I have for the past weeks been reading the Danish translation of ”Second-Hand Time” by Ukrainian/Belarussian author Svetlana Alexievich, 2015 Nobel Prize winner, a brilliant book, an amazing insight to what it meant to live in Soviet Union and today in Putin’s Russia. ”A history of human feelings” as she writes in the text below (from her website), were she describes her documentary method; must be an inpiration for all documentarians…:
I’ve been searching for a genre that would be most adequate to my vision of the world to convey how my ear hears and my eyes see life.I tried this and that and finally I chose a genre where human voices speak for themselves. Real people speak in my books about the main events of the age such as the war, the Chernobyl disaster, and the downfall of a great empire. Together they record verbally the history of the country, their common history, while each person puts into words the story of his/her own life. Today when man and the world have become so multifaceted and diversified the document in art is becoming increasingly interesting while art as such often proves impotent. The document brings us closer to reality as it captures and preserves the originals. After 20 years of work with documentary material and having written five books on their basis I declare that art has failed to understand many things about people.
But I don’t just record a dry history of events and facts, I’m writing a history of human feelings. What people thought, understood and remembered during the event. What they believed in or mistrusted, what illusions, hopes and fears they experienced. This is impossible to imagine or invent, at any rate in such multitude of real details. We quickly forget what we were like ten or twenty or fifty years ago. Sometimes we are ashamed of our past and refuse to believe in what happened to us in actual fact. Art may lie but document never does. Although the document is also a product of someone’s will and passion. I compose my books out of thousands of voices, destinies, fragments of our life and being. It took me three-four years to write each of my books. I meet and record my conversations with 500-700 persons for each book. My chronicle embraces several generations. It starts with the memories of people who witnessed the 1917 Revolution, through the wars and Stalinist gulags, and reaches the present times. This is a story of one Soviet-Russian soul.