TELL THE STORY
By Della Lowe
As always, DOCUTAH International Documentary Film Festival™ has a diverse group of films and subjects from all over the world, but it also has films which bring documentary filmmaking to another level, an evolution. There are films which use animation (All the Possibilities); films which use re-creation of events (Alexandre the Fool), films which use performance art (4 Little Girls) to tell powerful stories.
We think of St. George as the Patron Saint of Documentary. The City has certainly given DOCUTAH a great home. The Festival provides a pure format – documentary only – combined with an intimate, global and exciting experience. The question becomes, how has documentary evolved from those of past decades.
Docutah has always been cutting-edge, accepting films which use many techniques, and to the purist, some may seem not to fit into the strict category of documentary. But they do, and I asked Phil Tuckett, Director of DOCUTAH and Associate Professor of Digital Film, to explain how and why.
“I think there is a school of thought, a traditional view, that documentaries have to be regimented – very straightforward and linear. But you can take advantage of all the new technology. And to me, it’s a beautiful thing to see somebody take a standard form and then vamp on that, do something interesting,” said Phil.
As an example of a film in this year’s Festival, which uses filmic techniques to tell a documentary story, Phil mentioned the film, Alexandre, the Fool. The film was shot by a French-Canadian filmmaker, Pedro Pires, who met a man who was and is schizophrenic. He’d been through hell and back with this mental illness.
“Pires decided that he was going to make a scripted film about this guy’s story, but realized nothing he could invent was as good as what this mentally ill person had told him. So, he took that man and made him the actor, in his own story. You can tell, it’s obviously a re-imagined version of the story, but it has the actual person in it and is powerful.”
Phil also mentioned filmic techniques used by great directors such as Errol Morris, who makes very straightforward documentaries, but, every once in a while, he does something fanciful – slow motion photography of a topiary gardener, trimming a hedge in the rain. Obviously, it’s set up, it’s not a documentary shot, but it’s a beautiful cinematic image that helps him make his point. “I’m always looking for little alterations of the form, but that does not mean it is okay to falsify a story by shooting something that never really happened. That is not a documentary or effective. But, for the sake of making a point, making a visual and a musical animation, why not bring all of the elements together?”
Another film which breaks the mold is 4 Little Girls: Moving Portraits of the Civil Rights Movement. Through beautifully choreographed performance art and the use of historical footage, it deepens the audience’s understanding of the American Civil Rights Movement by using the universal languages of photography, song and dance to depict stories from the era. Some could say, that’s not really a documentary, but it’s the type of documentary that DOCUTAH loves, because it’s using cinematic bravado to tell a documentary story.
“I think we’ll be seeing more and more of that. And I hope more people submit their films to DOCUTAH, that are on that experimental path. Now, we’ve had some that are experimental and are unwatchable because they’re so unimaginably weird, and it doesn’t speak to anybody. It’s somebody being very selfish with their skills. However, I’ve thought about if we could make a good cell phone film. I’ve seen four or five of those, and I can’t get past the fact that they look pretty crappy. But maybe they’ll get to the point of professionalism. We used to be all cocky about whether we shoot film or video and that all went away with the evolution of digital technology. It still may happen with cell phone cameras, but I haven’t seen a good one yet. I’d like to,” noted Phil.
Bottom line, the simple way to say it is, if you’re a filmmaker, you don’t even have to put the appellation scripted or documentary filmmaker. You’re a filmmaker, and you’re using the tools at your disposal to tell your story. But just breaking the rules doesn’t mean it’s good. If you break the rules in an effective way, that’s the kind of film DOCUTAH would welcome anytime.
And that’s it; that’s what DOCUTAH goes for. We get hundreds of films. How are you going to whittle it down? It’s the 67 best stories that were told, in whatever method they’re told.