Given the previous post dealing with comments presented to the 5th annual International Ethnographic Film Festival of Quebec, I decided to also post extracts of the presentation I made at the previous festival, then called the Montreal Festival of Ethnographic Films (FFEM). The film I reviewed and commented on at the January 2007 festival was:
Turcisce Carnival (Ivo Kuzmanic, 45min)
With a humorous and original approach, the film examines the folk carnival tradition of Turcisce, a village in Northern Croatia. Traditionally performed on Shrove Tuesday, the Carnival festivities were abandoned for the past forty years. But when townspeople offered to revive it for the purpose of this film, the filmmakers refused, wishing to stay true to the documentary approach. Conflict arises within the village; between rival mask makers and carnival groups, old customs and modern ways of life, townspeople and film makers, and finally between the film itself and what often passes nowadays for documentary film – which this film sets out to spoof.
My comments are more sombre than the film itself, which is lighthearted and fun, bringing to mind, but almost as a pardoy, Chronicle of a Summer by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin. I think that Turcisce Carnival raises issues of what is a “real documentary”, what is fiction, especially as this film treats past films about its subject within the film itself, including interviews with other filmmakers who filmed in the same village, and going over some useful conceptual ground for new students to anthropology and the wider public where notions of community, tradition, bureaucratization, continuity, change, and representation are concerned. It is fairly busy film then, reviewing past ethnographic films of this carnival in a Croatian town, producing a new film, and then commenting on filmmaking itself.
Part of the fun of the film comes from the way it humorously treats reflexivity, which might possibly be a reaction against the too easy gestural, stylistic and ornamental ways that one can imprint the signature of experimental subjectivity on one’s film…anybody can do it, and it’s becoming really easy, so you can find a film by someone who went all the way to India to film herself in a mirror, and get all sorts of accolades because all the right marks of reflexivism are in their proper place.
In this case, one knows when the film intends to signal its Rouch-like reflexivity, because the scenes go to black and white, in most cases, taking us back to our 1960s forebears.
Interestingly, while the film is credited as made by Ivo Kuzmanic, his appearances in the film are are rare and brief, and when he is shown, half the time he is holding a Canon XL1 camera, but at the end when we see a scene of the filming it’s a different person doing the filming, using a different camera, and indeed Kuzmanic is not listed as the camera man in the credits.
That the filmmakers themselves seem to be playing with subjectivity and reflexivity seems to be the case about half way through the film, when they indicate that their preferred approach is a realist and naturalist one. Indeed, they seem to have no trouble in combining both reflexivity and realism, which itself is a significant statement. At the start of the film, we hear the “thoughts” of one of the filmmakers, the lead interviewer, as he says that they wanted to make “a real documentary” and even then it is said tongue in cheek.
There was also considerable “native feedback” that has been incorporated into the film. Discussions on what is truth are shown in the film itself, especially when villagers wanted another truth to be shown, to use film to save their traditions. Apparetly not many people in the village were aware of either the joke that was being played on realism, nor the other running contradiction of the film, that the filmmakers were not there to present a reality invented for the film.
I noted that while it is more common now to find the filming of the film within the film itself, we don’t really ever see the making of the film, that is the complex and contentious debates and challenges faced in the editing of a film (except for select written treatments that stand outside the film and usually come years after the film was released), and even less do we get a treatment of what makes a film make-able. By that I mean, what are the social and economic conditions of filmic production, and the larger political contexts of a film. While this film treats tradition and community with a critical eye, the selective focus is interesting–this is a country, that emerged as a nation-state after a gruesome war, embroiled in ethnonationalism, and here in this film we have a turn to the folk roots of the nation but without a critical discussion of nationalism, of what makes the subject matter of interest to the Croatian television viewing audience, of who funded this film and why…all of this is left up to our imaginations, to infer, assume, interpret, or to simply guess. In fact, the decision for the choice of subject is deliberately obscured in this film, making it appear to be simply a question of deadlines and a quasi-random selection something one happened to come across by accident.
Within the film no reasoning was provided as to the chosen means of analyzing this carnival, instead opting to present a range of topics, the procession, masks, and so forth, without a clear rationale as to why these focal points were selected.
The film avoids calling itself “ethnographic,” choosing “documentary” instead…although there are references to colleagues “in the field,” to prior “ethnographic documents,” and an ethnographic institute was consulted, if I read the credits correctly. In addition, occasionally anthropological terms and concepts are deployed in the narration.
On the whole, if one were looking for a film that cross reflexivity and realism, that pokes a finger in the eye of both, then this would be a good choice. Judging from the audience reactions, especially the almost constant chuckling and sometimes open laughter, the film was very well received and warmly applauded.