For the second consecutive year, an international festival of visual culture will be held in Tartu, with a special emphasis on documentaries and especially anthropological documentaries. Although we can make contact with the outside world via diverse media channels and get information and impressions of the places around the world through other film festivals organised in Estonia, as well as through greater travelling opportunities and over the Internet, we already witnessed last year that, despite the plentiful availability of information channels, festivals of visual culture can also attract an audience. Among the film viewers, there were some people who, when watching these films and listening to the authors, felt that the big wide world described in these films was their home, while for others, these films might open up an access to exotic and remote cultures. No matter, the films can make them both richer.
The special topic of the 2005 Tartu Visual Culture Festival is the modern world. In the modern world, media is the dominant mode of getting to know the world around us. Ulf Hannerz, the Swedish anthropologist explores in his book Foreign news (2004) the work of foreign correspondents, including the reasons behind the particular patterns of media coverage in the Western media. He illustrates the point by an example in the US media publication, the correspondent of which was removed from Brussels as it was impossible to provide an attractive coverage of the intricate events taking place inside the corridors of power of the European Union. On the other hand, he tells about a reporter in Los Angeles, whose task is to report on the latest developments in Japan, in the same way as the home region media coverage appears, because the economic ties between LA and Japan are so close.
Around the globe, there are regions where great historical events occur and other places where nothing much happens. The Brussels example is pointing to the possibility that there are some influential organisations, and yet, journalistically, it is quite hard to report what is actually going on there. Providing media coverage of the events around the globe relies on the choices made by the editorial boards and correspondents working for a particular publication. “If you want to “write the first draft of history”, or simply write for the front page, or make a reputation for yourself, you will prefer to be in a place where there is likely to be a stream of hard news. Jerusalem seems like a good bet here,” as Hannerz describes the personal options of correspondents (2004: 84).
As to the geography of foreign news, the bulk of news tends to come from the regions where something is likely to happen or has already happened. In addition, in most cases, the regions, which receive a lot of media attention are also of particular importance to the readers and fits their worldview. The media coverage of certain regions has greatly contributed towards their becoming part of our lives, while other sites, although existing, are located somewhere away, they are the “other” and would be decidedly uncomfortable for living there. Moreover, – foreign news often give the impression that the sites beyond the “home region” are quite unpleasant and dangerous.
Speaking of media attention and coverage of the whole world, now unfortunately, there is no escape from the tsunami and earthquake that struck the states beside the Indian Ocean and also directly affected many Western countries due to great human loss.
As with the Western world, Estonian media publications also tried to send their journalists to the catastrophe region. The press and broadcasting channels sent their correspondents first to Thai resorts. The regions of Thailand hit by the disaster are as if part of the “home region” of the Western world, as many people have visited this area as tourists. For the Estonians, the tsunami-hit northern part of Sumatra, where Estonian medics also went as relief workers, has been a remote and unknown region. Therefore, the medics who went on the mission also played the role of explorers by reporting from Sumatra to Estonian readers. The recent past then illustrates, through that very painful experience, which events can contribute to the discovering of the world around us, which of the faraway places are homelike and which are strange.
Descriptions, different from the mainstream media coverage, are becoming increasingly important, while also rare. Documentary makers, especially anthropological filmmakers, would never attract the amount of public attention equal to that of a large media channel. Therefore, providing distribution channels for the works of documentary makers, and making them available to the general public, requires a major new initiative. On behalf of the organising committee, I would like to thank everyone who helped with the organisation of this year’s festival: the Estonian Ministry of Culture, Tartu City Government, Estonian Film Foundation, Cultural Endowment of Estonia, Finnish Institute in Estonia and private new media companies Zone Media OÜ and Krabi ja Mask.
The modern world has been compared to a football with the black and white areas on it forming a network. The black parts are always interrelated, with capital, resources and knowledge as the key to success. Between the black areas there are blank spots that do not participate in global games or global communication networks and thus we do not know much about them. On the world map, these areas are looking the same – blank spots. The Tartu Festival of Visual Culture 2005 Worldfilm, among other similar events, aims to map the black and white football, with a special emphasis on the white or blank spots, giving everyone the opportunity to mark these places on their personal maps. This can be done with the assistance from filmmakers. The great majority of the authors at the festival produce their works as freelance film makers, very often without adequate support from large media organisations.
What can we find in this year’s festival programme? A selection of documentaries from the Estonian documentary project “Estonian Narratives” (Eesti lood), supported also by the broadcasting media. The festival roundtable dissects the different reasons as to how this has contributed to the aspect that these particular topics have been chosen for development into films.
Some of the films to be screened during the festival can be called anthropological documentaries. This year, the special guest of the festival is Asen Balikci, a Bulgarian anthropologist, whose activities, over many decades, have been related to using film for documenting cultures. In anthropology, he represents the school of Margaret Mead, seeing visual documentation as a means of obtaining a reliable reflection of diverse cultures. Another important consideration of the festival is photography. In addition to photograph exhibitions, the festival will also involve the day of photograph documentary, focusing on broader visual documentation issues.
Also, a more thorough review of the works of Jean Rouch will be given, he being a French documentary maker who died last year. His most famous works were made in Nigeria, in co-operation with some of his friends who also play the main characters there. Rouch’s work explores the genre of ethno-fiction where the experienced culture reveals itself through the story emerging during the process of filmmaking. His narratives blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction and employ devices from both documentary and fiction forms.
Director of the festival
Hannerz, Ulf 2004. Foreign news. Exploring the world of foreign correspondents. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.