INTERDOC 2015: “[F]ilm is a being that has a soul” Dragan Elcic

On the 22nd August 2015 renowned Serbian Director, Dragan Elcic began a 4 day intensive international documentary workshop with the selected INTERDOC group at the Culture Centre, Pozega, Serbia.

The main aims of this 4 day intensive work on international film documentary were to:

– For Elcic to share with us a professional group (and international) what isn’t written in any books

– to define what is and isn’t film documentary throughout.

– Television reports and when they become a documentary film and when it becomes an art documentary film.

Therefore, four different levels that were needed to understand the characteristics of documentary film, and how we perceive them.

“[F]ilm is a fairytale, its an art and we must understand their characteristics and how we understand them” – Elcic (2015).

  • It cannot be forgotten that documentary film by itself is based on what is true and what is reality. So, that is why documentary form is the hardest of film genre it has more challenges and more places you can trip up on than any other form. For example: You are controlling the team but then next you can find yourself lost because it changes course, as documentary directors we are trying to catch the reality… and the reality slips away.
  • Someone who is an explorer is typically someone who is full of surprises, and there is a great excitement hiding in that exploration. Catching the reality becomes a great pleasure of a film maker, but how do we discover reality and how do we use it?
  • This is what we will uncover. Later, we will get to the story itself: how you create it and approach the character or reality in what way do we guide the set in order to produce the film.
  • Ethics of communicating with your characters:
  • We will not uncover a particular theory here, it is based on your experience because you have to be able to emotionally feel it. The right of every participant within a film is to know what his or her purpose is within the documentary story.
  • There has to be a relationship with the film otherwise you will not have the drama or the conflict so the theme is for example forbidden love between Romeo and Juliet. The theme of the story has to be defined in one sentence other wise you will have a problem.
  • The reality that is shot in film is being experienced as a new reality with life. So when we choose a subject we need to ask the following three questions:
  • Why am I shooting this story.
  • Can I bring something more/ unique? What am I going to do with it?
  • Will I shoot this reality and make it into a work of art?
  • You won’t be able to make it into art form if you can’t answer these questions.
  • It is extremely important in our profession that we answer these three questions.
  • Everything you do in every shot and sequence is lower level to the reality of the spirit and if there is no idea that we have formed we are just filming what ever we find in front of the camera and then we will do this spirit in the editing room but this has no art it’s just editing, and technique.
  • Documentary film is based on technique: or what we are interested in and passionate. When you define the elements of the story we are making we are just finding on the spirit of that idea.
  • Elcic constantly asks himself the previous questions and awaits for inspiration for an existing and exciting story. If we are talking about film we have to be honest and not lie. The first step of understanding what we are making because what we are creaking is already materialized reality we just have to know how to find it and select it and fertilize it in the end so every work of art is a mans image of the world.

So to finish this story about the coin and two sides:

  • Even if one and one is three it’s like art for art that the viewer won’t understand. Starkofski made a good message that when we make art it is for the viewers and if we are doing this weare obliged to make it understandable which is the one plus one is two part.
  • There are four categories in art, according to Elcic:
  • Beauty
  • Lightness
  • Form
  • Joint the wholeness

How do you express death with beauty and light ? 

  • Or something that is very drastic and we want to have these elements in it. So is it going into realism or how will we find these categories. You have death that is very explicit and raw. During the ‘Black Period’ of Serbia the re-birth of society re-ignited.


We should not be slaves of our film equipment it will not work.

“I am using the language of the equipment.” Elcic (INTERDOC 2015)

Film is a being that has a soul – she has nature sense and God so we must interact and communicate it has its beauty. The photogenic part slips away from the equipment.

The development of technology is taking away our soul, it is a question of sense because there is no beauty without sense. And this is the main task when we are dealing with documentary. Artistic movement of human reality in documentary film. It creates another reality. Therefore, that is what we are trying to find is the soul of the arts and giving it another reality.

You can have the meaning of the human reality, don’t be slaves of the technical part it will loose the soul and the being . Why do you have to have an certain equipment a artist must be free.

It is hard to be free because you need money to start but you must think how to be free first because that is the key thing. As a free individual I can start creating and exploring an idea. If someone is guiding me ideologically talking me what I cannot do and can if the main character wanted it done in a certain way then this is elements that are not making you free so there is no art in that.

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Elcic suggests the following when attempting to uncover meaning:

  • How do I create the soul ?
  • With atmosphere and what makes it stop here ?
  • It consists of style of photography and first category of the atmosphere is the way of the framing,
  • So it’s going to be static or dynamic or combination,
  • And angle and color etc.

Second category: the sound and music composition. 

“When I set the style of photography I need to make a decision of how I will make a story of sound and music phenomena” (Elcic 2015)

How do we combine sound and music this is with the sound designer

In documentary film you do not get a chance to take another take. You have to be ready to capture the raw footage. Later we will discuss how you create the emotion from the participant. We see this process happening, Eg. can’t ask a beggar to cry again.

A film without emotion is not worth anything and when we don’t have the expression it is just a technical thing it’s nothing. For example the use of close ups in Santiago Pedoroche’s film “The Language of Clay” 2015. The idea and emotions are very important, for example need both to combine a good film. You cannot divide those two, as Santiago demonstrated and combined both emotion and idea into a dramatic but realistic presence.

  • Third category of the soul or the atmosphere:

The rhythm of the film. Often, this is always missed in documentary and feature it is important but it is always missed. We usually talk about alter Rhythm just in theory we use the alter Rhythm and it is the relations of parts in relation as a whole. So shots made and scene to the sequence. One relation that happens in the wholeness of the film, the editing Rhythm you can’t create just in the editing room. Because the film is created on set and writing making the idea,

  • (B) The next of Rhythm is spacial the space that the plot and action is happening we have to start from that. We first need to perceive the Rhythm of the space in which the interaction is happening in there is different space in each city and places.
  • (C) the second is personal Rhythm everyone is different eg toddler being unable to sit still the Rhythm of our lives.That is where the biggest miracle can happen where the space and personality is fertilized and combined then there is that phenomenon of film art if you don’t catch these two then you can’t understand them. So we add to that space.

The inner Rhythm is the next, which is the combination of the personal and spacial Rhythm. Once this is learnt: it can be brought to the editing room and then we get the outer Rythm. (The first three have to be done first). Don’t go onto a set without perceiving the space and people first there are surprises but you should be ready for them of course. We didn’t know that they were going to happen but the feeling we have artistically we can understand this Rythm so it’s good.

“And I feel that the person who is going and how he is going to be by researching him first.” (Elcic 2015).

These styles all make the atmosphere and soul of the film. This is your pictures and images and sound and Rhythm.

  • Ethics, aesthetics, themes and techniques:

These are the four components that needs to be questioned and thought of. Without ethics there is no aesthetics. So never force your character: when you mis-use someone’s life to get the film you wanted this is unethical. If you don’t bring your character your film to see then this is also just as bad. When you get that trust and how you approach and open up the participant then he gives you his soul and trust. Compassion. Don’t cross the aesthetics. A boundary must be created and it must not be crossed as friends or attached to them.  Because you will loose consciousness that you came to get a documentary on his life if you go too deep you loose the relation to film as a work of art:

  • You will abuse his privacy,
  • You need to know your boundaries when things are drawing you closer.
  • The main character can eat you up: you wont be a director but friends if you let them succeed in doing so. There is a fine line for having that balance.
  • Elcic’s sentence to remember:

“Documentary film represents truth reality and every movie is like a manipulation with sound and photography in order to get some affect in the twentieth century we are seeing the biggest form of documentary because of that the world has been created in this period they will be changing history in the eyes of the public.”

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