Masterclass: Leonard Retel Helmrich

Monday, May 9, 2011
Kinoteka, 6:30 PM

Dutch director Leonard Retel Helmrich,the first filmmaker to win awards at IDFA and Sundance twice, will lead a 3-hour masterclass at PLANETE DOC. The masterclass will be accompanied by screenings of his 3-piece film saga (Eye of the Day, Shape of the Moon and Position Among the Stars). "Leonard Retel Helmrich's Documentary Trilogy" retrospective will be the premiere for his films in Poland.

In the course of the masterclass, Helmrich will discuss the bases of his original film-making method, which he calls the single shot cinema.

Single Shot Cinema
Single Shot Cinema is a way of filming that ables you to shoot a scene in one single shot using just one camera moving flexible in order to have all the different camera angles that expresses your personal feeling and perception of that moment. In practice you will have to move the camera steady and flexible but constantly moving from one angle to the other. Using camera movements fast and slow, high and low, close by and far away all in one single shot within a scene. Doing that the movement of the camera itself becomes the major way of cinematographic expression.

Leonard Retel Helmrich has developed the Single Shot Cinema, drawing on inspiration from the French film critic André Bazin whose ideas helped create the Nouvelle Vague films of Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. According to Bazin, a moving camera is the essence of film and a documentary filmmaker: “It should not cut up reality in various bits, but it should show reality in its temporal continuity.” The essence of Single Shot Cinema in documentary is not making use of re-enactment but to catch real life moments while they are happening in just one single shot with a camera that is organically moving around. Single Shot Cinema allows the camera to pan or tilt slowly or quickly, use tracking shots or close ups and shoot en face or en profile. All of this is done in a stable, but flexible motion in one continuous shot. This allows the filmmaker to express his personal experience and perception of the situation in question.

The camera itself becomes the main instrument for the director’s creative expression. A film becomes more dynamic by using the moving camera as the driving force behind a film, instead of framing or lighting. As a result, shots are not edited from one still moment to the next, but from one camera movement to the next. This also maintains the feeling of temporal continuity in an edited film. In practice it means that the camera movement must have a dramatic purpose. Ideally every second of shot footage should be usable for editing. In order to accomplish this, the filmmaker should make sure that the center of attention he is shooting should remain within the camera frame.

Leonard Retel Helmrich finished the Dutch Film and Television Academy in 1986 and in 1990 he made a feature film The Phoenix Mystery. His first documentary, Moving Objects (1991) was awarded with the Special Jury Price for the Best Artist-Profile at the International Golden Gate film festival of San Francisco. At that time, Helmrich has created his own film style based on the principles of Single Shot Cinema, a method he developed himself.

After finishing Moving Objects, he decided to travel to Indonesia (where his parents were born) to get some inspiration and to show the people all around the world what was happening in this beautiful but also very complicated country. He discovered that the power of Suharto was decreasing. In 1995 he made a film about Suharto and his wife in their Jakartan palace, after that he went to Solo (Mid-Java) to film a demonstration against the Suharto regime. During his activities he was arrested by the police and accused of being a Western spy. Thanks to the Dutch Embassy and his brother Anton, he was released after a few days. He was thrown out of the country with the status "persona non grata".

Leonard Retel Helmrich traveled to Kansas City, Missouri to work together with the Institute of Art in developing the principles of Single Shot Cinema. In 1997, his brother went to Indonesia to discuss with the government the "persona non grata" status. He was successful and Leonard Retel Helmrich could return to finish his work.
Unfortunately, a lot of material was destroyed or not usable anymore. That's why Leonard Retel Helmrich decided to change his whole strategy. He now wanted to focus on the micro-aspects of the decline of the Suharto regime through following an Indonesian family from the Jakartan slums. All changes pertaining to politics and religion would influence all Indonesians in their daily life. He decided to film a triptych about the survival of the family in those touching days in Indonesia. In 2001 he finished Eye of the Day ("Stand van de Zon") and in 2004 he made Shape of the Moon ("Stand van de Maan"), which was a worldwide success.

Since then Retel Helmrich’s films have been screened and gained recognition at film festivals worldwide, garnering major awards for both his drama and documentary work. The awards include the inaugural Grand World Documentary Award at Sundance 2005 and the prestigious Joris Ivens Award at IDFA Amsterdam 2004 for his Indonesian feature documentary Shape of the Moon (Stand van de Maan). In 2010, he won for the second time the Grand VPRO/IDFA Award for feature documentary for Position Among the Stars (Stand van de Sterren) together with the IDFA Award for best Dutch documentary. For the first time in the IDFA history the award went to the same person for the second time. In January 2011, Helmrich again received the World Documentary Award at Sundance for Position among the Stars.

He has served on the jury of many film festivals, including Shanghai, Warsaw, Seoul, Sibiu Romania and Amsterdam, and has had major retrospectives of his work run at Visions du Réel in Nyon (Switzerland) and Rencontres Internationales Du Documentaire in Montréal and at the ASTRA in Sibiu Romania. He has also lectured and screened his films at numerous educational institutions including the Flaherty Seminar program in New York, and at Harvard University, where he was on a Fellowshi.

Leonard shoots as well as directs all his own films, and is best known for a philosophy and approach he calls ‘Single Shot Cinema’, which involves long takes with a hand-held camera moving close to the subject. In all his films it is the framing and movement of the camera that captures and leads the emotions of the audience.
He has run over 20 workshop programs in Single Shot Cinema technique for film festivals, television broadcasters, independent film makers film schools and universities worldwide – in Europe, Asia, North America, Australia and in Africa. During his Harvard fellowship he was editing his latest film Position Among the Stars which is the third film of his trilogy on contemporary Indonesia. He is currently writing a book on “Single Shot Cinema”.