The Robert Flaherty Film Seminar -- An Introduction:
Truth as Fiction
by Maya Churi
[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE’s Maya Churi is reporting from upstate New York
where she is participating in the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar which began
The 44th Annual Robert Flaherty Film Seminar entitled “Investigating the
Real” kicked off this weekend in Aurora, New York. The seminar, founded
by Robert Flaherty’s wife, Frances, in honor of her late husband, his
work, and his passion for film, is primarily attended by filmmakers,
scholars, librarians, and programmers. The seminar features a wide
array of films (both documentary and fiction) followed by heated
discussions with the filmmakers, bringing to the forefront questions of
truth and reality: “The Flaherty film falls in neither the fictional nor
the documentary category; for in both these categories the film is
preconceived. Robert Flaherty did not preconceive; he explored.” This
idea is what propels the seminar.
This past weekend’s films included “Meanwhile Somewhere” directed by
Peter Forgacs, a film which consists entirely of archival footage of
family home movies and celebrations in Europe during WWII juxtaposed
with the grimmer realities of those years; “Still Revolutionaries“
directed by Sienna McLean, a short documentary about two women foot
soldiers within the Black Panther Party and their struggles and
disillusionment’s with the movement; “Who the Hell is Juliette” directed
by Carlos Marcovich a documentary portrait of a 16 year old Cuban girl
and her father who left her and “On The Beat” directed by Ning Ying a
fiction film shot with a documentary slant about police officers in
The Question is: What is reality and What is truth?
Ning Ying scripted a feature film to document the life of police in
China, using real officers as actors and putting them in situations similar
to what they encounter everyday (and showing the most mundane aspects of
life, stripping China of it’s spectacular representation in many films),
raising questions about whether what she is showing is any less true?
In an effort to document details that are disappearing fast Ying has created
a China is so unromaticized that we might question its authenticity. A China
most of us have not seen. Bringing to light the question: Without film how
much would we not know?
We like to know that what we are seeing is real. We like to think that
when the lights come up after the film that what we experienced was
true. But when we find out that this was a work of fiction does that
make the experience any less true? Does truth lie only in what is real?
In the documentary “Who the Hell is Juliette?“, Marcovich (clearly
enamored of his subject) starts out by saying how much she loves her
country and explores the life of a girl in a Cuba that looks like a
tropical island, only briefly touching on the very real issue of child
prostitution in Juliette’s life. He asks again and again different
subjects to repeat lines, he gives them stories to tell and commentary
to make, he recreates beautiful shots years later and puts his sound man
in the frame. Does that make the film any less true or is he just
trying to make the audience feel about the subject the way he does?
Isn’t this piece of Cuba that he has shown us just as real as the darker
side, exploring a part of a country that most of us have not seen on
TV? After the screening the filmmaker confessed that he was an
explorer a long time before he was a filmmaker. So was Robert Flaherty.