The perception of reality within the documentary setting

The last four/five years I have been working on two documentary films in the context of migration, identity and integration: ‘No Man Is An Island’ and ‘Passe-Partout’. The films have been released and shown around the world.

In my practice as a documentary maker I have always been struggling with the questions: what is reality?  and what is the best possible way of representing reality?

In his manifesto, 'Lessons of Darkness', Werner Herzog expresses this as follows: "There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization. We must ask of reality: how important is it, really? And: how important, really, is the factual? Of course, we cannot disregard the factual; it has normative power. But it can never give us the kind of illumination, the ecstatic flash, from all which Truth emerges. If only the factual, upon all which the so-called cinema vérité fixates, were of significance, then one could argue that the vérité-the truth-at its most concentrated must reside in the telephone book, in its hundreds of thousands of entries that are all factually correct and, so, correspond to reality.”

There has always been a relationship between reality itself and the manner in which it is interpreted by the maker. Merely by an editing process you get caught in the interpretation of reality.

Objectivity can only be the author's and therefore subjective, even if he is editing a newsreel.”  Andrey Tarkovsky

My work refers more to what photographer Jeff Wall has described as 'Near Documentary’ - a construction that hopes to be experienced as something truthful, and at the same time expects to be revealed as artifice.

The central question in my research was therefore as complex as straightforward: what is the best possible way of portraying the refugee?

I have chosen not to limit myself to the mere recording or observing of reality. Instead, I’ve used techniques from the broader film medium to express my vision of reality in a creative way. This involves the filming itself, the editing process and the sound design. My way of working is in this way influenced by both fiction and experimental film.

As an author, I interpret reality because I believe that all creative expression owes its importance and historical interest to a certain autonomy- a freedom of interpretation and a wilfullness. There is no right or wrong, there is only your own voice. I saw films where refugees were being filmed not closer then a medium shot or behind a closed door or in the dark, for all that matters. There is not one Truth, there are only ethical and esthetical choices.

So I think it is better to speak about ‘realities’ instead of the reality.

As a filmmaker you are first perceiving the world, and then framing it in a certain way. Afterwards there is another layer of perception/interpretation that takes place within your spectators, where they also contribute to the production of meaning. But your position as a filmmaker will anyway influence which kind of meaning.

Through the process of making my two films, I choose EMPATHY. This resulted in films narrated out of the perspective of the refugee. And visually as close as I could get to them.  I can imagine that this approach is maybe problematic in the eyes of a scientific researcher, for whom objectivity is the highest goal. But at the end of the day, I’m a filmmaker who takes a stand.

My intention to make a film about migration and identity comes  largely from a deep dissatisfaction with the perception of migration. Because of the emergence of new media and journalism, a habituation occurred in the way we look at refugees. We are almost overrun with images of people in search of a better life, which only worked apathy in hand. There are too many generalizations, it is all too volatile and there is too little attention for to the ordinary, for how in the banality, reality itself most clearly emerges. That is also the reason why the focus of my two films lies on the everyday behaviour of my characters. It makes them human and it’s far away from the spectacle that is normally served to the audience.