Some years ago when I was editing POV magazine I interviewed Michel Brault, the great Quebecois director of photography and director, when he visited Toronto. I asked him how he defined documentary and he reached into his wallet and took out a text in French by the philosopher Edgar Morin. He had a literal English translation and said if I could improve the translation he would appreciate it. There is more thought about the documentary in this quote than we are used to.
There are two ways of conceiving the cinema of the real. The first is to claim to show the real. The second is to pose the problem of the real. Similarly, there were two ways of conceiving of cinema-verite. The first was to claim to deliver the truth. The second was to pose the problem of the truth.
Now, we should know that fiction film is in principle, much less illusory, much less of a lie than “documentary” cinema, because author and spectator know that it is fiction, that is to say, it carries its claim to truth in its imaginary. In contrast, the documentary camouflages its fiction and its imaginary behind its image-reflection of the real.
Now, we should know, more and more completely, social reality masks and fictionalizes itself before the gaze of others and especially in front of the camera. Social reality expresses itself through roles. And in politics, the imaginary is more real than the real.
This is why it is under the cover of “cinema of the real” that we have been shown, proposed, had imposed, the most incredible illusions. It’s that, in the marvellous regions where we have brought the exhilarating image, social reality has been fictionalized and overshadowed by the reigning political system and transformed by the hallucinatory vision of the filmmaker.
This is to say that the cinema which addresses the most serious and most difficult problems concerning, illusion, irreality, fiction, is exactly the cinema of the real — the cinema whose mission is to confront the most difficult philosophical problem of the last two thousand years — that of the nature of the real.
Festival Cinema du Reel
Paris, mai 1980