Edgardo Cozarinsky ’s pioneering film essay, La guerre d’un seul homme (“One Man’s War”), combined newsreels from the Nazi occupation of Paris with extracts from the diaries of the writer Ernst Junger, at the time Military Governor of the French capital. The effect is both disturbing and illuminating as to the kind of constructions and truth-claims involved in the newsreel and the diary. Made in exile in France, during the harshest period of the military dictatorship in Cozarinsky’s native Argentina, the ethical and political implications go well beyond what happened in France during World War II.
Cozarinsky himself is also an important writer, author of essays and novels hailed by Susan Sontag and Guillermo Cabrera Infante. Recently published in English are The Bride from Odessa and The Moldavian Pimp. He has also made forays into the theater, both as director and actor, most notably in the autobiographical Cozarinsky y su médico, directed by Vivi Tellas. His films –Guerreros y cautivas, Les Boulevards du Crepuscule, Citizen Langlois, Fantomes de Tanger, Le violon de Rothschild, Ronda nocturna, among others– almost always include a strong documentary component, with original research, but at the same time they range disquietingly, back and forth, from fact to myth.
José Luis Guerín
José Luis Guerín has headed in recent years the profound regeneration of the documentary in Spain, although his films are stubbornly unlike anyone else’s. En construcción, featured at the first Princeton Documentary Festival, gave rise to great acclaim but also to a discussion about the legitimacy of reenactments in the documentary. Los motivos de Berta, Innisfree and Tren de sombras, which came before, are all unclassifiable films that have acquired cult status. His latest work has taken three distinct yet related incarnations: 1) the feature film En la ciudad de Sylvia; 2) an installation commissioned by the Venice Bienale called Las mujeres que no conocemos, with material shot for the same film; and 3) the radically innovative film presented here, Unas fotos en la ciudad de Sylvia (“Photos in the City of Sylvia”). Put together solely with photographs and written texts, this entirely silent film veers between autobiography and the documentary record of a real city (Strassbourg), while unfolding the story of the narrator’s quest for a woman he met there over twenty years ago. The mesmerizing result leaves us wondering what it is precisely that we are seeing.
Luis Ospina is one of the pioneers in this alternative tradition of Latin American documentary. Born in Cali, Colombia, and trained in the United States, Ospina was also one of the first filmmakers to embrace video as a medium and TV as a site for radical experimentation in the shape and range of the documentary genre. His landmark 1978 Agarrando pueblo was --and remains— a searing exposé of the pretension and hypocrisy behind the truth claims of so much “Third World” filmmaking. In his more recent La desazón suprema: retrato incesante de Fernando Vallejo, Ospina seems to have found his match in the great Colombian writer, whose love-hate relationship to his native country is perhaps equal only to the filmmaker’s own. Ospina has a vast body of work, which includes many shorts and TV documentaries and two feature films, Pura sangre and Soplo de vida. His latest feature-length documentary is the award-winning Un tigre de papel.
Eduardo Coutinho has long been acknowledged as the most important documentary filmmaker in Brazil, although his international status as one of the undisputed masters of the genre has been surprisingly late in coming. Coutinho’s new film, Jogo de cena (“Playing”), is a return of sorts to his classic from the 1980s, Cabra marcado para morrer. Liberally mixing documentary record and artifice, Coutinho put 23 women on the stage of a theater to tell their own real stories to the camera. This footage was then combined with the record of actresses re-playing some of the real stories on the same stage. The result is exhilarating, making us question many of our assumptions about truth-telling and fiction. Coutinho’s special art lies in his ability to redefine testimony as the heart of the documentary enterprise, as was evident in his previous experiment, O fim e o principio, screened two years ago at the festival. Other films by Coutinho include Boca do lixo, Santo Forte, Babilonia 2000, Edificio Master and Peões (also screened at Princeton).