Victor Kossakovsky, the recipient of the 2012 True Vision Award, presented his “Ten Rules for Documentary Filmmaking” at the 2006 International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA) when he was teaching the festival’s annual master class. The rules have appeared in various guises around the web; in eager anticipation of Kossakovsky’s appearance in fewer than two weeks at the 2012 True/False Film Fest (along with the screening of two of his films, The Belovs and ¡Vivan Las Antipodes!), we’re reproducing the director’s ten rules below.
1. Don’t film if you can live without filming.
2. Don’t film if you want to say something—just say it or write it. Film only if you want to show something, or you want people to see something. This concerns both the film as a whole and every single shot within the film.
3. Don’t film, if you already knew your message before filming—just become a teacher. Don’t try to save the world. Don’t try to change the world. Better if your film will change you. Discover both the world and yourself whilst filming.
4. Don’t film something you just hate. Don’t film something you just love. Film when you aren’t sure if you hate it or love it. Doubts are crucial for making art. Film when you hate and love at the same time.
5. You need your brain both before and after filming, but don’t use your brain during filming. Just film using your instinct and intuition.
6. Try to not force people to repeat an action or words. Life is unrepeatable and unpredictable. Wait, look, feel, and be ready to film using your own way of filming. Remember that the very best films are unrepeatable. Remember that the very best films were based on unrepeatable shots. Remember that the very best shots capture unrepeatable moments of life with an unrepeatable way of filming.
7. Shots are the basis of cinema. Remember that cinema was invented as one single shot—documentary, by the way—without any story. Or story was just inside that shot. Shots must first and foremost provide the viewers with new impressions that they never had before.
8. Story is important for documentary, but perception is even more important. Think, first, what the viewers will feel while seeing your shots. Then, form a dramatic structure of your film using the changes to their feelings.
9. Documentary is the only art where every esthetical element almost always has ethical aspects and every ethical aspect can be used esthetically. Try to remain human, especially whilst editing your films. Maybe nice people should not make documentaries.
10. Don’t follow my rules. Find your own rules. There is always something that only you can film and nobody else.