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IGOR E. ALIMPIEV (Sankt-Petersburg)

            I’ll be brief, and I am not going to answer any questions.

- Can we discuss it afterwards?

- Yes, but without me.

                A man - no high-flown words like artist - who has something to do with art professionally mustn’t speak, to my mind. There’s something deeply unchaste about it. This is the same as telling you how to make kids. I do it. I do it well. And I can prove it in five minutes. We don’t have to speak about it. There’s something deficient about  a speaking man, something is wrong with him. But since I promised Pavel, I must speak.

            Time in the documentary. I remember the rapporteur from the feature film «The Carnival Night», Filippov. Whether there’s life on Mars or not. Whether there’s time there or not. What can we do about it - if everything exists initially.

            Anyway. Analyzing the documentary cinema, what is the initial reason, the basis, the genetic cell that contains everything, the very original sign, out of which I can clone. We can argue about the fiction cinema because it is a synthesis of quite a wide range of arts, but the documentary for me is absolutely unequivocal - it is a documentary photography.

            Now imagine that I’m showing you a documentary photograph that was made in Africa in the end of the XIX century. There’s a man with a spear, a woman next to him and a bunch of small kids - and the jungle in the background. Technically, we can tell when it was taken. They are static because of the long exposure at that time, and the people were asked to freeze. By the concentration of silver we can tell that it was a good picture for the end of the century. An ethnographer can tell in what century it was taken by their bead-necklaces, hairstyles, whatever. But! Imagine - if we take a closer look - in the jungle, among the trees, we notice an animal’s muzzle. A leopard that watches them attentively. The photograph instantly acquires more dramatic effect, right? Besides the ethnographic, aesthetic value we realize that everything in that world hangs by a thread and can be destroyed now.

            Now imagine that we replace the static photo camera with a motion-picture camera and prolong the time of this picture. The leopard, roaring and making noise jumps out of the jungle. The people react somehow, and each one of them turns into an acting personality. The Chief will may be attack the beast with all his family, and thus they will become one integral personality. Or he will run away and the animal will gobble up one of the members of his family. But! From the moment of motion starts the cinema! And I would like to introduce the psycho-physical time of each character. Anyone of you would ask me: «How does it differ from the character?», for example. And I would say this: there is a triad. First - the character, then - the act, and then - their unity with the whole picture. Depicting on the level of the initial - which happens in a mediocre documentary - like, there’s something from the character, something. Luckily, from the act. But there’s nothing profoundly dramatic which is so characteristic of our life.

            This may sound absurd, but the difference between chaos and harmony is that there’s drama in chaos, there is God in it. As for me... For me, for example, the film «Wednesday» and «The Belovs» are different in principle. On the level of one frame. I can’t help watching the whole film. Any episode - a woman having a baby, a vomiting man - I don’t care. But if there’s God, if I fell compassion, if I realize that it is my brother - then there is talent. There is harmony and there is everything. But if it seems appalling to me, if I am horrified as a little a girl like «oh, they look awful, don’t show it to me», it means that there’s something wrong with this man, something deficient about him. But it’s like a stage of development for an artist. It may come.

            Let’s get back to that photograph of the end of the last century. Africa, those people, the leopard in the background. There are the models of all the world’s cinematograph in this picture. If we follow the wife in her relations with her husband, the world, etc. - we actually get the film «The Belovs». The ethnographic exactness, the picture must be divine, so, the divine light - the cinematograph doesn’t exist without it - we get «The Belovs». If we begin following each character - for example you, the Festival - creating a picture without external relations between them, a few short stories about each one of them - then we get the film «Happiness». The relations between the African man and the leopard could be the relations between a man and his boss, basically civilized. We are lucky if we shoot this conflict directly, if it happens in the viewfinder. But in the documentary we can also shoot indirectly - we tell about the conflict - but I think it makes it a cut below, translates it into words. It may be in different programs, interviews, etc. If it exists without words - I refer to the film «Happiness» again - it’s wonderful, it’s a tuning fork, this is what we have gathered here for. We can take a long shot of this African picture, to look at it at a larger scale, and regard it as a picture created by our Lord with the help of the Divine Light. Light as good, as life, dark as death. And then we get a picture that consists of such divine pictures. But if a man - I am addressing mostly to film-directors - doesn’t think of his dramatic art in general, if he moves on to the music and starts solving something rhythmically, violently - he makes an incredible (...) I define it as a documentary film-maker. When a documentary film-maker violates, distorts reality - it is the same as nailing butterflies. We can’t do that. Because the most interesting, paradoxical thing is that butterflies can feel when you treat them with respect. Metaphorically, man is covered with butterflies, they perch on him, and in this reality he passes through walls. This is, the documentary cinema is everywhere. In that aging man, about whom in the first frame I can say: an aging stout man, incredibly intelligent, in an incredibly interesting environment, and in every changing frame I discover an absolutely new reality.

            For me the major fault of cinema-makers is that I read everything in one frame. But there’s nothing there. It substitutes; I mean I can tell something about Eltzin or some vent, but it’s not there. Because the documentary cinema is everywhere. In that seat number 15. Why 15? I may care why the number of that seat is 15 if any moment of time I discover in it an absolutely new reality. If it doesn’t happen - the man has no talent. I am sure that both fiction and documentary film-makers can shoot anything. I mean everyone can shoot a mediocre cinema. They would substitute themes, ideas with - I beg your pardon - a naked woman’s ass, whatever. Anything can be substituted anytime. The most interesting is to do all out of nothing, out of this floor. We can do it here. Here and now. If you tell me that this floor is bad, scratched, puked all over, I’ll tell you that it’s beautiful. Remember, Oguste Rodin once said: «In the repulsive, loathsome the beauty most closely comes to the surface.»  to film a beautiful girl beautifully is easy for me. But to film an old woman, in whom I see a lost beauty or a dying beauty is a great task. The most interesting is that I’m always on the verge: she is disgusting - no, she is beautiful. Every moment of time I am trying to prove the opposite because the documentary cinema is built on denying. You’ll say: the documentary cinema can not be directed, but the very next moment I’ll prove that the real documentary cinema can be. Like «Nanook from the North». The most interesting is this constant denying. Let me draw your attention to this. Every 20-25 years the history changes its skin. Every 20-25 years in the fiction cinema comes the period  of neorealism. When people are not actors. When they don’t play but show their characters. But in ten years comes Fellini who is a script-writer... he comes shooting dreams. Everyone accuses him of betrayal because they all stayed neorealists.

But he understands that the history has changed. And the documentary cinema will be changing like that, I am sure. It will pulsate during these 20-25 years, it will be totally changing.

            So, let’s forget that documentary photograph and move on. It seems to me that one of the most characteristic processes that are happening today in the cinema and what discovers every artist is the notion of meditative time. Alexander Nikolaevich Sokurov brings it to absurd in its pure form: I don’t give a damn what you think, I am meditating. Whether we like it or not, but in a good film this meditative time manifests itself at some point. It manifests itself constantly in «The Belovs», i.e. the man (...) whether they shoot him in the baths or they shoot that wonderful conversation of two brothers, that (...) with a hedgehog. The hedgehog discovers a dog, a character, the dog discovers a woman. It’s a triple thing.

            For me a man who works with the documentary cinema can be tested in one thing, one plan. I call it «nugget» - to myself. It’s like gold-prospectors; they can extract gold from the gold-bearing gravel, i.e. frame by frame. Or they find a nugget that can look disgusting. It can look like an animal or a man, but they do nothing to it. It is created by God. 

            So the greatest thing for me is the ability to think with such frames-nuggets. (...) In «The Belovs» he thinks with such frames, and in «Wednesday» he punishes himself because he sets an impossible task - to make 70 nuggets out of 70 people. The first frame of «Wednesday» - when a man comes out - he’s genius because he’s developing according to his own laws. But the rest is striving to squeeze into that quantity. Therefore for me «Wednesday» is a brilliant defeat. The author has illuminated with a searchlight the dead-end of the Communism which doesn’t need to be illuminated. He set a task - to create 70 portraits - but it is God’s task, impossible for a man. Impossible because everyone should develop himself, you can’t interfere. As soon as you interfere with it, you say that childbirth is disgusting. Woman gives birth in blood and shit - I know that. It’s not a discovery. Here’s my own experience. I’ve spent half a year in a maternity hospital. And all the time I’ve been shooting women. I have spent six months searching for the one whose face wouldn’t change, twist in pain. Who would stay beautiful. But they all become ugly, all of them. But it wasn’t interesting to me, it wasn’t my task. And finally I found that woman, and she was beautiful. And when she had given birth, we all sat beside her and felt that something important had happened in out lives, something divine. This is what the cinema exists for. We don’t need it to discover that the world is an ugly place. It really depresses but... It’s not worth talking. To discover this divine beauty, through the light, through a hand. She has given birth, and the had has fallen down. Before that it ripped, it had it’s own mechanism of motion. Or to shoot - Victor wanted to make this shot, by the way, but he didn’t use it - the woman’s belly in profile like I did. At the beginning, we didn’t understand what was it. It was simply the Khokusai mountain. Here is the Khokusai mountain. [Remark: «It’s not the Khokusai mountain, it’s the Fudziyama mountain, you mean.»]  Yes, I beg your pardon. And I’m shooting it - one, two minutes. And then it starts moving. And then it goes down, subsides right before our eyes, and the last moment we see the baby’s head. And only then we realize that it was a childbirth. I left the belly episode then. Everything is present there. But you must sacrifice six months for it. To show that it’s all disgusting, it’s all blood and shit - you don’t have to spend there much time. It doesn’t take much effort. You can show how bad it is in Russia - Victor, of course, didn’t have it. But it can be done. But, actually, we exist for the sake of one frame. Three frames can tell everything about a man. Three frames. But, in fact, one in enough.

            Now one more example. imagine that we have transferred ourselves to the 1895, to Paris, and we are in the movie theater where they show the first Lumier’s film. Here’s the audience, and we know that in a moment that famous train will arrive in the film and the people will jump to their feet in panic. What is it? In fact, it’s a genius provocation. It’s a great loss that Lumier didn’t shoot the audience. He should have set a camera behind them and shoot what happened afterwards. But... [Remark: «If he had done it, there wouldn’t be the myth about running people.»]  But look at this audience now. And let’s ponder over time.

            If the train arrives, there is Lumier’s time, and it’s always the past time because the cinema in the moment of shooting turns from the present into the past. This time tests each one of us. In a conventional way, it reveals your character, uncovers your true essence in that moment, if we shoot it. That means - do you follow me? - almost all the models of the cinematograph are present here in this room.

            If the screen is a friend. I am showing you your past. The war, your brothers-in-arms, you are young, you are smiling, and we get the film «Katyusha». A wonderful film of its time. The person who provokes the real unfolding of the character today with the past time.

            The screen can be an enemy if we take, let’s say, the ex-minister of justice Kovalev and show him the film «Valya». I would talk to him about life, justice, the necessity of law reinforcement in Russia and then I would say: «Let’s see what can you say to this?» - and calmly would show him this «Valya». Although the screen is an enemy, we make a dangerous step, i.e. we test him aesthetically. Do I have the right to show it? Before the trial, before everything. There are moments when I do have this right. For example, when I show a criminal, a sadist the experiments which he taped on video himself. You did it, don’t pretend you didn’t! Or I show something to a nazi - I show him walking in a concentration camp, and I have the right to do that. But I think that the main problem of the documentary cinema is not the aesthetical one because if a man is talented, he can solve it. For me the main problem is the ethical one. The main reason why some day I’ll quit... (touch wood)  By my nature I feel drawn to revelations as a genre, and I feel I have no right because the first thing I must do, in fact, is to set a camera and film myself. [Remark: «Sokurov did it.»]  I haven’t  seen his film, but I have seen Fastbinder’s film. Remember, he reveals everything about himself. I understand that the man is one the verge of death and he doesn’t have to play. I am neither good nor bad, I am like that. This is what any cinema-maker must start from. And then - you may turn to other people or you may not. More often it turns out that this person is good, and that one is bad. Who are you anyway, what right  do you have to say that she, for example, is a prostitute?.. She has her own fate, and she has come to this. You are only a cinema-maker, you have no right to decide. For me the main problem is the ethical one. Everything else is afterwards.

            And the last thing.

            Strange though it may seem but we are all - trees. The trees that absorb carbon dioxide and exude oxygen. Sometimes, when they deceive us, it feels nasty. Then we say that there is harmony, that the world is beautiful no matter hoe horrid we feel. (...)  And without it there is nothing.

            Thank you.