I am in Ramallah in Palestine and have just completed a three day workshop with filmmakers from the West Bank and Gaza – the ones from Gaza connected through a videoconference. I am on the 8th floor of the Red Crescent Centre just outside the city, children are still playing football down on the pitch near the school, cars are passing on the motorroad, it is getting dark and chilly after a sunny sunday, which we (20 filmmakers and 6 tutors) could only enjoy from inside out. We have seen clips during the three days and I reminded the filmmakers about the always actual sentence of Richard Leacock: It is about being there. I remember him from the few workshops I attended with him, I remember his passion and commitment, and his wonderful enthusiasm when he was telling the new generations: Go there, observe, find the details which are interesting, be present, listen and watch, and bring it back home to the editing table to make it interesting and present for the audience. Make them feel that they are there. I am sure the words were not like that, but this is what he meant, and this is what the observational documentary has brought us at its best.
And being there… well, we have seen Israeli and Palestinian documentaries about being there… at the checkpoints, at the wall when soldiers have pointed their machine guns at Palestinians who try to make their pass into Israel, or when families mourn their dead relatives, or when humiliated women tear their passing-a-checkpoint paper into pieces, or when Israeli settlers get into fights with fellow Israelis and call them “nazi capo”! I could continue and can only admire the courage of the cameramen and –women on both sides of the wall. They are there, and some have a Leacock’s eye for the human detail just next to what is obviously the main focus, which is to be recorded as well. Being There. Where something happens that is important for all of us.
Still: Louisiana Story (1948) , camera Richard Leacock