I’ve arrived at the 57th annual Flaherty Seminar and just finished our first round of orientations for Fellows – about 28 interesting people coming from all over the U.S. (though Brooklyn is a little over-represented!) and Latin America. As I write, the other 100+ filmmakers, critics, and programmers are arriving – and our first happy hour begins soon. I’m looking forward to watching dozens of documentary films this week… and to the legendary discussions to follow.
One of the interesting topics of discussion today was whether Robert Flaherty – canonized as the first important documentary filmmaker – really was a documentary filmmaker at all. Of course everyone knows that he staged many of his scenes, Nanook wasn’t actually married to his “wife,” etc. But did Flaherty even consider himself a documentarian? Scott MacDonald, who led a session for us on the history of Flaherty and The Flaherty, pointed out that he really considered himself an experimental narrative filmmaker.
These categories obviously get redefined over the years, and are not always relevant. But it reminded me of a spirited part of the Celebration of Ricky Leacock I attended at MIT last week, in which Michel Negroponte lamented that the worlds of documentary filmmakers and avant-garde art filmmakers no longer overlapped so fruitfully as they once did. That Leacock, known so well for his contributions to Direct Cinema/Cinema Vérité, was truly open and appreciative to art films. These days I often meet “artists who work in film” who harbor a real disdain for documentaries, and documentarians who have had little exposure to fine art films – even though there is real overlap in the broad range of work in both categories.
(Something else Leacock and Flaherty shared, besides a collaborative relationship and an openness to art filmmaking: a love of women! Discussions of Flaherty’s “international exchanges” that produced children all over the world echoed the stories about “the many women who loved Ricky”…)
Anyway, it’s with a very open mind that we as Flaherty fellows are launching into this intense experience. I was excited to see a presentation by Caroline Martel of her installation investigating the connections between industrial films and mainstream narrative films – since I’ve also been exploring other forms for my film work, including installation.
– Julie Mallozzi