of our part of the world. A major event, though one of thousands. An event more important to remember than countless international conferences put together.

I see she is wearing fingernail polish when she hides her face in her hands. She is seventeen years old, she is washing clothes outside in the courtyard in the next scene. Sunshine and bird songs. Timor Szemzö’s music takes over. The solo rises above the orchestra. Elegiac. In his filmic work, Ferenc Moldoványi has mounted the children’s testimony as the central images in a triptych of landscapes and depictions of everyday life facing a sacred concert in a darkened church interior of our times. Just as medieval altarpieces focused the prayers about human suffering in front of a singing choir of believers. The filmic works are the altarpieces of our era in front of a modern, sceptical silence.


The camera from high above shows me Riga. The city set in its landscape. I’m drawn closer, zooming in on roofs and individual buildings. Ending with the synagogue, the one from back then. The camera dwells on the inscription on a stone tablet: ‘Forever remember our Parents, brothers, sisters and children murdered and burned by fascists in the year 5701. Let their Souls be bound securely in the Bundle of the Living. For Jews of Riga Ghetto, the Martyrs of Faith’.

In The Jewish Street Herz Frank outlines the story. The Russian occupation, then the German. The latter called a liberation by some, but disavowed by the film. It describes new suppression. The Latvian flag was removed everywhere, the picture shows the arrests being made, and the director comments in his voiceover, “Like in all times they started with temples.” The synagogues burn. The investigation concentrates on the fate of the Jews.

Above an expansive landscape of Riga’s ghetto with the Catholic Church on one side and the evangelical church on the other, the voiceover tells that over near the horizon above the neighbourhood is Rumbula, Riga’s Babyi Yar, as he puts it.

The Christian churches confine and guard the ghetto; the elements of Frank’s analysis summarizing their accusations in quiet ascertainment. No reason to shout any more; just adding these local facts to what I already know is enough. And I nod to myself in the cinema darkness, the placement of the churches, yes, the Babyi Yar massacre, yes.

The film is a description of the director’s investigation. He methodically works his way towards an appalling knowledge of what happened and towards understanding the inevitable fate of the Jewish people. I follow him from witness to witness, archive document to archive document. As the film gains insight into these shocking events, so do I.

I am witnessing the director’s personal project. I see him in the picture holding the camera on his shoulder. (A big one. This is before the compact DV’s were introduced, laying the groundwork for the video note, the cinematic outline.) He is the one looking up facts in the stacks of books in the beautiful Jewish library in Stockholm, opening the archive boxes.

On the trip through the worn streets and dilapidated buildings of the former ghetto, we enter inner courtyards and outbuildings. At one spot, a surprising artefact in the middle of this story’s monuments. A suitcase is brought out from an outbuilding. I see that the suitcase’s owner is Adele Sara Wolff, her name still clearly painted on the suitcase. What happened to her? This object from the past crystallizes the recollection of this overwhelming sequence of events into one tangible moment. ‘Museum pieces are memories,’ as Danish painter Asger Jorn once said.

One of the witnesses in Herz Frank’s investigation is novelist and physician Bernhard Press. He wrote the book Judenmord in Lettland 1941-1945 (The Murder of Jews in Latvia, 1941-1945). I meet him together with the director and his film on this guided tour through uncluttered landscapes, but at a point in time when I have become disoriented and have entrusted everything to my guide. Press talks energetically as he stands in some kind of corridor that wanders off into darkness, and I hear his story in one of the condensed sequences of this narrative dramatization. When Press was a young man, he escaped from Riga’s ghetto before the extermination, but after the Russian occupation of Latvia, and ended up in Gulag. He worked as a doctor in a Siberian prison camp where he met a man who had been put there because he was a Nazi collaborator. The man suffered from paralysis in his legs and had given up all hope. Press, however, got him going, planned a physical training program and built a special wheelchair for him. After this the man improved. Press tells that “after a month or so he started walking with a stick. When I asked him, ‘Why are you imprisoned?’ he answered, ‘Because I shot those hooked nosed.’ He meant Jews. What does a Jewish doctor do in this situation? I kept treating him. What else could I do? I couldn’t violate my Hippocratic oath, so I took revenge in a childish way. When he was released from the camp as a disabled man, he went to his relatives somewhere in the East. He asked me to give him a letter for his future doctor. I wrote something on a slip of paper and sealed it in an envelope. It said, ‘Your paralysis is God’s punishment for your sins.’ A Jew’s revenge.”


In Anything Can Happen, Marcel Lozinski takes his six-year-old son to the park and asks him to ride around on his push scooter and occasionally stop at the benches and start talking with whomever – mainly elderly persons – is sitting there. The film crew follow him around recording the interactions from a great distance without being seen. Six-year-old Tomek is equipped with a small, wireless microphone and has received general instructions as to what he should do and what he should talk with the people about. Otherwise the boy improvises the conversations.

One smiles and laughs during these all told nineteen conversations that in their childlike wisdom wonderfully cover many serious human problems. This is first time I have ever seen the hidden camera technique used for anything but making the participants look ridiculous to the audience. This film does exactly the opposite: it reconstructs personal dignity.

It starts with a refusal. The young main character – easy to spot in his red jacket – has to give up and continue riding his push scooter along the footpaths in the park. Between every bench encounter, he is accompanied by a Strauss waltz on the soundtrack as he rushes along, giving the viewer a few seconds to think about what has just been said. The first, however, is the rejected advance.

The next person in the series lets the child talk, but does not give him seriousness and truth in return. Wants to playfully tease him instead: “My name is Don Juan,” he answers when the boy asks. This arouses wonder as it sounds French to the boy, who is unfamiliar with the famous seducer. But he accepts it as a reply. “My name is Tomek Lozinski,” he doesn’t try to conceal anything by contrast. I am who I am. The son of a famous filmmaker. Currently making a scene in his next film. This is the world of candour and reality. This is how we use films here.

The introduction continues in the fourth conversation. Though Tomek doesn’t know who Don Juan is, he is quite adept at flattering a woman: “You are very elegant,” he says to an old, well-dressed lady, and she instructs him in her technique of how to match the colours of her outfits.

The ingenious dialogue – which must have been fashioned during the editing of many metres of footage from the nine days of improvised shootings – continues embroidering in its own Socratic style. There are nineteen conversations in all on being a child and an adult, on the war, on the length of life, on love, divorce, sickness, poverty, money, sorrow and death.

In the nineteenth conversation, an old man describes the sorrow he feels over the death of his wife. And about the significance of her memory. He still feels he is together with his beloved in the rooms at home, and Tomek acknowledges that his mother felt the same way when grandfather died. And the little boy quiets Death, “If someone dies, it doesn’t mean you will never see her again. Perhaps Death will stop,” – and he explains by holding up his flat hand in a stopping gesture – “and life will return. It might happen!” Anything can happen.

Ferenc Moldoványi: Deca-Fëmijët (Children, Kosovo 2000), Hungary, 2001

Herz Frank: Ebreju iela (The Jewish Street), 1993

Marcel Lozinski: Wszystko sie moze przytrafic (Anything Can Happen), 1995



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