Film-theoretical concept of FORST [03/2005] - home


Outlines of a Theory of the Undocumentary

The documentary film, as scion of enlightening, is based on the premise that basically everything that is depicted can be understood. This is a mistake. Unconscious structures like racism are not comprehendible. Racism anchors itself in our every gaze. The question arises whether the documentary film should give up its greatest goods – authenticity and credibility – in order to confront the viewer with an extremely dubious reality, the “Real”, the reality of phantasm. 

by Ascan Breuer

taken from dia-log: Aufbrüche, Ausblicke und Stand-Punkte

What could a documentary on this topic look like? Refugees from a hazy bureaucracy are hidden in forests, made virtually invisible and cut off, deprived of the dominant gaze of the “defining culture”. Their sight is spared of our whitewashed field of vision; the public discourses are deaf to their voices and concerns. When we shoot a documentary film like Forst, which takes on this kind of subject matter of a displaced reality, is it then still legitimate to proceed with the classic documentary means? In this case, do documentary films perhaps run the risk of serving colonial constructed views the moment they show, for example, people with dark skin in hopeless situations? Views of fear, views of pity, liberal and charitable as well as begrudging or maybe ecstatic, in any case dominant views?

 The “Deconstructed Construction”

 Reality is a construction. Since the decline of “direct cinema”, this general place has contained the guide of the documentary film movement on how best to deconstruct reality. What comes out at the end is always a contradiction of itself: a “deconstructed construction”, a construction that doesn´t want to be such. Structurally, documentary films are such contradictions; in a peculiar way they displace the forgone conclusion that it is fundamental views which construct reality. When the deconstructer looks back at the end, she will recognize that she left behind many of his own constructions along the way, constructions that at best became independent. She will recognize that she is perhaps the biggest constructer of all time. At worst, self-conscious constructions will come out of it, empty looks, glances instead of gazes that do not really comprehend anything because they do not want to be fascinated, but rather revealing and enlightened. The viewer is first shifted into the position of a colonial expert, who in distancing (from the subject as well as from herself) searches for her denied power that awards her the position in which she can gain insight on the “deconstructive”. What she usually forgets is (an impossible task) to submit herself and her views likewise to a deconstruction. This empty coolness is always the danger in the “discourses of sobriety” (Bill Nichols), that the documentary so earnestly works to cultivate.

 “Non-racist Racism”

 Do documentary films not automatically produce positive as well as negative loaded stereotypes that are almost impossible to deconstruct? A documentary film can deconstruct the (constructed) relationships within the plot; it can show, in our case, how the apparatus that causes massive oppression of migrants works. But can it also capture it with those ideological machineries, which are at work when viewing what is projected on the screen? It has to acknowledge this because it is contractually bound to negotiate with the viewers on a realistic level. This is what is stated in the “Law of Authenticity”. When we talk about the “reality of views” we do not find ourselves in the primary sphere of reality anymore. Here it is about a secondary, unconscious-imaginary level, a level of desire and identification. In short, we find ourselves in the realm of the “real”.  On this terrain it turns out that opposites like those between racism and antiracism do not necessarily have to contradict one another. Examples of this phenomenon can often be observed in political debates, where drug problems and rights of asylum get mixed up, and also in the liberal media, which is not immune to subliminal racist statements. Those with an unconscious, pre-constructed, racism-riddled perspective who avoid their conscious (antiracist) denial, are implicit in the “technology of being white”. Cultural Studies guru John Fiske calls this “non-racist racism”.

 The Clash of Gazes

 To accommodate this problem cinematically and negotiate on the viewing level can require that the strategy deviate from the documentary and authenticity path and prevent the identification of the viewer with the subject. It may be necessary to enable what the documentary film avoids, to admit or even encourage doubt in the reality of the documented and to open an obvious gap between the film and the audience. It can be necessary for the film to shut down the usual fraternization with the audience. Hence Forst is not a documentary film that is committed to a general accessible reality that tries to draw in the audience in the best possible way. It neither attempts to generate understanding and recognition, nor does it want to bring about a dialogue. No one that sees this film will understand the structure of the refugees’ “reality”, nor will they understand the “feelings” of the refugees who speak in the film. Instead of affording insight in “the reality”, Forst consciously tries to construct the protagonists’ view, their view on a reality that turns out to be completely different from that of the viewers. The refugees live in a different reality than the viewers and a negotiation between the two “worlds” is impossible; at best, there is only one that is always simulated. This view can never be completely understood from the audience’s position; therefore the film does not even attempt it. The refugees’ view is constructed with relish. It is established as an awkward, defiant, self-aware, uninhibited, empowered view. It aggressively conflicts with those from the other side, from the side of the objective viewer set in a preventative defensive position against the possibly repressive or monopolizing, in any case “understanding”, attitude. This view says, “We don’t need you to validate our view”. It legitimates itself; not even the heaviest marginalization can change that. Thus the protagonists hide in the forest from the audience’s gaze. They never show their faces in which the viewers could loose themselves and build a “human” relationship. Thus “humanity” is not a category of this documentary film. Thus “their world” is presented as imaginative and totally inauthentic, entranced and incomprehensible. Thus Forst bears traits of a blatant manifest and is not open to negotiation; one can simply sign it without contradiction or dismiss it abruptly. And thus Forst declares itself first indirectly as “un-documentary”.

The Inauthentic Real

 The un-documentary does not (exclusively) relate to the reality of itself. Mainly it is focussed on the “Real”. The Real is not less “real” than reality; it is the structure of the construction named “reality”. It is the repressed side, the dark world that the view excludes from the start, that it structurally substantiates and for this exact reason this side remains concealed and inaccessible. The real is therefore the unreal; it is to reality what the unconscious is to consciousness. (The “Unconscious” is not the non-conscious, but rather the conscious that is consciously excluded from the consciousness.) Forst blithely construes its views as un-documentary (thus it also follows the “performative documentary film” tradition) and still feels obliged to deconstruction. Not the deconstruction of the film itself or what it depicts, but rather the process of the production of reality and view that is always in the forefront of documentary film. The un-documentary boldly digresses from this production in its departure from the dogma of authenticity. In this way it allows for awareness, where a deconstructive grasp of the real must always consciously fail. As opposed to traditional documentary films, Forst is a conscious (anti-) construction of reality and thereby free from every austerity, abundantly fascinated by what it deconstructs as well as what it constructs. Insofar, Forst digresses from the supposed “reality” and turns towards the Real, the phantasm that keeps the production process running. The commitment that all documentary film participants employ, first and foremost the involvement of the viewers, the producers and last but not least, those that were the objects of the “social documentary”, is greatly appreciated. The film team takes into account the significance of everyone’s participation in this construction process, the ideas that each person brings with them with a readiness to realize, the conflicts that are sometimes fought out, the clash of views that are projected to and from the screen…

In order to pay due respect to these realities, Forst does without strategies of credibility and persuasiveness because these marvels – not the acquisition of insight – are the subject of the performative un-documentary. These marvels are the constructive aspect. The deconstructive aspect has to react from here on and traverse the construction with doubt. In this field, between joyful construction and (not less joyful) awakening of doubt in the construction, the un-documentary lives.