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Human – A Yann Arthus-Bertrand documentary

The French have an interesting history of documentary film. Jean Rouch explored social questions with his film Chronique d’un été, a revolutionary film at the time because of the tech that they used. The Cinéma Eclair and crystal sound sync. A few decades later Yann Arthus-Bertrand is following in Jean Rouch’s footsteps with a net cast far wider. Instead of Paris and France we see interviews with people from around the world.

The documentary is split in to volumes and each volume is divided in to sections. At the beginning of each section you have footage showing the diversity of landscapes in which people live as well as the people themselves. You see images of a caravan on a dune, images of a river delta, a fishing boat being unloaded.

People are answering questions about love, abuse, work and more. You feel compassion for these people because they stare straight in to the camera and they are speaking to us, who are in the audience. We feel compassion for these people, we are moved to laughter by some and to tears by others. There are some beautiful images created by what the people say.

One person speaks about buying things. He says that we don’t buy things with money but that we buy them with time. That is a beautiful and more accurate image than we are used to. I love gadgets and sports so I often think of how long an investment will take to offset. I used to think “in a week” I will have covered the expense.

Another image painted by words that I like is that of wealth and comfort. When you are poor the river is empty and so every stone is a challenge. With wealth you do not need to worry about the stones because the river is full.

This is an observational documentary, typical of the cinéma verité movement and the French and German school of documentary. We are not told what to feel or think. We are presented with evidence and we are to draw our own conclusions. It can be perceived as slow and dull by some and beautiful by others.

It brings us to the “All Seeing Eye” that Vertov discussed at the very birth of the documentary genre. His ideal was to have cameras that would film and document “life unawares” as they went about their daily lives. In so doing the cinema was an observer, without interacting. Of course these are just interviews so there is some interaction between the camera operator and the talent on screen. They are meant to speak from the heart, without censor. They were meant to give us an honest representation of who they are and how they feel. It gives us a serious glimpse in to the lives of others.

it makes me think of the interviews I have listened to, of the stories I have heard told when I was logging and transcribing footage for a video archive. Some of the things people speak about are timeless and others are contemporary. With this documentary record of people’s thoughts and emotions so a moment in time is preserved. I have yet to watch the next volumes and will do so in the evenings. I recommend you take the time to watch at least part of these documentaries.

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