Mark Cousins: Dear John (Grierson)

 I love Mark Cousins, his passion for film and his constant pointing at the fact that film history is so much more than American and French and British. That goes for documentary as well. Read this text of his and see his rough cut sketch of a train trip to great films – together with John Grierson…, click below. If you click on the names, you will be taken to info about:

Sight & Sound asked me to make a short film about the wrongs of the documentary canon – which, as I argue in the September 2014 issue, has been essentially Atlanticist for generations now, lacking the bridge-builders between East and West who helped stretch the fiction film canon from the 1950s onwards. When we began cutting the movie, I realised we were going to need a bigger boat, so I am now hoping to turn it into a perhaps three-hour postscript to my 15-hour The Story of Film: An Odyssey.

This postscript will not be a straight history of documentary film, taking us through the Atlantic canon. I love those films, but have decided to leap-frog that canon to get to the rarer treasures. In order to show that my film isn’t a history of documentary, I’m calling it Dear John Grierson, and am imagining that I’m travelling the world on a train with Grierson, one of the founding fathers of the idea of documentary, to see the great films that we don’t, and should, know.

The result, I hope, will be a micro-budget Snowpiercer, in which, as we look out the window, we see masterpieces by people with names like Peleshian, Honkasalo, Tsuchimoto, Kaul, Kötting, Leduc, Perlov, Łoziński… Names that are not household, but perhaps could be, if we loved movies more.

Photo of the cover of the BFI issue with the documentary canon that Cousins thinks is too narrow. Right he is!

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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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