A multifaceted and intriguing tribute to observational documentary, titled «The Art of Reality: Beyond Observation» is hosted by the upcoming 25th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (2-12 March, 2023), accompanied by a special bilingual edition. Masterpieces of world cinema redefine our perspective and interpretation of life and the world, while masterclasses from acclaimed international and Greek filmmakers unfold the secrets of this fascinating cinema genre.
Within the context of observational documentary, filmmakers fully permeate the world they study, permitting their topic to unfold with the bare minimum intervention, giving the viewers the time and space to reach their own conclusions.
Drawing inspiration from the principles of documentary pioneer and director of the legendary Nanook of the North, Robert Flaherty, Italian neorealism, the French cinema verité, the American direct cinema and the working methods implemented by the science of social anthropology, the genre of observational documentary is not confined to simple recording and documentation. On the contrary, by placing emphasis on the unseen details, it outlines the deeper truth behind the subjects and the world it observes. The subject of observation cannot exist separately from the conditions that surround and shape it, while the filmmaker becomes a researcher of life and the human condition.
The films included in the tribute “The Art of Reality: Beyond Observation” explore both the historical beginnings of the genre, through milestone films by iconic creators, as well as its evolution over time, bringing to the fore the countless aspects, versions and images of our world, which escape from the established look and thinking. A total of 20 landmark films directed by iconic filmmakers will be screened within the framework of the tribute. Among them stand out:
Groundbreaking documentary Chronicle of a Summer (1961) by anthropologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin. The two directors storm out in the streets to ask people they encounter whether they feel happy. The birth certificate of cinéma verité is featured in the list with the top-10 documentaries of all times published by Sight & Sound.
Frederick Wiseman’s shocking Titicut Follies (1967) takes us inside a notorious asylum for the criminally insane in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, bringing to the fore the martyrdom experiences of the inmates.
Donn Alan Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back (1968) is a melodic journey that closely follows Bob Dylan’s tour of England in 1965, shortly before he decides to leave folk music for the sake of electronic sound: the documentary captures the invisible moment where a legend is born.
To Live with Herds (1973) by David MacDougall, a benchmark film in the genre of observational documentary, explores the process of the coercive transformation suffered by the traditional tribe of Jie in Uganda, who were told to leave their traditions and conform to the standards of a newly formed national state.
Mind-numbing Muhammad Ali: The Greatest (1974) by William Klein sketches the portrait of Muhammad Ali, the boxing GOAT who became a symbol and a point of reference for an entire era, exceeding the boundaries of sports.
Tender Naim and Jabar (1974) by David Hancock and Herbert DiGioia transforms the personal story of two young Afghans into a universal parable on life and our world.
Heart-wrenching Divorce Iranian Style (1998) by Kim Longinotto and Ziba Mir-Hosseini hails the brave, resourceful and noble struggle of the Iranian women who claim their fundamental rights amidst a condition of oppression and suppression.
Michael Glawogger’s Megacities (1998) is an eye-opening documentary that explores the microcosm and the macrocosm of the human experience in our planet’s metropoles. Traveling from the City of Mexico all the way to Mumbai, the documentary observes the daily life in the megacities, rendering homage to its residents.
Sergey Loznitsa’s unforgettable Austerlitz (2016) methodically and courageously charts how a place of utter tragedy is transformed into a recreational and tourist attraction, reminding us that oblivion is the shortest path to horror and degradation.
The Dazzling Light of Sunset (2016) by Salomé Jashi follows a journalist from a small provincial town of Georgia, who struggles to outline a pseudo-ethnographic portrait of its community and traditions. A precious document that brings forth the contradictions, tragicomic aspects and subtle nuances of Georgian society, unveiling a country in a limbo state of endless transition.
Dazzling Honeyland (2019) by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stevanov, one of the best documentaries of the last decade and the first to receive a double nomination for Best Documentary and Best International Film, takes us to an isolated mountainous region, deep in the heart of the Balkans, unfolding the life of Hatidže, a wild honey beekeeper. A touching recording of the changing of season and a comment on the nature threatened with extinction by the modern way of life.
The tribute will be accompanied by a special bilingual edition, with articles written by distinguished theorists and authors, among whom stand out the names of the documentary filmmaker and anthropologist, David MacDougall, the recently deceased academic and former chairman of the School of Theater, Film & Television at UCLA, Colin Young, documentary filmmaker and professor at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens’ Department of Communication and Media Studies, Eva Stefani, director Zacharias Mavroeidis, director and professor at the Film School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Apostolos Karakasis.
The full lineup of the tribute will be soon announced.