Anatomy of a Good Documentary

Anatomy of a Good Documentary


Spring for me means intensive teaching. Presently doing Video 101 for photo­graphers in LAMK (Lahti University of Applied Sciences). As always, enjoying it immensely.

I asked the students in three words describe what they feel is essential in a good film / documentary. And to make things more interesting: one word had to be a noun, one an adjective and one a verb.

On the black­board (image above) I listed what we came up with. The X‑sign means another student had the same word as his/her choice.

Some words might require expla­nation (such as “leivos” i.e. a small cake), but the student explained: the several layers it contains… Makes sense.

You have to understand Finnish to read it, but the top results (14 total) can be summa­rized by this clumsy trans­lation: a good piece is genuine/real , it touches you/ reaches out to you and it makes an impression / a mark on you. It makes you wake up / alert and it has a unique point of view.

Somehow in my mind I do make a connection to what Steven Soder­bergh said in San Francisco two years ago, when he was talking about art and cinema as a “speci­ficity of vision”. Here is a snippet of the talk (from @ c. 11.30 min) and the whole piece can be seen here. The whole speech is worth seeing (it is truly illumi­nating) but if you are really impatient, start at 9:30 where he talks about art.

My personal choice of the essential three ingredients?




(Edit, two hours later)

Strange isn’t it? Something on your mind and suddenly, everything seems to point to the same direction or be involved somehow with the same themes and issues.

I was about to start editing some images, but quickly glanced at a FB-post a friend had made. Attached to the post was a speech actress Tilda Swinton had given last year. Here is a link to the speech and here is an excerpt:

I believe that all great art holds the power to dissolve things: time, distance, diffe­rence, injustice, alienation, despair. I believe that all great art holds the power to mend things: join, comfort, inspire hope in fellowship, reconcile us to our selves.

Art is good for my soul precisely because it reminds me that we have souls in the first place.

We stand before a work of art and our spirit is lifted by it: amazing that someone is like us! We stand before a work of art and our spirit resists: amazing that someone is different!

It occurs to me on a regular basis that the cinema carries the potential to be perhaps the most humane of all gestures in art: the invitation to place ourselves, under the intimate cover of darkness, into another person’s shoes, behind another set of eyes, into another’s consciousness. The ultimate compassion machine, the empathy engine.

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