CO-FINANCED BY: KUJAWSKO-POMORSKIE REGION, MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND NATIONAL HERITAGE FROM PROMOTION OF CULTURE FUND AND POLISH FILM INSTITUTE
ARTICLE: THE INVISIBLE WOMEN
Tuesday December 2nd, 2014
Kim Longinotto is lying down in the middle of the stage. “I don't know what do” - she moans. “Maybe we should all go... Is it something that we should do, or can I still show you one clip? I can't believe it went by so fast, I wish we could go for lunch or something.” Such confusion is well warranted – even though it took some time to fix the initial audio issues, the participants of her masterclass don't want to let the British filmmaker leave. She has only herself to blame because, let's call it as it is, listening to Longinotto and watching her run around frantically with a microphone from one person to another is fun.
Kim Longinotto, photo by Marta Pawłowska
Longinotto works with a small crew, usually accompanied just by her sound recordist and a translator, although on set she never speaks in English. Throughout her career she had to face tropical diseases, crazy producers and reluctant communities, whose shameful secrets she is not afraid to reveal. “We have been in dangerous situations, especially in African tribal areas where women aren't exactly welcomed with open arms” - admitted Longinotto. “But we shouldn't generalise – after all, we had Margaret Thatcher.”
In spite of all the obstacles the speed at which she works would make Woody Allen blush - Salma is still being shown around the festival circuit and Kim is already putting finishing touches on Dreamcatcher, her new film about prostitution in Chicago. Her documentaries received 26 prestigious awards, were noticed in Cannes and Sundance and yet her output is still best known to fellow documentary filmmakers and film scholars. Why? Because instead of focusing on infamous criminals and crooked politicians she makes films about women.
Still from "Pride of Place"
Still from "The Day I Will Never Forget"
Female circumcision in Kenya, Japanese women spending their lives as male role players, patriarchal legal system in Iran, everyday struggles of a female judge in Cameroon – topics of her films don't sound like a fun night at the movies. However, even though the situation of her heroines in The Day I Will Never Forget, Shinjuku Boys, Divorce Iranian Style or Sisters in Law is far from enviable, they never ask for pity. “I like filming rebels, people who are breaking the rules. All my films are about women challenging traditions in different ways. I am sure we all feel different about it, but the only tradition I really like are the Easter eggs.”
Longinotto is quite a rebel herself – it takes guts to come to the biggest film festival dedicated to cinematography and admit that she doesn't understand why anyone would still shoot on film. “I love digital - you just click a switch and you can film anything. I would never go back. It hasn't really changed the way I film, but the stress level has gone down and I don't have to carry that much.” Her most satisfying relationship, apart from the one with her editor, is her relationship with a sound recordist. “You either become absolute best friends or you can't stand each other. In film school we were told that there is this ongoing battle between camera and sound departments, but we just help each other. You have to be like an uncoiled spring – always ready to film. Otherwise you will miss something and will have to use cut-aways.” Focusing on people's hands or pictures on the wall is the last thing she wants to do: “I laugh when I see that. What's the point in showing some picture? It's not Harry Potter and it doesn't come to life. That's what I think – now you can start to throw things at me.”
Still from "Love is All: 100 Years of Love & Courtship"
Still from "Rough Aunties
Her documentaries are called observational, which usually means no screenplay, no explanatory voiceover and no talking heads – which is ironic, given that she finds it impossible to just sit and watch. “I used to watch Tony Soprano thinking that he was so much like my father – he was doing all these terrible things and yet he was sitting with his big pot of ice-cream, pretending everything is fine. We all build ourselves into stories. When I'm filming I'm not pretending I'm not there. I don't want to be a fly on the wall, I am very clearly there and I have a camera, so sometimes people will draw me in. In observational documentaries there are often scenes when somebody says something to the camera and they don't answer – I would never do that.”
This year's recipient of Camerimage Award for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary Filmmaking doesn't really watch any documentaries, because she doesn't enjoy films that tell her what to think. “When I was a child, before each screening there was always a short documentary and it was the most boring thing on Earth. People used to see documentaries as information, a lesson. Now they want to be moved, they want to be taken on a journey. I've become less judgemental with time, I always show multiple truths and I always see two sides of everything – it drives me nuts. I think you have to treat the audience with a little bit of respect and the best attack is to make things funny - authority is often ridiculous. It kind of frees you when you can laugh a bit. I really believe that documentaries can be fun.” Kim Longinotto's films clearly reflect who she is and all the better for it.