THE REFLEXIVE STALKER
Txt: Alessio Galbiati / Eng: Ali Ustun
This article is an extract of the interview done by Alessio Galbiati for the 10 th . issue of the digital magazine of cinema and video art Rapporoto Confidenziale, whose founder and director is Alessio. The exchange is a part of a friendship relation and collaboration between Digicult and one of the most interesting and professional independent editorial realities on the national panorama.
1977 Class Antonio Martino is, without any shade of doubt, one of the most interesting documentary authors of the last years, the very many awards obtained by his works are there to show this, if only the vision shall be enough.
Gifted by a dry and essential style Martino has five documentaries, five documentations on the ominous effects of the human-act, searching the memories of the five environmental catastrophes, among which the humanity which had the disaster of living them. I wanted to deepen and share the knowledge on this author because his style appears to be among the most stimulant ones of the Italian Scienography also in the productive means, because what his experience teaches is that we live in the times, in which the possibility of making cinema has never been such reachable by everybody. He has collaborated with POLIVISIONI, an independent group of film-makers, with whom he dealt with the problem of anti-prohibition in Italy making the documentary ‘We’re made like this” which presents Freak Antoni, the singer of Skiantos, as the principal actor. Already since 2004, his constant ( manca un sostantivo o nome?) becomes the research of the reality, which takes him closer to the places and to the difficult themes. His interviews are transformed to the conscious eyes, and his images become inquiry. In 2005 he goes to the front-door of the nuclear reactor Chernobyl and makes the ”We’re air not soil” documenting the actual life conditions and the consequences faced by the people living in the vicinity of the nuclear centre of Chernobyl at eighteen years of distance from the disaster. The documentary has been selected by various national and international festivals. In the fall 2006, he makes Blue Panorama nearby CPA/CPT on the Island of Capo Rizzuto, the huge crater. The film portrays the escape of the clandestine from the fields where they were temporarily accommodated.
Right after in 2005, being curious of understanding the motivations of some serious newspaper facts committed by the very young Rumanian children in Italy, he decides to analyze the conditions of the babies who live in a society in the hard times, trying to recover from the horrors of post-Ceausescu. He makes the ”Gara de Nord_copii pe strada” only by the use of a small handy video camera more or less hidden and by a budget equals to zero. He lives with the babies of sewer of Bucharest for a month, in this way he opens a window on the reality of these babies who live in underground canals of the city in winter and on the street in summer, the victims of paedophilia on street (usually perpetrated by foreign tourists), of drugs and of abuses by parents. The film receives many awards, among which the prestigious Production Award Ilaria Alpi 2007. The film has beenpurchased by Rai3 and Rai News24. In the February 2007 he made the ”Pancevo_mrtav grad” an interview made in the most polluted city of the Europe: Pancevo, in Serbia, a few kilometres from Belgrade. The video examines the consequences of the bombardment of the largest industrial complex of the ex- Yugoslavia by NATO. The fierce bombardments provoked one of the most serious ecological catastrophes of the last century, which were highly volunteered and authorized by today’s new Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore, also a famous environmentalist, the vice-president of Clinton by then.
I believe that this way of giving a measure to the reality, which you want to express, is a cost of your works. The best-fitting definition of your work is stalker, which came into my mind from the tarkovsky guide, which is the one who carries with him principally himself, and the reflections of the others and moreover an eye (a look), on distant and marginal realities and always tries to be distant from judgements. Therefore, your cinema , your way of narrating by images, always becomes very hard, strong. I get the feeling that, this doesn’t happen because you want to construct something heavy and shocking for the public in a programmed manner, it happens because the reality narratives are shocking and dramatic in themselves. I wanted to ask you about this work method of yours if it’s getting sharper by time and more concretely how it functions either in the moment which you produce a documentation or when you get in contact with a reality, with the people. It really struck me very much in this sense, a sequence of your documentary on Chernobyl We’re air not earth (2005) when you enter into a dispersed house on the countryside in Ukraine and there’s this old woman which shouts at his son, of letting you in, and not letting you shoot the house as it’s very messy. Right, it struck me because a large component of improvisation it’s very evident, I believe that neither you knew what you would find on the other side, you don’t know the answers you will find I would like to understand what are your sensations especially those humanistic ones, with regards to your method of work.
Antonio Martino: Well, in this while you’ve had very nice intuition, because it’s what I really want to do, which is the stalker, the guide. The bigger question around, on which I’ve found myself thinking and studying, is obviously the question of the statute of documentary. There exists a long diatribe on the theme, it’s present since when the documentary was born, that is the documentary is the pure reality, or half fiction, and on how to interpret the documentary o how to relate it with the culture of that moment or place. I’ve created my best films using these little video cameras
I interrupt you because this things return usually to the articles dedicated to you and I would like to clarify this. Little video cameras or little DV video cameras, which are found in supermarkets and cost about 500 Euros?
Antonio Martino: Let’s say that, it’s about consumer not prosumer. A video camera this has always been my reference-, which has at least three sensors, 3 CCD, because it’s the minimum from which you can depart. The reflection is not even here; it’s in the fact what changes the society The society is changing. It’s an obvious thing for everyone. Ten years before, for us, being able to send a photo by a cell phone was a science fiction, also at the times when you and I were in high school. We really think less about this but it’s important, out parents would say us: ”and us, we had to go to neighbours” house in order to telephone”. The relation with the technology has to be more reflexive. Human needs the technology. I give you an example. Years before, in the 70 and 80′ies, being human in the society had references which came from the institutions: the government, the school, the information, and the television if they said one thing on the television, everyone would believe in that and they would believe in it blindly, because the television was the truth. If the president of the council on the town square said: we will do this, that and that other one, the people would believe in it because that was the truth. The same thing was valid for the school; the word of the professor was the law.
Because, the people trusted in these institutions. Today, in the new millennium, we enter into a second modernity. The first modernity has reached the maximum levels of development with us, I think that we would have to stop a moment and rethink what the technology is for us. This means to observe the society in a reflexive way. Take for instance, the television Before everyone had a television, there has been a period in which it was begun to posses more than one of the TV, since babyhood we demanded a TV in our rooms. It seemed normal, unexceptionable. Today, certainty is not a fixed point any more, but a technological object, around which the human reflects. The same thing happens by Internet. It’s a difficult concept to explain.
It’s a concept, which I’ve found in No Sense of Place, a very beautiful book of Joshua Meyrowitz…
Antonio Martino: In fact, I refer to the texts of Ulrich Beck. Who already in the 80′ies wrote the Risk Society, towards a second modernity; think that I published it three months before the explosion of the Chernobyl Central. Above all I think of Reflexive Modernization: politics, tradition and aesthetics in the modern social order, an essay of Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens and Scott Lash which I personally consider as the first text of the new philosophy of our days: Reflexive modernization, modernization reflexive. It seems that this text is conditioning the art of making documentary from many points of view. When I started to do it, even before I knew the theories, almost unconsciously i understood that I needed to do something different, I knew that the classical documentary with an omniscient voice the off voice which knows everything has had its time and most importantly it wasn’t the possible form for the being contemporary any more. At the end it’s true that my way of making documentary is a way of guide, which accompanies inside of a reality without taking any position. In the time we are living it’s difficult to take positions, you may be oriented towards a something or some other, but very clear positions are hardly taken. The institutions, the same schools and the media men are not trusted any more… The human returns to position himself at the centre of the universe, trying to discover what are the new rules to live this time.
Contrarily to the classical documents, in my works the figure of the expert is almost totally missing, the scientist or the professor, this is because I would like to construct the works as reflexive as possible, I’ve always tried to have the information from ”normal”, common people, from the people who are nobody rather than the scientists. At the beginning this thing quite disturbed me because I departed from the presumption that the documentary had to be a film of documents which document (sorry for the tangling) something textually, a research of trials. But, how to find these trials? How to demonstrate a determinate thesis or point of views when a tangible reality doesn’t exist? Documenting myself on the psychiatric question, which I was telling you of, I lit totally upon myself, on the contrary of everything. There are multinationals, which diffuse false information, patients who tell the recovery thanks to a psychic-pharmacist, and others, which document the worsening of the conditions because of the same psychic-pharmacist. Everything and the contrary of everything! The truth has become liquid, it’s no more as the it was some decades before where the ideology consented to have fixed, non-removable points. For this reason I like the idea of the guide, I pick you up and take you there, inside of those situations immersed in a reality. In the act of taking there, the spectator has the concept of voyeurism in itself, one of the fundamental concepts of the cinema, one of the reasons, which take us to watch a film. My though is reconnected to the ideas of Cesare Zavattini and Alexandre Astruc; Zavattini said that on day all of us would have had the possibility of using a cine camera and we would have had the possibility of expressing ourselves using the language, in the same way of a writer’s or a journalist’s with the fountain pen. Right after, arrived Alberto Grifi…
What you’re saying is absolutely overlaps with what I wrote in the editorial of the issue 8 (October 2008) of RC. I’ve written that the first (unconscious) witness of the potential of the Super-8 has been Abraham Zapruder who showed the potential of this vehicle to the world by filming the assassin of Kennedy, later on, there arrived a crowd of filmmakers, sparsed over the globe, which tried to make cinema by this new vehicle, among which Alberto Grifi has absolutely been the forerunner of the practice in Italy. Then, I was telling, with the digital this potential is multiplied exponentially…
Antonio Martino: Since the 60′ies and today, there has been incredible improvements in the non-professional image quality, and it has been passed from the almost unintelligible image of the films of Grifi where the necessity was to tell in order to separate from the qualitative formalism, to the products which are realized with a very reduced budget which have been able not only to access to the halls but also real blockbuster. I think that the Tony Blair Witch Project (the film of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez in 1999) despite being a film of certain stupid verses , it has inaugurated the era of the digital cinema in its own way (and there are also the cases of Dardennna and Bertolucci and many thousands of others more) which according to my point of view, they are characterized of their voyeur character. The directors design viewing equipment which projects us into the interior of a situation, an equipment with which no other reality has been connected unless it is brought administered to us…
Without the involuntary point of view of the camera of Zapruder with all the probability the hypothesis, triangulation of the shooting happened in Dallas wouldn’t probably be realized
Antonio Martino: A perspective of the facts is brought to the world by that amateurial and non-professional film. That film was put into discussion many times, exactly because it isn’t professional…
On the other hand today we face a rapid growth of non-professional images…
Antonio Martino: I believe that today we’re brought to trust much more into non-professional images than those of the media. Today we don’t believe in what the media says neither we believe in the images they produce. In the times of Robert J. Flaherty (Robert J. Flaherty 1884-1951, pioneer of the documentary, ndr) the image in itself and for itself was there to mean what you attribute to it, it was a real image, it’s not important to know how much natural the representation of the Eskimo in Nanook (the famous documentary of 1922, Nanook of the North). That is how direct this poor eskimo has been from this director, in that time the image had a such a value that as there were very limited possibility to manipulate the images that they mattered so much. Today every image can potentially be manipulated today a television broadcasting company can create its own conflict in the production studio.
There’s one thing I expected to come out naturally of this conversation, but it would be certainly surprising not to, is the dimension of the risk absolutely evident in your production- the fact that you always jeopardize your health, your well-being… You’ve told me that you had problems with the local government forces in Uzbekistan… You’ve been to places far from being calm, like Chernobyl, Pancevo, the sewers of Bucharest…shortly: Why?
Antonio Martino: I fundamentally believe that it’s question of personality. I’ve grown in one of the most dangerous places in Italy: Capo Rizzuto. When I was twelve years old there was army on the streets, with trenches made of sand bags, armed soldiers everywhere out of home, armoured cars going around the town, a place where shootings were practically a part of daily normalities. Living in that place has on the one hand made me get used to absurd things, but above all it has fostered my anger, a desire to take my revenge on the things which were clearly happening because of the personal interests of some people, because of the wrong policies because of whatever you imagine… Living in certain places, being armed by a filming object, may mean revealing, reporting, changing the things in the collective image. In Romania, I bluffed in a certain sense; I’ve told to the police that I was a student making a summer movie with my little video camera. I became a person who’s appealed to the normality of the use of a video camera. In Uzbekistan, I always worked in the logic of documentary of enquiry but with a different technology, a little more evolved, more professional and so more bulky, more visible. Every little detail brings its consequences during the shootings. I’ve taken a Panasonic P100 with me, a half-shotgun for the audio, a tripod a bit more stable, all aimed to produce a work mostly professional with respect to precedents, but at the end all went fucked up.
I was very conspicuous! This desire of mine, to improve the quality went knocking against the reality, against the reluctance of the institutions, which govern that territory telling their problems. The dimensions of the video camera and equipment of shooting went to condition my presence in the place. There have already been’ remarks on the size and the visibility of the camera in the past. The relation between the director and the situation is that you have to recover the dimension and the fabric of the vehicle of shooting and it’s absolutely important. Unfortunately, it’s important. If I have video camera hidden in my glasses or hat, I’ll have a different perception of the danger with respect to that generated by use a bulky and visible camera. In Uzbekistan, it took 3 or 4 minutes to make the exposition, and the focus was manual so was the zoom… It has been a completely different experience than precedents. We hadn’t paid so much attention valuing the risk involved in the desire to make an enquiry an assault, that is dangerous and borderline, with the dimensions, which aren’t properly contained by the shooting device.
So we can say that you feel closer to a dimension of compactness and extreme autonomy, in the availability of the device? The smallest possible?
Antonio Martino: Yes, I would say the least invasive possible.
Antonio Martino: The most invisible possible, which enables me not to freak the people out, not to invade them, not to attack them. Above all when you speak of certain things. If you go to a fisherman on the Lake of Aral, in the meanwhile you already know that you are a species of an alien for them, as they don’t see any western for at least twenty years… There is every once in a while some tourist, which stops for half a day and then immediately escapes because it’s all sand… where can he go? When you come next to this fisherman, with your video camera, with your clothes very different from his, you have to enter in relationship with his idea of journalism and his way of relate himself with the video camera, to his idea of the television and appearance… It’s very complicated to success; you have to prepare it a little bit… At the end it takes patience and time, which are not always possible… To sum up, it’s all very complicated. Risk of life, quality of images, content of the enquiry: all in relation
In which way it’s possible to see your works? Can you give some coordinate to our readers? I’ve seen that there are something on your site: www.antoniomartino.net…
Antonio Martino: There are only trailers on my site. In fact I wanted to put all of them, but because of a problem with the webmaster and of some technical problems, the thing hasn’t still been possible. Then I’ve been contacted by Carta, who edits a weekly and a monthly (Carta and Carta etc.) who’s visioning my material right in this moment; towards the end of december they will pass it on Eco Tv (www.ecotv.it) Pancevo_mrtav grad, while seeing the Gara de Nord_copii pe strada…
I saw that it was available on clipscorner.net.
Antonio Martino: Exactly! Or you can also find it on the site of Rai, I believe it’s available on RaiClick. Obviously, you can also see my works in various festivals and reviews which I participated to and they are really too many.
So a DVD distribution of your works doesn’t exist?
Antonio Martino: See, I had a contact with the Ermitage from Bologna some days ago, which was interested in the distribution of the Gara de Nord but there is nothing sure yet.
Gara de Nord is your documentary, which obtained the most number of awards and recognitions, even the production award of Ilaria Alpi 2007
Antonio Martino: In fact Pancevo almost reached it, until today it has won 10 awards Gara de Nord, about 15 As far as the distribution is concerned maybe the length of my works is a little bit uncomfortable, maybe they are too brief to be reproduced in DVD.
So we can say that there is still time to wait, but anyway the production of your works in DVD is something that you are working on…
Antonio Martino: Yes absolutely, but surely within less than a year, I will put all of them free on my site or on somewhere else on the web. Anyway I still think these works of experiments, I have to be sincere. I feel that I have potential, but I don’t feel that I’ve completely expressed myself yet, therefore this phase is still, in some certain way, a game a juxtaposition of elements as exactly like how a vj or dj does, something that you know well. In some of my works, for example in Gare de Nord, the creative process has exactly been like this, I created one piece at a time tying their image and sound. Now, instead, I am cementing myself with the scripting, with trying to foresee a certain amount of factors and above all trying to value their management. I search a maximum control on documentary, I’m not based on the emotion of the moment any more (or not only) but I would like to develop a work method always more professional, even though at the end it all remains as a game. Right in this moment, there’s producer from Rome who is strangely courting me, he encourages me, telephones me, he stimulates me to write some projects of screenplay and as I’ve seen that he produced interesting works, who works with the television and most of all offers a certain concreteness, I am thinking of trying to go along with him, professionalizing this attitude of mine. Anyway I try to maintain a certain spontaneity and creative freedom which these dynamics always risk plastering.
You had told me of this experience with RaiNews24, clearly manifesting your refusal with respect to certain dynamics…
Antonio Martino: At the end I am a precarious filmmaker, but which filmmaker hasn’t been that? Grifi was a poor starving guy; I am saying this with my maximum respect. And he made very beautiful things. I filmed the Pancevo in 2007, I’ve studied 20 days before departure and I been on-site about one month and then I’ve been in the montage for 20 days, it can be said that I’ve made the film in two and a half months. Sending the film to the festivals I’ve earned something more than ten thousand euros of prizes; I’ve worked for two and a half months and I’ve earned twelve thousand euros, a number which consented me to live in that period.
This is a thing, which had striken me when we knew each other. I remember asking you how you’d invested the money obtained thanks to the Ilaria Alpi award, believing that those money served you for the next project and instead, to my enormous surprise, you had told me that those money simply served you to live. I believe that this fact should be a good story, a something that describes better than many words the dimension of those who decide to be a filmmaker today much. Making an independent film is already a miracle in itself, so if one comes to an economic recognition one might as well use it for the normal existence because the production is uniquely based on the passion, on that instinct to narrate a story and separate from the economic contingencies and from benefits.
Antonio Martino: Maybe the reasoning of mine is too much optimistic, I’m not sure if I will be able to obtain the money to make a certain kind of living one day, neither it matters to me, but… a minimum! I know I have a talent and I know that with this system of life I can live from day to day and I don’t feel lost. Obviously, the question of Arpa has happened and I’ve moved, same with this producer… I can make one and another. But I felt very constrained, if the thing doesn’t make me feel good I don’t make it for work, most of all if the thing is very personal. At the same time, I move around many things mostly those are new and experimental, I am really fascinated by the network, the network and all the new technologies.