On September 20, the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) will present Vitaly Manki’s “Putin’s Witnesses” film in the legendary “Tushinski” hall as a special event of the upcoming festival. All tickets were sold out in 3 weeks before the screening date. There were 1500 people in the hall. In Batumi (BIAFF-2018), Manski joined the online panel discussion at Tushinski Hall, answering the audience’s questions.

It’s been several times that a documentary director Vitaly Manski has visited Armenia and participated in the Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival. However, the conversation with the film director took place at Batumi Art-House Festival (BIAFF-2018) and I am willing to present to our readers the details of this exclusive interview given by Vitaly Manski to Kinoashkharh.am.

Mr. Manski, documentary filming has been collecting evidence and presenting multiple world events for more than a century, including wars, disasters, violence and atrocities. Such films are important for history documentary information… But is it the only reason for making them? Being a documentary film director, have you ever wondered as to which extent such films can affect the reality?

– Actually, I find this question really triggering, as we are intended to discuss this very issue at the DocFest.  I do hope that even if documentary film directors fail to find the answer to that question, they will at least offer some answer options. Our debate theme is titled “Documentary Film for History or Contemporaries” i.e. it is targeted on future generations to analyze the way we lived, the mistakes and discoveries we made, and the deeds we committed.  And yet, at this moment, looking back at our reflection, can an individuum change something in his or her own life?  To be honest, my stance upon this issue is as follows:   

Today’s reality cannot change art. When it does happen, art moves from its intrinsic state to that of propaganda.

It’s certain that propaganda can also manifest itself as art, like in the case of Rodchenkov, or more or less Dziga Vertov. They certainly created pieces of art. But, for instance, when we talk about ” The Donbass Symphony” or “The Three Songs on Lenin” by Dziga Vertov – they are pieces of art by no doubt.  However, they stand very close to propaganda. Yet, when Vertov detached himself from propaganda and created a piece of pure art “Man with a Movie Camera”- the film received acclaim and comprehension only years later.

Of course, on the one hand, civilian pathos, which is typical of an artist, pushes him or her to interact with contemporaries with an aim to influence them, so that they can make some adjustments in their lives.  However, how tactfully this influence is implemented, or will it lose its crucial artistic message targeted on future generation?   

It’s a dilemma.

On the other hand, there are artists who deliberately refuse from any actuality, yet they shoot wonderful films. In this regard, I would like to mention my colleague Victor Kosakovsky, who drifts away from reality while making his films by mere principle. The message of his film “Watercolors” /Akvarel/ is unlikely to be perceived neither today nor tomorrow – its message is beyond time.

That’s why it’s so powerful.

Does the incorporation of feature film elements have some influence on documentary filming?

– Generally speaking, I think that the audience must understand that documentary films are not 100% documented. Nevertheless, the intrusion of a camera into a hero’s life undoubtedly transforms it. However, I am rather reluctant to make any final conclusions because cinema as a piece of art is void of any laws; though, of course, there are always some exceptions. For example, in a documentary film, shot by the hidden camera method, your influence on heroes decreases, but if you have close-ups in your film, and close ups are not filmed from a distance, somehow, you’re penetrating into your hero’s life, and, of course, your hero starts acting because the camera films him so close.

Of course, documentary films have some natural application problems, like when the director asks the hero to move from the right to the left, to sit down, look out of the window, etc. This is not a game, it is not a distortion of reality, but it is still a feature element, because it is voiced  over like in a feature film: camera! action! The balance of those challenges, where the director can see margins in such designed reality, is also a very serious moment; however, it is absolutely individual for every artist.

How about Peleshyan?

-Peleshyan is a great impressionist in cinematography. Many people consider him a genius of montage, let’s say, the way it “sounds”, the way it’s perceived… it feels like talking about a highly skilled craftsman, a gifted master. However, in my opinion such viewpoint is an absolute delusion. Peleshyan is not a master, but a perfect poet and artist- an impressionist artist, because he is able to convey and communicate through his films the main thing – he has the courage to express the spirit of his own organism, his heart’s beat, emotions, his attitude to the material, which he uses to collect the puzzle. This is a very rare feature, so far practiced by few people, thus, he has always been, is and will be a totally independent artist. You can never replicate him as he is unique in his individuality.

I cannot say that Peleshyan has some kind of artistic trick, his greatness is in the absence of any trick.

-After emergence of cinema, technologies have evolved and are still growing. What did digital technology give to the cinema? Films of which period are you keen on?

-First of all, the development of documentary cinema, unlike feature and animation, is directly related to technology development. In feature film, nothing has changed since the beginning of its existence – 3D Dolby Surround have emerged, but no global change in feature film methodology has taken place. In documentary films these changes are global, and they are closely related to the process of history and technology development. Let’s imagine an absolutely standard and typical situation for documentaries of the 50s, i.e. the director shoots scenes in his heroes’ apartments.

How do they make it? A crew of at least 6 people arrives at the apartment. Two of them are serving the camera, one’s installing the lights, another’s adjusting the sound, there is the assistant director, and the cameraman with a camera capable of shooting 10 minutes maximum. What does it mean? It means that the filmmaker cannot improvise, he needs to be in touch with the hero, he needs to agree on what the hero will do in order to use 20 meters of film to shoot the 10 minutes and complete the film at once.

Such circumstances do not assume a documentary life depiction. If we add the social or political situation of a country (macartism (USA), stalinism or Soviet system (USSR), Nazism (Germany), which also imposes pressure on a person, we are likely to get more so-called false-documentation, reflection of reality. Today a documentary director comes to film a family. He may not even reveal this fact. He joins them for breakfast or any other meal, and simultaneously shoots things with the mobile phone. Of course, degrees of documenting differ globally. In fact, when a 16-millimeter camera appeared, when the voice synchronous recording became available along with immobilité, the upbeat of a documentary film was overthrown. The above mentioned undoubtedly promotes opportunities to get closer to the reality. The ideal thing is getting dissolved in reality, which is almost impossible.

Now back to your question films of which period I prefer?

Speaking about Dziga Vertov’s films I definitely mean big cinema. But if you attempt to make his «city symphony” like documentary today, it will not work to the same extent, cause it’s something already gone. As a movie fan, I am stunned today whenever I manage to penetrate into some space, dissolve there and become the second participant of a unique event. That may happen even when witnessing maturation of a baby, which I see on the screen in 10 minutes in Herz Frank’s film. Herz’s black-and-white films, made by a hidden camera and with the new technology, are on the borderline between the old and the new cinema. It is a new movie signal that is more profound in sincerity, truth, the degree of interaction and has a stronger influence on the audience.

I would vote for the modern days.

– In recent years, the question of female inequality in cinema is immensely voiced over. They say women make less films and there is a challenge to level it 50/50 by 2020. Do you consider this issue artificial or it does exist?

You see, it would be better not to answer such questions at all, because you could be blamed for sexism, disrespect, or something else. However, I think if the woman is equal to the man, she should be equal in everything. Women and men must retire at the same age, they must have equal working conditions, equal salaries, and equal employment opportunities.And when a woman is assigned to direct a film, or to participate in festivals according to quotas for women, then I want to ask a question like why not provide quotas to non-traditional sexual orientation representatives? Why not provide quotas according to national characteristics, age, or a huge number of other factors? I do not want to watch a movie in a major festival, especially if it’s bad, just because it’s a woman who made it. In my opinion, it is offensive for women. However, I will feel sorry if women stick to this, as I’ve always considered them more intelligent than men.

– Considering high rate of development, how much is the traditional TV likely to last:

– Television, as well as politics, has headed to satisfy the audience’s needs. There was a time, when television at least tried to educate people (being dependent on ideology). Now like politics television is moving towards the audience’s needs. And in case of provincial segment of audience, the quality requirements are very low. I fear that, in the end, television will have a bad end, because it survives under cruel competition with the Internet. In that struggle, in my estimation, television has succumbed to all sins. I will not be surprised if we soon see some revived battles in the Coliseum, where slaves are exposed to wild beasts with spectators, who signify with their panels whether to let somebody live or die.

-What will you say about your recent project?

– I have just finished a new film called “Putin’s Witnesses”. It is a big film, it includes personal experience, guilt and disappointment related to the events occurred during the transfer of power from Yeltsin to Putin. The film has already had an active festival life and my festival participation schedule is so tight that I do not think about making my next movie. I am likely to start another film no sooner than by the beginning of the next year.

P.S. In Batumi, I gave Vitaly Mansky the book “They were documenting a war”, which was assembled and published on the materials of “War documentalists” of kinoashkharh.am. In the course of the conversation it turned out that Manski had been in Artsakh during the war. He documented Baku’s events. Later, he visited Lachin too.

Interview by Ruzan BAGRATUNYAN