Jon Bang Carlsen Retrospective in Leipzig

DOKLeipzig 2014 presents an ”homage to Jon Bang Carlsen”. A long text from the festival site follows below. The director is also to make a masterclass at the festival. To be recommended. Masterclasses with Bang Carlsen are always lively and entertaining and fine invitations to enter his world. We two editors of filmkommentaren.dk – Allan Berg and Tue Steen Müller – have followed the work of the director for decades, as film consultants who have supported on behalf of the Danish Film Board and Film Institute, and in writing. Allan Berg has made – primarily in Danish – a ”Jon Bang Carlsen. Collected Posts on His Work” (in Danish and English), it will take you a good amount of time to read about the many films of Bang Carlsen, and you will enjoy it.

A retrospective in 2014 – I attended the first international retrospective of the director in 1988 in Montecatini in Italy, quite an honour it was, the same year as Nagisa Oshima was there with his feature film series. Two years later, in 1990, Jon Bang Carlsen was in Montecatini again, where he with ”Baby Doll” won the ”Airone d’oro”, the golden heron, symbol of the city. I was there on both occasions and remember that Jon asked me in a press release to change the heron into a swan, sounds better he said, as ”hejre” in Danish at that time was a not very nice chauvinistic reference to women.

Back to Leipzig retrospective, here is the text from the site:

How authentic can a documentary be? Jon Bang Carlsen of Denmark delves into this question in his films. His work is deliberately perched on the

boundary between documentary and fiction. DOK Leipzig pays tribute to the master of this mixed form this year with an homage and offers insight into his sensational documentary method.

Bang Carlsen takes the approach that there is no objective reality in the documentary, but that the presence of the camera alone changes the daily life of the protagonists. “For me documentaries are no more real than fiction and fiction films no more invented than documentaries,” the filmmaker says of his approach, which he consistently developed since graduating from the National Film School of Denmark in the mid-1970s.

“Staged documentaries” are what he calls his films, in which he has real people play story lines he conceives. The facts are not crucial for Bang Carlsen, just the story. The Dane takes the lives of his protagonists as a basis and writes a screenplay for them in their own everyday language. The script is based on thorough research of the locations and a study of the protagonists before filming begins. In implementing, Bang Carlsen then works with the techniques of narrative film – including rehearsals, directing actors, lighting and camera.

In his 1996 cinematic essay “How to Invent Reality”, he provides a blueprint for his method. Using the example of the film “It’s Now or Never” from the same year, Bang Carlsen shows how he constructed the story of an elderly Irish bachelor looking for a wife and how he selected the venues. But the protagonist Jimmy is “real” – the words that Bang Carlsen puts in his mouth could have been his own, and his life could have followed the course that the director laid out in the script.

In this way, the “staged documentaries” ran counter to everything that corresponded to traditional ideas of documentary cinema. Today, as staging plays an increasingly important role in the documentary, Bang Carlsen can be regarded as the definitive expert on this form of hybrid documentary. As before, the films evoke controversial reactions, while at the same time they have tremendous public appeal. Jon Bang Carlsen invites his audience to look closely. What do we see? The truth? Or reality? (Whose? The protagonist’s, the filmmaker’s or our own?)

He also thematically negotiates the game between fiction and reality in every film anew. “It’s Now or Never” shows the single life on the Irish coast; “Before the Guests Arrive” (1986) is a chamber drama about two women in a hotel. Also located in a hotel is the comedy “Hotel of the Stars” (1981), about the big screen dreams of two extras in Hollywood. “Purity Beats Everything” (2007) follows the story of two Holocaust survivors.

To accompany the homage curated by Matthias Heeder, Jon Bang Carlsen will present his documentary method in a master class and also bring his new book, which will celebrate its world premiere in Leipzig.

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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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