Friday, June 10, 2011

A documentary masterpiece

I saw the incredible documentary 'Stand van de Sterren' (Position of the Stars) the other night. It is the last part of a trilogy on three generations of Indonesians: an old woman, her middle aged son and a granddaughter. The maker, Leonard Retel Helmrich, is a completely original and tenacious filmer who has developed a unique way of operating and using a camera. His films have a 'fly on the wall' feel but now 'the fly has left the wall' and circles and flies with & around his subjects. His aim is to shoot a scene with as few interruptions as possible; as one long, smooth shot.
He does this with amazing agility and I believe he has developed special gear to fly high or low and get incredible perspective. Sometimes he approaches the face of his protagonists within inches and, amazingly, they don't even flinch an eye. It's like the filmer and his camera are not there.
Not only his style, but the content of this trilogy is baffling as well: at once extremely personal and dramatic, showing his characters vulnerable, flawed and at all times captivating and intimate against the backdrop of social turmoil and changing times, religious differences and inequality.
This is a film that every film and documentary maker should see, as an example how style and content come together to form a masterpiece.