In one of the great scenes of documentary cinema, Anna, the protagonist of Victor Kossakovky's The Belovs (1993), sits at a kitchen table. Headphones on, she giggles at an audio recording until she's suddenly struck by a sound that causes her to break down into tears. Seconds later, the headphones rest on the table, and Anna is up out of her chair, joyously stomping and singing, as the intoxicating fly-on-the-wall camera dances alongside her.

That famous scene, an astonishing series of deeply felt emotional shifts, illustrates a skill perfected by Kossakovsky over the past twenty years: the ability to spellbind his audience. A talented, soulful craftsman, he is capable of eliciting a laugh from your belly one moment and then, with the switch of a frame, a lump in your throat. He gathers and compiles his observational footage single-handedly, following a set of ten rules he's published on the Internet (take heed of the last one: "Don’t follow my rules. Find your own. There is always something that only you can film.")

It's his unique eye for arresting compositions, his graceful editing instincts, his ear for a surprising musical cue, his sense of humor, his humanity and, above all, his faith in spontaneity that gives his work its unforgettable charge.

You might not know his name yet (his works still aren't available on home video in the States), but globally, this Russian director's reputation as a non-fiction auteur is secure.

His international breakthrough was The Belovs, a spark-filled character study of Russian siblings that won both the prestigious Joris Ivens Award and the audience prize when it screened at IDFA in 1993. As his career progressed, he found himself creating cinematic portraits of the 101 people who share his birthday and birth place (1997's Wednesday - 19.7.1961), spending a year by his apartment window filming a construction site (2003's amusing Hush!) and watching his son stare at his reflection for the first time (2005's Svyato).

And now his latest masterpiece, ¡Vivan las Antipodas!, in which he deftly profiles our planet. It's important to point out that Vivan is not a shallow look at how cultures clash but instead a complex, awestruck portrait of the physical organism we live on. Like the best of his work, it's an intensely emotional experience that somehow manages to feel both intimate and expansive. (CB)