How to Invent Reality
Extracts from a forthcoming book

Jon Bang Carlsen

Documentary films that pretend to be just filming reality - without reality acknowledging the intrusion of the camera crew - are dangerous.

Objectivity is a bad excuse for manipulation. We're all trapped in our own point of view. That's inescapable. As filmmakers we shouldn't try to eradicate our own shadows which constantly interfere with the life unfolding in front of the camera. The only way to present to others how we see life is by reflecting life as it reaches each of us back to the audience via our own souls.

Objectivity is a strange animal pretending to contain all points of view in the world, a non-existing monster with billions of crossing eye lines; it is a pure fiction and therefore a strange alibi for storytellers trying to tell about life with elements that are already out there.

Journalism in recent years has had a very dangerous influence on documentary filmmaking. I do not believe that the constant news flow about the miserable state of the world helps people to act. I believe that mainstream journalism is a kind of dope for quite a lot of people. All this worthwhile journalism about worthwhile causes petrifies the viewer because the flood of media misery isn't served on a plate of love.

I see documentary filmmaking as an art form. And art, whatever that is, has always supplied me with an unexpected angle on the life we share that pushed me forward in my private life and maybe even given me the courage to act, contrary to the intellectually approved one-dimensional kind of journalism which paralyses people into petrified characters on chairs, who will never digest what they just saw, because it wasn't a story told by one human being to another. It was told by a cyclops from outer space with whom we share no human emotions.

Whether you work with fiction or documentaries, you're telling stories because that is the only way we can approach the world: to fantasize about this mutual stage of ours as it reinvents itself in the sphere between the actual physical world and the way your soul reflects it back onto the world. For me documentaries are no more real than fiction films and fiction films no more invented than documentaries. They just represent two different methods for describing our world, just as watercolors and oil in painting are two different materials with which you can try to portray life as you see it.

Personally I find that actions often hide people instead of revealing them. In my view, people are most accessible just before they act, when doubting what to do, and just after trying to face the results of their actions.

Doubt is one of the nobler human abilities and it is saddening to see how doubt is constantly being eradicated in the mental landscape of both documentary and fictional films. Doubt is an endangered species among human emotions. Doubt is the raw material with which democracies are built. To show doubt is not a sign of weakness, but a sign that the person is not petrified in a preconceived view of life.

I have been fighting to find a filmic structure that would allow doubt to be one of the main characters in my films and yet would still function as a solid framework to hang my filmic fragments on. Doubt is the soil every shot in the film should grow out of. Without doubt, no story, no film, no growth.

Reality is like our own face; you will never see it unless it is projected onto somebody else.

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