Courtesy of True/False Film Fest

The first panel of True/False 2011 delved into an issue related to the title of the festival itself. Four directors, all of whom have films screening this weekend, talked about blurring the lines between reality and fiction, both in general and in their specific documentaries. Film critic Robert Koehler moderated the discussion and deemed the topic “almost as old as cinema itself.”

Birgitte Stearmose, director of Out of Love; Clio Barnard, The Arbor; Marcin Sauter, North from Calabria; and Michal Marczak, At the Edge of Russia joined Koehler. The session opened with an introduction of the directors and a clip from each of their films showing at True/False.

The directors discussed the meaning and motives behind their choice to include elements of fiction in their documentaries. Staermose talked about recruiting children who sell cigarettes in bars and telling their story through scripted monologues. Children were telling their story, but not in their own words.

“I wanted them to be seen and heard in a way that in reality they are not,” Staermose said. When people ask her if Out of Love is a documentary, she answers that of course it is. “Real people talking about real stuff—to me, that’s a documentary,” she said.

Marcin Sauter, who spoke his native Polish through a translator, said that he learned in film school that “the concept is No. 1, and how you accomplish it is secondary.” He said he used friends and actors in the film to “make reality more rich.”

Michael Marczak discussed confronting the notion that the mere presence of a film crew alters the reality of a situation. “For me, standing against a wall and pretending I’m invisible is not the way to do it.” He feels by influencing a situation he can portray reality in a way that could otherwise take months or years of waiting for something to happen organically.

In The Arbor, Clio Barnard had actors lip sync to previously recorded interviews with her subjects. She said that constructing appropriate images to go along with the true audio allowed her to best tell this family’s story.

While there are differing opinions on the appropriate method for blending reality and fiction—or if it should even be done at all—the panel discussion gave interesting insight into how and why these directors decided to use varying elements of fiction in their work. Koehler perhaps best described the mission of these hybrid documentaries when he said, “These filmmakers were creating a falsehood in pursuit of the truth.”

Vox Rating: VVV

-Lindsay Ross

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