Evening questions, commentaries and general thoughts before and after film screenings of the Symposium
First of all I would like to thank all of you who have come. But especially those who are not here for the first time - you know what you are risking with when coming here! I would like to thank those, who have been here several times, and I am also thanking all those who have contributed to making this event possible, however there are less of them here than I would like to see. Nevertheless, I am thanking those who have come and are sitting here – especially Gunter Jordan (Germany), who has participated in many Symposiums and Andrei Shemyakin (Russia), who, over the years, has also contributed a lot.
And now I would like to tell you a few words about this very event. So, 30 years have passed since it was held for the first time. And, first of all, I would like you all to remember that it was never meant to be a festival. We have never had a jury and no prizes have been awarded, neither have we had discussions on who is better. The Symposium was created in order to come together and, by remembering our own works and the works of others, to try to see the trends and development of documentary cinema. Therefore it has also been very fruitful for us to present and encourage films still in the process of production, and hence offer them for the attention of our audiences out of turn. In this way we have always had a great chance of noticing fresh ideas and search of new means of expression, and I believe that it might have lead others to their own creative searches. It has always been of great importance for us to have a material for discussion, not for evaluation and grading. When there is a competition, we tend to search for faults and backlogs in other works and we try to find what makes us better than the others. But here, on the contrary, we have gathered to pay more attention to the good things that others have succeeded in doing and to try to see how it is related to what we are doing. Therefore, as a rule, our Symposiums have been held in a very good and friendly ambience, and participants have understood each other very well. I dare expressing my sincere hope that this time will not be different.
We have never been trying to discuss HOW the documentary cinema should develop, luckily enough, in the film area that we are talking about, i.e. – the cinema d’auteur, artistic documentary cinema – there is no right or wrong ways. There are only the human being’s – the author’s – will to tell something and the ways that help him in doing so. And, of course, these ways will be different every time. Therefore we are trying to look at the chances of widening the possibilities of the documentary cinema. What is more, the documentary films take a very important place in both the cinema section, as well as in the art section. Because artists never enter this cinema „section” with an intention to gain fame and fortune – the documentary cinema is not the best means for achieving that – they enter it because they truly want to. Therefore this is a „section” of art relatively less dependant on the market, and more to the personality of an artist himself. This is a point where we can – basing on the current researches and findings – discuss the direction in which the cinema, as well as the art in general, is developing. Let us watch the screen with this kind approach and attitude, let us discuss it together and meanwhile try to find something that may be of use in our further work. Thank you.
I wish to say I am thankful to you for the film. Probably it is not the right time for it in Russia yet; still I believe the time will come when the kind of films will be sought-after. And what is more... I am thankful there are such film directors in Latvia as you and Uldis Tīrons who made a film about Alexander Piatigorsky. You make films about significant Russian personalities; however the time to show them in Russia has not come yet. I think we are much obliged to you for turning to them and keeping them for our history.
As soon as you understood that you are going to have the second character in the film – the son – did not you start sensing a sharp weakening of the action, as well as necessity and some obligations towards a more optimistic mood? The woman’s story is so frank and so strong, and her tragedy is so stirring that, although it is necessary to show the life moving on, at the same time the child (to a certain extent) appears to be a hostage of dramaturgy. My opinion might seem rough, but it is not a judgment, and I still believe in objectivity of the problem. Therefore I would like to know to what extent it was topical for you and was it topical for you at all, or did you feel this course of events and this moral coming of the story itself?
Gunnar BERGDAHL. I completely agree on the problem. But, well, I just thought it was a good idea during the shooting to focus on Anatoly. Having shown this two-part film in the Western countries – first of all in Sweden – the issue that always came up first from the audiences, was a question on who was the father. That is a question never asked in Kiev, neither in other places in the Eastern Europe. I find the differences between looking on these kinds of things very interesting.
But, concerning the structure – you might be completely right. However, this is what we did, and I also think that we will go back there in, let’s say, five years time to see what happens with this family. Therefore I did it this way. Of course, the story of Ljudmila is extremely strong and heavy, and it seems to be reasonable to say „Oh, the poor young person who is imprisoned in the sorrow after having lost her husband!” But, on the other hand, after having spent a couple of weeks in this Kiev area, which really is a working-class suburb with a lot of obvious social problems, I still do have a feeling that Anatoly is one of the most lucky youngsters in that area. He is so much loved and cared for, and that is also one of the biggest lucks in upbringing.
You might be completely right, and I respect your opinion about it as I see the problem myself, but, nevertheless, I thought it was a good idea.
What I have is rather an accession to the previous commentary than a question itself. I am among the lucky ones to have seen the first film about Ljudmila a few years ago. That film had a great impact on me, I have returned to it in my mind several times, and I have worked with a quite similar issue myself. I had always wanted to know what happened to Ljudmila later, and, coming to this film today, I had the feeling of being personally acquainted with her. Maybe that is exactly why this other character – the son – seemed to be very good for me. I probably would have wanted the first part of the film to be more acute. Anyway, thank you.
Was it a conscious decision of the director not to go any deeper into Anatolij’s personality? I just believe that, at his age, a teenager is facing a whole bunch of problems, none of which were showed in the film. Neither did we see his inside world. Was this the director’s intention, or was Anatoly so „blocked” that getting closer to him did not seem to be possible?
Gunnar BERGDAHL. Well, concerning that, I would say it was not on purpose that we did not get deeper. I can really say that Ljudmila has the capacity of formulating her life experiences in a very sincere way, even though there is a camera around. Anatoly was 17 at the time and he was a little bit more tense in that sense, I would say. But we did what we could. And I do believe that he has been honest, at least with his remarks on certain vital part in his own story. That’s what I am quite sure about. And I must also tell you one thing, one of the proudest moments in this project, that I was really happy for. We had a special screening around the April 26 in Kiev, there were representatives from the office of the President present, and I did not know that. Afterwards they had talked to Ljudmila about possibilities of giving a scholarship. A couple of months later I got news from Kiev that Analolij has received the scholarship for his studies. That is really beautiful, I think, that a documentary film can do something.
Agris REDOVICS. I am interested in how you were communicating. Was it in English, or did you have any negotiators?
Gunnar BERGDAHL. Obviously, I don’t speak any Russian, so I was working with translators. And at the shooting process, if you look upon it, it was that we did not record a lot of what she told us. Those were very hard things to speak about and I had extremely good and discrete translators. In fact, it was not shot by a 16mm camera, but it could have been. There were a kind of stream thought sequences, where we went through what she was going to say and she did, so it worked. I think she was really brave. From the very beginning I had no idea if she could go back into these very painful memories in front of the camera. That was a little bit of a chance.
You mentioned your anti-nuclear attitude, and your film is a strong example of the consequences of nuclear disaster. Does the film somehow spontaneously become a part of antinuclear movement? And how it happens, if you have some reflection?
Gunnar BERGDAHL. I would say the opposite. I have received some criticism for this film, as it does not contain any statistics, it is not really pushing arguments in a traditional way. I’ve been criticized for not condemning the Soviet authorities, for not exposing the whole bitterness against the authorities of that time. So I would say the opposite, but that is very conscious, that is really on purpose, for instance, concerning the authorities, my belief is that these are not run by ideas. Authorities are run only by the thought that they should keep everything under control – the political system doesn’t matter. If you compare the information spread around Chernobyl with the one spread around Harrisburg, for instance, I would say the Soviet Union came up better. 600 000 people were evacuated. When this happened in Pennsylvania in 1979, and the radioactive steam was pushed out, it was kept absolutely top secret from the people who were living there. And you have my Swedish experience, also after Chernobyl everything was absolutely under control [..]. This anti-nuclear and environmental movement, the so called „left movement”, they make documentaries – and you know what these documentaries look like – they are supposed to be very accurate weapons in the struggle. But „Ljudmila&Anatolij” was a human story, you had so many aspects concerning the emotional part – what is love, and all these kind of things that are universal, and how do we handle the loss of very beloved persons, and what is right and wrong there. I would say it was about the fragility of the life itself, how sudden it can change in the most fundamental way. We are not really prepared for it, so it reminds of all these kind of things. I do believe that a lot of people went to Chernobyl to build the sarcophagus out of the need it must be done, even though it was dangerous. So the image that has been presented, that it only was very young people who went there without knowing anything, was not correct. We live in a time when these kind of feelings for the public need and for the society is not set as a high priority any longer, and I think we are going to lose something if we do not establish that, of course, within the democratic system. These are the kind of thoughts I had in my mind while making this film, and these important things I put somewhere in the story as small tracks.
This film was made for the Swedish audience, but tell me please if the films also presented in this Symposium, and the films like „Microphone” and „Zero Hour” (TV series), and also films made by Ukrainians about the Chernobyl disaster have also been broadcast on the Swedish TV!
No, I don’t think so. But „Ljudmila&Anatolij” was broadcast on the National Television on April 26, accurately 20 years after the disaster. And I can assure you that there was a fight going on for at least 6 months, and I am happy for it, because it was a reminder of what happened so little time ago, although they tried to put it as if it had happened in the Middleages.
As a professional I have seen very many films on Chernobyl, very good films and all kinds of them. Although I come from another country and I don’t know about Sweden so much, I can assure that some of them have been shown on the Finnish TV. And I am not aware of how come you don’t know, but I am sure that something must have been shown in Sweden, too. Because there are very good films made in Ukraine. Not all of them, but I am sure that some of them have been shown, at least in Finland. And I hope that some of them have been shown in Sweden, too. I must say that I’ve been impressed by many of them myself.
Inara KOLMANE. It is rather late still, as I understand, my colleagues have been asking for a discussion about my film („My Husband Andrei Sakharov”, 2006). Thank you all who came up to me! It has been really interesting for me to hear you out; however I do not think I should say something now as the film has spoken for me already. Thank you all who made me feel I had succeeded in delivering a message, as well as you who had some objections and more critical comments on it. As I said, tonight I would rather hear some more questions from you and not start telling something from me.
If we have tried offering the film to any TV channels in Russia? Yes, actually the Russian televisions – including the Channel 1 – approached us already in the period of making the film. We felt gladsome and sent them the film, still in a while we got their answer telling the film did not suit them exactly. Therefore I was truly surprised when a festival in Russia invited me to participate with the film. I went there with a great interest and concerns, as I believed the commission had never seen the film till the very end. I guess it was the case but anyway – I was given a great opportunity to bring my film to Russian audiences. And we also have held several closed-door screenings in Sakharov Centre; I hope for a chance and opportunity of showing the film in Sakharov Archives in Moscow as well. We are working on it right now, we would also very much like to present it in the republics of former Soviet Union. It has been screened in cinemas all over Scandinavia and Europe already. We also have negotiations with representatives in the US, where the film has not had its premiere yet – except for the documentary film festival in Chicago, where it gained quite a success. We have just sent it for screenings in Israel. Today I also got some feedback from Finland where the film was presented in a festival. Although it is not always possible to go to festivals together with the film, it is nice hearing some good mentions that are so important for the author.