”People mix up documentaries and journalism”
Text: Jenni Mäenpää
Photography: Leila Oksa
Translation: Pirkko Koivunen
Film director Kanerva Cederström is nowadays a professor of documentary film.
”People often demand that documentary films should be as truthful as journalism. However, the film is just a tool that always requires an interpretation. No picture means anything by itself”, says Kanerva Cederström, film director and Professor in Documentary Film at the University of Art and Design Helsinki.
The boundaries between documentaries and fiction are blurring: documentaries borrow elements from fiction and vice versa. Making movies means making art, and in Cederström’s opinion, one can’t call for the same kind of objective depiction of truth from the film as one demands from journalism. She refuses to give a tight definition for documentary film.
”Documentary film doesn’t fit into any prescribed framework. There is no right kind of documentary; a film always resembles its creator.”
The changing trends are also visible in documentaries, but not as clearly as in fiction. The subjective style is regarded as the style of the day.
In America, the feminist style is dominating, but in Europe there are more differences between the directors. According to Cederström, differencies between genders are not as significant as personal differencies: both men and women deal with many kinds of themes. In Finland, there is about an equal number of men and women working in the field of documentary.
”I have discussed the gender issue with my friend Pia Andell. There may be no more women than men working in the field, but women may have got more publicity. It is easier for women to enter the film business as documentary makers. When making documents, we don’t need to think whether we really are women. For men, documentaries offer an alternative for the so called masculine fiction.”
Video challenges the film
The new technology is coming to the film industry in the form of digital video, among other things. This brings both new possibilities and fear for the disappearance of the traditional film aesthetics.
”On film, one can convey depth and light and a feeling of space better than on video. On the other hand, the video opens opportunities for a better reproduction of colors and pictoresqueness. In addition, the digital processing of images is cheaper and easier”, Cederstöm says.
In her view, the new technology should be considered an opportunity and a challenge. At the same time one should think of how to develop the old technology.
Over the last couple of decades, entering the film business has become more dificult in Finland. ”The Finnish film makers are lucky because they can receive funding from different organisations and from the government through the Finnish Film Foundation. The sums are higher than in the big countries in Central Europe, where there is also more competition.”
However, only a few people in Finland can earn a living by making films. Most directors also have other jobs, like teaching.
Fighting for appreciation
”Even though the documentary film has established its position, we still have to fight to get appreciation for it. People still don’t regard documentaries as films, but mix them up with journalism”, Cederström says.
According to Cederström, the documentary is not very widely appreciated, because is not as commercial as other film genres. ”We get positive feedback from the audience, and documentaries are also appreciated by politicians. However, screening times and places are scarce”.
One sign of the recognition of the documentary film is the establishment of the professor’s chair of documentary films in the University of Art and Design Helsinki. Cederstöm took the office in January. But even though the teaching is going to take a lot of her time now, she is not going to stop making films.
Festival News, Thursday 4 March 2004