Prague Documentary Lesson by Victor Kossakovsky

Before we start this year’s season of workshops and seminars, why not start your filmmaking preparation with the star of contemporary documentary Victor Kossakovsky. At the end of January, he came to Prague to share his view of life, documentary and other things with film fans in the small screening hall of Světozor Cinema. You can now watch the master class of Victor Kossakovsky at the DAFilms.com portal wherever you are for free. What can you learn at this lecture?

The most important quality of a documentary filmmaker is the skill of attentive observation. Could you describe the house you live in? Do you know what the lady who sold you coffee this morning was wearing? What is the eye colour of your colleague sitting at the neighbouring desk? It is probably clear what these questions suggest: we can always be even more attentive and perceptive towards our environment. Especially those who dream of making their own films should keep their eyes open.

You may feel that you do not have a story that is strong enough for your film or that you have not found a crucial issue to deal with in your film. However, according to Victor Kossakovsky, that is not a problem at all, as film consists of individual scenes; images we are attentively observing. If you are lucky, all you have to do is choose an interesting spot, put your camera there and things will start happening. Enjoy your role of an observer who may choose how to present his images to his viewers. If you want to make a real documentary, do not try to adjust the shots so that they illustrate what you believe. Victor Kossakovsky himself tries to see what feelings and thoughts his shots might evoke in the viewers, using this awareness to make his film so that the viewers will have to reflect on their own opinion, and possibly even revise it. Do not be afraid to change your opinion and perspective yourself. Nobody should judge you if you start making your film with a certain intention and conviction, however, while working on it, you discover new perspectives that will move you in a yet unimaginable direction.

A good filmmaker needs challenges and limitations that will make his film unrepeatable. As an example, let us name Kossakovsky’s film “Tishe“ filmed by the director from his window without leaving the apartment and intervening in the events on the “stage”. Whether you would like to deal with an unusual topic or choose an experimental filmmaking technique, just do it. You will hardly capture the complex history of your city in a ten-minute My Street film; so why not rather ask you neighbour how he remembers the day he moved to your street?

The master class also includes the director’s observations about film music and editing. Forget about all the usual sounds and popular songs that usually accompany films. Try to add diverse sound to go with your film and see what impression your shots make. Does the music add a grotesque or a rather melancholy dimension to the scene? Will the film make the same impression when you choose quiet instrumental music or a punk song? Victor Kossakovsky also seems to approach the very selection of the best shots in a different way than other filmmakers do. You may have filmed sixty minutes of footage and now you have to edit it to make a ten-minute film. It will be a painful process of crying over each cut out scene. Kossakovsky, however, does the very opposite; he first chooses the most precious scenes that cannot be missing in the film under any circumstances. These will form the skeleton to which other scenes will be added; muscles, blood, tears etc...

But first things first. Let us hope that the enthusiastic account of one of the greatest contemporary documentary filmmakers will inspire you to make your own films and that you will be willing to attend our seminars in the following months where we will only deal with wonderful details such as post-production.