Blind Gulliver: How observing exotic absurdities can help us observe follies of our own

5. 9. 2016

Author: Filip Šebek

The traditional Evening of Czech documentaries organized annualy by Institute of documentary film in cooperation with Czech Film Center is approaching.
On Monday, September 26, 2016, from 6:30 p.m. in Světozor Cinema, the documentary genre enthusiasts will meet again to learn which documentaries will join distribution in the nearest weeks and months, right from their authors. After a series of brief presentations with video samples, the evening will culminate with a pre-premiere screening of the latest film by Martin Ryšavý, Blind Gulliver. The renowned documentary filmmaker, who was awarded the Magnesia Litera prize for literature and teaches at FAMU, has made a personal and originally conceived documentary, in which he sets off to the familiar environment of Russia and Ukraine, but also to see an optician in Prague. Below you can read the interview with Martin Ryšavý about the reasons for his fascination with the post-Soviet region, about inner vision and about “writing” a screenplay in his head.

What was the main impulse for you to shoot a film about the “distorted view of the world and the misery of travelers’ existence”?
There was not just one main impulse. There were several minor impulses joined together. For example, for a long time I had wanted to have an interview with the optician Jakub Thuri in a film, but I did not know in which context to put it. Then I went to Russia with a new camera that had some trouble with focus. Simply more things fell into place at the same time.  Someone also planted the Gulliver idea to me, I cannot recall who it was, but I would like to thank him or her this way.

You have stated in your interview for DokRevue that your film is „very incomplete, very personal, but in spite of that perhaps talking about world’s important matters in its own way“. What important matters in particular?
In my opinion, this is something the audience should find out themselves. But anyway, I mean a way in which poetry works, such poetry that often works with very personal, private things, moreover, revealed only through an intense fragment, and still manages to bring serious and generally comprehensible contents, even if the intelligibility is not given easily to everyone. In the film, there is also the allegorical, Gulliverian motive present, for sure, which, as in Swift’s novel, lets us observe the follies of our own through the exotic ones.

The film is predominantly made of a “jigsaw of documentary shards” from various parts of Russia and Ukraine. Why are you so fascinated by this region, why do you come back to it so often in your works of art?
That is quite simple: in my childhood, I used to live in the battlefield of the cold war and the Gods of the powers that clashed in that war were also my Gods. The USA and Russia were the leaders of two realms whose myths somehow operated in both my conscious and subconscious mind and without any doubt it has remained so until today. It is therefore a fascination by something that I had been and have been part of whether I want to or not.

The scenes that caught my eye in your film were for example the neo-shaman ritual in the Siberian cultural center, the humorously absurd preparations for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War celebrations, or the footage from Donetsk, where the shooting during the conflicts was not safe for sure. Can you say  which travelers’ experience has moved you the most?
No, that I cannot say. Quite the contrary, I liked the possibility to succumb to a completely different logic than a momentary intensity of a filmmaker’s experience.  Let’s say for example that I decided to slide down the Niagara Falls in a barrel and someone decided to shoot it, we would most probably both have a very intense experience, but that still does not mean that the final shoot would look as intense in a film or that it would make sense in it.
Had I succumbed to this kind of lure, I would be on the same level with various present day warriors who are filming their combat operations and upload them on YouTube. Who captures the most explosions and corpses, wins. But art is not about shooting the most dangerous situation. Accordingly, concerning Blind Gulliver, I cannot say that the best shots were taken when I was scared the most. Let me put it like this: In front of the apparatus of my optometrist, all my experience is equal. What matters, is how I can and am able to handle them from now on.  

Your film has intentionally a very loose dramaturgy and the only thing that holds it together, according to you, is the “thrilling moment of wandering itself”.   But still, shouldnt the documentarists, unlike the travellers goal be different than just the journey is the destination”?
Yes, the documentarist’s goal should be a film. And I had a film on my mind, so far so good, I hope. The thrilling moment is very mechanical, for sure - it is simply the human in motion in space, who very naturally determines the rhythm and tone of the film and draws the audience to it and through it. Yet he does so in a way that allows the spectator to identify himself or herself to some extent with the observing subject, and not just with the "objective" camera, as usual.

Given that you are also a Head of Screenwriting and Dramaturgy Department at FAMU, I have to ask: what was the screenplay for your film like? Is there actually a need for a screenplay for a film with an “essentially open structure, which could in theory be compiled infinitely”?
No, definitely not a written one. But there was a screenplay being continuously rethought on my mind during the shooting and editing. The fact that it is not on paper does not mean that it does not exist.

I personally liked your film, where the sequence of the frames is often based on feelings, but I also believe that an audience used to a strictly given structure of a documentary might see it as an issue.    
I’m afraid I will have to contradict you a bit. Blind Gulliver has a very clearly given structure, and if some audiences are not used to it does not mean that i tis not such. After all, you mention that you liked the movie, therefore – are you one of the spectators who are accustomed to such films? For me, such questions are just too abstract, I cannot and don’t want to imagine any audiences used or not used to something. Additionally, I would be glad if the audience had a problem with the film.

In your film, I was intrigued by the scene at the optometrist, who says that many people see badly, but deliberately do not wear glasses, as glasses help us focus on a particular subject, but lead us away from observing the -often more important- things that surround us. Is this the case of the documentarist as well? Is it more important what the filmmaker should focus on than how clearly he sees it?
The analogy aims rather to the inner things and inner sight. Roughly speaking, the more visual impulses I get, the less I can focus on them and really see them. Seeing means something more than clearly focus on every particular detail and to have as much of these details as possible in front of you. To see everything means to see nothing, unless you are a God.

What would you like your audience to remember from your film?
The film.

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