Iikka Vehkalahti: A Good Documentary is

Thanks to our own archive at www.filmkommentaren.dk I am able to bring forward clever words from Iikka Vehkalahti, who – it has been announced – is to receive an award at the upcoming Hot Docs Festival in Toronto. Here they are, first time published by the IDF (Institute of Documentary Film) in 2008:

…something which on one level is very private to the individual. Something that touches my life, but which also has something very universal – universal. A great film is when the private goes through the heavy block of politics/ economics/ media and reaches the universal, is in dialogue with it. Every action a person takes reflects his/her values. There are things which are common to all of us in the world: basic values (like justice), basic emotions (like fear and joy) and experiences (like pain or falling in love) and a good documentary has this universal nature that makes it so dear to so many. Don’t try to make international films. Make films which are more near to you. The most local films are sometimes the most international, because they are universal.

In a good documentary the director and his camera see things, go deeper than just showing things or events in front of the camera. For several reasons I have really started to miss camerawork where the camera really sees. An example: very often now a director makes a documentary following the story of the protagonist in such a way, that the narrative story (will he survive the sickness? will he divorce? etc…) means that it is not so important how the whole film has been shot at all.
A good documentary needs a story, but the story can be something more than just a flat “story”, it can be associative, emotional, fact-based, philosophical. Life is richer than Hollywood describes.

And finally a good documentary will live in time: it has a timeless character. A good documentary is something that you will look at after 10 years and after 50 years its value is still higher.
The film goes deeper and deeper. There must be a moral and philosophical element too.

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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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