Aleksander Gutman: 17 August

This fine Russian director has, apart from the masterpiece ”Frescoes” from Georgia, made a couple of very strong documentaries shot in prisons, ”Three Days and Never Again” and ”Blatnoi Mir” (directed by Finnish Jouni Hiltunen, Gutman was production manager), and here comes another that I do not hesitate to call masterly done as well.

One day in the life of a prisoner, sentenced to lifetime for murders, a man in a small cell, watched through the small window in the dark cell door, walking from one end to the other, exercising, making a cup of tea, praying with his head towards an icon of the bleading Jesus hanging on the wall, getting some food… and a small walk to a strongly fenced and guarded courtyard, filmed from above to achieve the impression of a man in a cage, A close-up study that works because of the brilliant combination of pictures with the monologue of the prisoner. On Life, on the conditions in the isolated prison, on being alone and away from it all, on being close to guards who are there all the time and in a way sharing his destiny.

Sometimes with some shots from the courtyard outside. A horse stands there, an old man comes and makes it ready for transport, they leave the prison, and the camera stays – later on they come back with a coffin to pick up the corpse that we have seen in a previous scene. Or a window with a cat. Did I say that it was black and white. And slow. And extremely well edited. Not a moment too much. Sympathy for the murderer? No, not really, but respect for a human being, curiosity.

Russia, Poland, 2009, 62 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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