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PART PRACTICAL DIRECTION. Film "When the sky opens", Film "Black Island"

Film "When the sky opens"

XXVI. YRIY SCHILLER, the director:

I haven't got any bright theoretical reasons for what I'm doing. I don't know what to say so I'll just answer your questions.


How you choose your character?


That depends. We got an idea to make a film about outdoor country games. We were looking for the material and found this boy. At first he bored me and said foolish things, then I looked closer and I liked him. At the same time we got acquainted with a former forest guard. We lived in the same village and we met very often. As I looked at him I began to define some situation which I later on altered during improvisation. We didn't know what we'd begin with and where we'd move. As we were shooting the film, I got the impression that we failed and the film was as bad as it could be. But when I edited the film and showed it to my friends they told me it's okay. It seemed strange to me. So I got a film out of nothing. I think I start with a person, a character rather than with an idea. I like a man, his surroundings and depending upon the situations he encounters there appears a picture. I don't know in advance what shall become out of it. I have some emotional mood that I want to express, all the rest appears during the shooting.


- You don't have a script?


- Neither formally nor in fact. For the last year we made it according to the script request. A year and a half ago I made a film called "The evening tolls". We were going to shoot yet we didn't know who would be the character. We could make any person a hero. Every village has its people, there usually is a silly philosopher. You only have to spend there more time to get a contact.

Question: - What's your attitude to a dramatic conflict, are you trying to find it in the real life or not?


- I am not. I am not interested in a conflict in life. I see the conflict as an edition and vice versa. You can perceive white when there is black close by. I regard the conflict in cinema as a Kontrapunkt. There is no cinema without it. It may be dramatized in a classic meaning of the word but it should necessary have a Kontrapunkt.

I don't think I make purely non-fiction cinema though I adore it immensely. I think I don't make documentary cinema. That's why I don't establish any strict taboos. The only restriction is that I should not force a character to do something against his will. He should feel comfortable within a film.

Question:- How would you call your cinema if it's not documentary?


- I don't know, I think it is different. There is fiction cinema and there is non-fiction. There is cinema featuring a mixture of elements from fiction documentary cinema. It's a long time since we defined there is a cinema that is chronicle- there exist strict rules. Though they say it is impossible to make a purely documentary film. The discussion here may be endless. I think everybody formulates for himself the degree of allowable. In this sense I'm rather free. When I began making the films I was afraid of fiction cinema tricks as I came from fiction cinema where I had made a film but failed. I like all kinds of cinema. If I think over a good fiction script I would do it as I do my documentary films, only I would engage actors.


- Would you agree if I say that your cinema is not conclusive but convincing?


- Well, I never tried to prove something in my cinema. I always wanted spectator to feel free within a film so that he could choose and move himself and so on. Maybe I cannot be tough enough. There is cinema where director leads his character where he wants, some of such films are successful. There are improvised film, and they are very interesting. I like them more.


- Can you say it is an author's film?


- That's a question: what is author's cinema?


- What's your attitude towards hidden camera? Do you use it?


- I think hidden camera is okay. This method is very simple. I think the disputes about hidden camera in 1960s were forced. You can make magnificent job without hidden camera. A man gets used to a camera or forgets it. The difference is that one person needs much time to get used and the other one pays no attention to it from the very beginning. But if you use hidden camera you should inform the person about it before or after shooting. At the festivals we always talk about ethical problems: where are the limits that we cannot cross? These disputes have no end, the next generation shall talk about it too.


Film "Black Island"


I would like to show you two small fragments from the film that I made 5 years ago. It is entitled "Northern express" and it was shot in the train Moscow-Paris. That was my first encounter with Russia and the Russian language. I was fascinated by the country, the language and the characters that you will see in the film. I would like to underline one more time that I made this film 5 years ago, in 1990 when the Berlin wall was destroyed and we witnessed a lot of historic events in the Eastern Europe. There were tremendous changes in Russia but we on the West saw only newsreels- just the events taking place in your country. I tried to find another attitude, to look on these events through different eyes, to share the point of view of ordinary people. I think you will see it in the film. The most important thing for me is the style and imagination that I use when creating the film. I think it is more important than publicistic aspects. So you'll see two small fragments.

The thing is that this type of documentary isn't characteristic for Belgium but it explains how I work. To shoot a documentary film isn't cheap. That's why you should have a script to talk to people. Many things depend on how good you are prepared because documentary cinema is not commercial.

The film I brought here is about the life of oilmen working on an oil-drilling platform. Before the beginning of the shooting I had some ideas about how it can happen. I visited one of the platforms and talked to people who worked there. They weren't interested in the results of their work, they just worked and counted the days up to their return home. It is quite difficult to make a film about it because you are not allowed to spend over 24 hours on the platform. We had to attend special 5-day courses in London to get a diploma permitting us to stay on the platform for longer periods, we had to pass different examinations on fire security precautions and even fly on helicopters to get the minimal knowledge on labour security. It was rather difficult because all of us were not young- about forty- and it's been a long time since we studied anything, and we never served in the army.

Getting back to our discussion about documentary cinema I would like to mention that my film wasn't made for entertainment of spectators, you will not find the principal character there. To make a film like that in Belgium is rather complicated because our documentary depends a lot on TV.

Couple words about the technique- how we made it. In one part people talk about their work on the platform- this part of the film is colored. The other part is made in such a way as if you were working there- it's black and white. We used the super 16 mm film. Thanks.


The shooting took us 21 days. The music was composed especially for the film.

This platform is researching, when the work ends they disassemble the platform and move it to another place. The search is done within three months period and if there is no result oilmen move to the other location.

The platform you've seen in the film stands on the sea bottom. But the supports may be removed and then the platform drifts.

When I made the shooting I was astonished to know that oilmen don't care about their research.

When we got diplomas which would permit us to stay on the platform we governed several operations obligatory for the workmen. We got the same clothes and we looked alike. I never take interviews during the shooting as reporters do. I just stay close by and the person can talk to me and do his job.

One more thing: though now I am very far from my home I feel here more at home than on that platform. The oilmen were mostly uneducated people with poor vocabulary, their inner world is more distant from mine than yours.

The only woman in the film belongs to those women who prefer the action to the waiting on the beach and doing work about the house. You understand that presence of a woman changes a lot of things- men cannot swear and so on...

Why not arrange the meeting with their wives? The thing is they work 12 hours a day then they sleep for 8 hours and have some time to eat. Such platforms are very rare and uncharacteristic things in capitalist world: here the people work, eat and sleep in the same place. The man hasn't got the possibility to change this space. Each square inch of the territory is very precious- everything is rationalized, there's no vacant space and no free time. The wife means a sleepless night and bad work. This territory is owned by England but there are other platforms where 30-40% of women are permitted.

It is forbidden to drink on the platform. No drugs and no alcohol. Everyone is checked. Smoking is allowed only in special places. When workmen leave the platform they drink non-stop for a couple of days. Very often they are just carried into the train and sent home.

Couple words about the sponsors: the company owing the platform gave no money for the shooting of the film they just gave us the possibility to live on the platform 21 days and provided transport. They were sponsors but on the condition that they couldn't interfere into our work, they had no right change the script and see the shot materials before the film was ready. Before we started the shooting we reached an agreement with four TV companies- two Belgian, television of Switzerland and special film fund. I think this is a very good system- to have a lot of partners. It gives you freedom, flexibility and additional possibilities for the authors. Even if the oil company insisted on some changes in the film I could say that TV company thinks we should not do it. If Belgian television had any claims we could say: "The Swiss television insists that we proceed like this". The film showed no profits or gains. That's the way to demonstrate the producers that such films are not profitable. If you want to get profits you'd better own a restaurant or sell shoes but never shoot documentary films. The profits will be minimal even under the most profitable circumstances. If you want to get some money you should sell your film to more than 100 TV companies all round the world.