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DocPoint 2014 treads line between fact and fiction

One of the major documentary film festivals in the Nordic countries, DocPoint kicked off in Helsinki for the 13th time on Tuesday. With over 150 film showings in the course of six days, the festival programme challenges notions of ‘documentary’ and ‘fiction’ with works that mix elements of both.

Kanerva Cederström. Image: Heidi-Hanna Karhu

With 132 films screened in over 150 showings, DocPoint 2014 delights documentary lovers and anyone interested in in-depth, creative treatments of today’s multifarious reality. ‘Creative’ should be emphasised here, as one of the main focuses of this year’s DocPoint is the borderline between fiction and documentary, according to the festival’s Artistic Director, Ulla Simonen.  

In fact, much of today’s documentary making includes methods that the public would associate more with fiction. Characters (yes, the real people featured in the film are called 'characters' by the filmmakers) are often directed, shots are re-taken, and films may include a lot of creative recreation and dramatisation to get their points across in a more powerful, emotion-inducing way. And that's before you get to editing, where events are twisted and shaped into stories with most impact and appeal.

Cederström recognised for lifetime achievement

This year’s Aho & Soldan Lifetime Achievement Award will be given to director Kanerva Cederström in a special Saturday event. Known for her essay-like, poetic film meditations, Cederström’s films defy definition as purely factual cinema. The director, who has also been hugely influential in the Finnish documentary field as professor of documentary film at the University of Industrial Arts and Design, says that her expression is “poetic, in that it’s not narrative, but rather consists of rhythm and elements that give rise to a vision, a thought.”

“I am not a storyteller,” Cederström asserts, echoing the thoughts of another Finnish veteran director, Pirjo Honkasalo, one of Finland’s most internationally renowned documentary filmmakers.

Stories take over

According to Simonen, Cederström’s work sets an example for DocPoint to follow, and the festival programme can be seen as reflecting the richness of her approach. 

Tuesday’s opening film, however, was a far cry from much of Cederström’s non-narrative - and decidedly non-commercial - work. Love & Engineering by Bulgarian-Finnish Tonislav Hristov is an entertaining, well-crafted mainstream story looking at a group of young male IT engineers trying to come to grips with dating, women and love.

Cederström has lamented the fact that linear storytelling, borrowed from fictional film, is increasingly dominant in documentary film. Indeed, the kind of experimentation with form and content that Cederström has herself explored – as well as championed in Finland’s most esteemed film school – is at risk as Hollywood dramaturgy, with strong character-driven stories and more commercial potential, become more of a norm in the documentary field.

French master of ethnographic docs

Besides new offerings of international and Finnish documentaries, DocPoint 2014 gives a nod to the past, with a programme of documentaries by the grand master of ethnographic film, Jean Rouch, whose name is also carried by a prestigious film festival in Paris.  

This year’s DocPoint has less clear thematic programme categories than past editions. Nuclear power is stated as the main theme. In addition to films looking at the issue, a seminar on nuclear power, the environment and the future is held on Saturday.

The festival runs until Sunday.

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