No Voice Over, No Music in Docs Please

Ukrainian Darya Bassel, part of the DocuDays team and producer of My Father is my Mother’s Brother, is at HotDocs in Toronto and writes on FB: “I think there’s one really important thing. We have to ban voice over and text captions and (yes, you gonna suffer now) music from documentary cinema. Just for one year. I’m sure the results gonna surprise everyone. Just imagine nobody thinks you’re an idiot anymore and each small thing has to be explained to you. Finally you’re allowed to have little bit of your own understanding of what’s going on and not only follow the storyline but also reveal those incredibly beautiful details which are usually hidden…”

Sounds like bringing back the Dogma… but I have so often had the same feeling as Darya. That a voice over is explaining what you can see for yourself, television has played its role here, and that music is meant to tell you what to feel – or to fill in gaps where nothing is really happening, as a Danish editor, just out of film school, told me they were taught.

BUT remembering Chris Marker and many other film essayists, a voice over can be a fine piece of literature in itself, the personal voice, and it is my impression, as so many documentarians have given up on television support and rules, that the first person narration is being used more and more. Let me just mention the two Danes Jørgen Leth and Jon Bang Carlsen as examples. As for music, yes take it easy please, and/or watch Pirjo Honkasalo’s masterpiece “3 Rooms of Melancholia” that Sanna Salmenkallio composed music for. No more muzak in documentaries!

So good that Darya raises this question and congratulations with the film at the festival.

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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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