Valuing films that follow genre conventions and follow them well.
here… I mean there
Laura Capatana Juller, 2012
Genre: Character-driven documentary
Many of the films I’ve been watching are overlooked. Almost by nature, since they have two short distribution lives, the first on the festival circuit and second via television broadcast, usually by their funder. Sometimes documentaries have enough of a hook to get wide video or digital distribution and occasionally break through as hits, but just as often they languish in an undistributed state after their initial release.
In my project I am making a “genius of the system” type of case for the festival documentaries. The formulas interest me as much as the exceptional films. So small films, the overlooked films, are valuable for their collective role in a larger aesthetic project. These works can and should be appreciated on their own, but I also understand why many are not.
But I’d also like to make another case for the small film. Formulas and genres aside, many documentaries have an ineffable quality that makes them standout for me. They can do so by breaking the genre formulas, but they can also just be very good examples of their genre.
Like here… I mean there, a standard-def video character-driven documentary about one family from the Maramureș region of Romania as the parents leave their daughters in care with the grandparents as they go to Spain for employment. It’s a common experience, since many Romanians are guest workers elsewhere in the EU, and the power of the documentary is the way it explores a collective national problem though the intimate portrait of the family, particularly of the younger daughter Sanda.
I know documentary makers and scholars who chafe at the character-driven format (or at least its ubiquity), but here is an example that shows what the character-driven documentary can do well: engage spectators in the problems and aspirations of the film’s subjects, as a reflection for broader abstract problems.
I have written more on here… I mean there in a forthcoming essay on Romanian documentary. Sadly, the film is not in video distribution. It is one of the frustrations of studying festival documentary that many of the films I think are excellent and of scholarly interest are not easily accessible.