The Poetic Documentary

I think we said ”poetic documentary” more than a hundred times in Aarhus during the weekend, where the mini-festival Baltic Frames took place. The theme for the festival chosen by the curators Signe Van Zundert and Niels Bjørn Wied, also included the word: Capturing the Poetic Everyday. But what is ”poetic”? I went to one of many online dictionaries, where ”Poetry” was defined like this: ”the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts”. If you take away the reference to literature, where most of the words come from when we talk about films… then maybe we get closer. But as one of the participants at the seminar sunday asked: Is a poetic documentary merely one that shows beautiful landscapes… No, was the answer from Audrius Stonys, who is – together with Kristine Briede – the director of the film under production, working title ”Baltic New Wave”, a poetic documentary, he said, can deal with any topic, it’s about the aesthetic choice and the personal angle. But, said I, if there is a poetic documentary, there must also be a prosaic documentary… Yes, said Stonys with a smile, Michael Moore does not make poetic documentaries!

Equally with a smile, Ukrainian director Roman Bondarchuk, who showed his ”Ukrainian Sheriffs” at the festival and a clip from his wonderful ”Dixie Land”, asked if Stonys found his films were ”poetic”. The answer came immediately, ”of course they are”. To go back to the definition above, ”the exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative and/or elevated thoughts”, is created through (also)

the outstanding camerawork that we saw in Aarhus performed by Bondarchuk, Berzins (who shot the two films of Viesturs Kairiss) and Laisvūnas Karvelis, who did the camera for Audrius Stonys ”Gates of the Lamb”.

By the way I once told students at the Zelig Film School that they were not allowed to use the word ”poetic” because ”poetic” can be interpreted differently depending on the eyes who watch. We then showed Wojciech Staron’s ”Brothers” and the only word I could find that would fit was ”poetic”!

Back to ”Baltic New Wave” and the old masters. Click the link below and take a look at the website of vfs, the company of Uldis Cekulis, where a 6 minutes long teaser introduces ”A story about a unique phenomenon in the history of cinema – Baltic school of poetic documentary and its creators – filmmakers from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia who broke the dogmatic poster-like propaganda documentary tradition in the Soviet Union in the 1960s by creating films that were totally different: humane, meaningful, and poetic. The story is told in a poetic road-movie ‘detective’ style…”

Three times ”poetic”, and they knew what it meant – Herz Frank, Uldis Brauns, Henrikas Sablevicius…”.

Photo (Danish Cultural Institute), from left: Festival curators Niels Bjørn Wied and Signe van Zundert, producer Uldis Cekulis, in the middle Danish Cultural Institute in the Baltics director Simon Drewsen Holmberg, Latvian ambassador to Denmark Kaspars Ozoliņš and directors Audrius Stonys and Roman Bondarchuk – after screening of ”Ukrainian Sheriffs” in Aarhus.

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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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