Robert Kramer Retrospective

Documentary: Fiction, the Future, Expectations

Robert Kramer

Common sense guided us and things seemed simpler. Solids were fundamentally different than prose, physical processes are precisely predictable (therefore revolution is a scientific undertaking), and there is some point in our neighborhood, or on the planet, or in the universe, from which it all can be observed objectively.

It has all turned out to be more complicated, and therefore more interesting. And so with the question of “documentary / fiction.” There are only movies. Some are short, some are long. Some are made for television. Some are shot in 70mm and some are in video 8. Some, by their very intention to please and appease, are popular. Others are not. Some show, by their use of life of image / sound that they are movies. Other are like photoromans or newspapers or books. In the end, there are only good movies and bad movies. A real curiosity about the world around us is always a life seriously. Seriously? I mean, as a prospect that matters, as an experience that has other threads beside survival, consumption and career, a process, an adventure, a continuous discovery, a dance around the illusive question of what is the best way for us to live. No matter what the necessity that defines each of us, it is the determination to continue to transform our limits that is admirable. Admirable because human, because it reaffirms and enriches the whole of our collective experience. When the real task is exploration, the real world is never far away. When the job is lying, covering up, disguising, deceiving, or simply selling something, and idea or a product, experience is necessarily distanced. It is edited, arranged, simplified, idealized. The ultimate recourse is always advertising and melodrama. The future of what “the documentary” has meant to its defenders in the best sense will be determined by the survival of human instincts to explore, and to refuse to give up in the face of our own mistakes, and implacable array of political, economic and ecological pressures. It is not “the documentary” or movies or even culture, for that matter, that is endangered, but our very ability to think and act beyond the narrow limits imposed by real and imagined inevitabilities.

Expectations? Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival? The presence of so many filmmakers in such a concentrated arena is unusual. If this critical mass contributes to strengthening the will of the filmmakers themselves, and if this energy communicates to all those who participate, the festival will already be a great success.

Among other scarcities, there are fewer and fewer occasions to meet under conditions that openly and freely and without condescension encourage “cinematic art plus emotional commitment and a search for the human soul.”

Grand Hotel Yamagata, October 10, 1989
(From the Daily Bulletin, YIDFF ’89)

• Robert Kramer Retrospective | FALN | In the Country | The Edge | Ice | People’s War | Milestones | Scenes from the Class Struggle in Portugal | Guns | A Great Day in France / Birth | As Fast as You Can | Fear | Doc’s Kingdom | Route One / USA | Dear Doc | Berlin 10/90 | Video Letters: Robert Kramer and Stephen Dwoskin | Leeward | Point de départ / Starting Place | Walk the Walk | The Coat | Ghosts of Electricity | SayKomSa | Cities of the Plain | Against Forgetting