“Some films are meant to be seen like books are read,” Edgardo Cozarinsky— Argentinean film director, writer, and actor—told the diverse crowd that had gathered for the last day of the Princeton Documentary Festival, hosted by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures. “These are films to be seen in private or in intimate groups,” he elaborated, “at one’s leisure, to turn off and turn back on and think about.”
And they certainly are. The five films chosen for this year’s event, themed “Real Stories: Fact and Fiction in the Documentary,” aim to prove that the most accurate truth can only be achieved only through a series of untruths. The event’s viewing schedule was as follows:
Jogo de Cena- This 2008 experimental film by Eduardo Coutinho focuses on interviews with 23 women from Rio de Janeiro and the self-misconceptions people create. It was nominated for the Cinema Brazil Grand Prize in 2008, and won the APCA Trophy for best film.
Agarrando Pueblo (The Vampires of Poverty)- A 1979 documentary about filming a documentary, this satire by Luis Ospina and Carlos Mayolo pokes fun at the practice of exploiting the poor that is predominant in Columbian documentary filmmaking.
La Desazón Suprema: Retrato Incesante de Fernando Vallejo- Another film by Luis Ospina, this biographical piece highlights the life and thoughts of provocative Columbian writer Fernando Vallego, focusing particularly on his love-hate relationship with his native country. In 2004, it received the Grand Prix for Best Documentary.
La guerre d’un seul homme- Using Karl Junger’s World War II diaries as a source of inspiration, Edgardo Cozarinsky pieces together old French newsreels and pieces of propaganda to bring to light evidences of daily fascism, both past and present. It debuted in French in 1981.
Unas Fotos en la Ciudad de Sylvia- José Luis Guerín uses this film to pose the questions: “Can we love an image? Is it possible to love anything else?” An epic but fruitless search for a woman he met once twenty-two years ago in a city in Spain, this series of photographs revisits the style of black and white, silent films. It debuted in Spain in 2007.
Although the films display a wide range of subject matter, they share a common purpose: to make the spectators’ experience part of the movie itself, “like ruins or outlines where the viewers have to fill in the gap,” as featured Spanish director José Luis Guerín put it. To this end, the films are strategically dotted with frozen images, sounds of static, and blurred flashbacks. To further assure an honest portrayal, or as honest a portrayal as was desired, the camera work is often intentionally amateurish, choppy, and very idiosyncratic. As Guerín said, pointing to a small, portable video camera: “This is all I used to shoot the film. I wanted it to be free.”
Over the course of three days beginning on Thursday, October 2nd, audiences were treated to this sort of rhetoric and personal interaction with this group of acclaimed international filmmakers. Cozarinsky, Ospina, Coutinho, and Guerín gathered at 10 East Pine to join Princeton professors as well as outside experts and audience members for a conversation concerning the making of modern Latin American film, its future, and its place in the larger world. Hands popped up to make comments and a unique bilingual style of dialogue reigned. The featured speakers made jokes and fellow filmmakers challenged each other with questions and ideas.
In between film screenings and discussions, the crowd came alive. Locals made a beeline to Starbucks for a quick coffee break while those less familiar with the area got to know their neighbors. An array of accents filled the room. Some audience members were visitors from Spain or South America vacationing nearby and who had just happened to hear of the event. Others were locals who are regulars at Princeton’s cultural events. Some had never been to Princeton, but were drawn by the big name filmmakers and the opportunity to view their works in this unique forum. They talked art, politics, and, of course, film.
At first, some audience members frantically took notes. By Saturday’s last screening, however, most had taken founding director Ricardo Piglia’s lead and sat chin in hand, smiling contentedly at the screen and enjoying the magical experience of film.