Beyond the "comfort zone"
by Manolo González
At the beginning of the century, the "comfort zone" of Galician audiovisual production determined the style and form of the documentary genre. Financial requisites (imposed by the Xunta, the regional government) and distribution requirements (imposed by TVG, the regional TV service) set the themes and narrative styles, so that very few dared to ventured beyond the institutional framework – and their visibility was negligible and their hopes of obtaining financial support even more so. The production and distribution system was not propitious to the emergence of work with real originality and so a "mainstream" style of TV documentary became wholly dominant in Galician productions over the last fifteen years. So, documentaries were produced merely to produce something and to continue producing in the “comfort zone”, in accordance with the current political situation: business logic prevailed over film-making logic. This trend was not exclusive to Galicia, as it was analysed in the French Manifesto of the 13: “We went from a logic where the production company existed because it developed specific projects, to a logic where the profitability of the company was what drove the need to produce films, in order for the company to continue to exist.” The result is easy to see: documentary production over the last thirty years (since TVG was established), except for some works of video art from the 80s and 90s, created a particular idea of what a documentary was in the mind of the public, the media, and producers: a clearly linear televised narrative, regardless of the interest or otherwise of the topics to particular audiences. Outside of this “comfort zone”, the situation was bleak; only a few courageous figures, such as Alberto Pagan, dared to venture into unexplored territory, in the face of general indifference.
However, in the last six years, the levelling effects of digital production and the possibilities of global distribution that the internet provides paved the way for a world parallel to the industrial sector to emerge, encouraging young artists to produce independent projects and enter into a dialogue with other similar artists from other cultures. Then, in 2006, the now extinct Axencia Audiovisual Galega recognised the importance of this breeding ground of young artists, who were seeking to undertake projects outside the industrial comfort zone and for whom creativity carried greater weight than tame commercial interests. The public funding of the production of short and full-length films provided these artists with their first opportunity to work in reasonable conditions. I can still recall the response of the blinkered Galician audiovisual industry and the furious criticism from several local producers of these moves to support projects outside of the official system and to stimulate exploration outside of the “comfort zone”: for them this was “throwing away public money”, “not supporting the industry”, “rubbish”, “extravagance by self-obsessed artists”, “little films that will not be seen nowhere and will serve no purpose”, etc. However, these small-scale films made by this talented group have achieved a level of international recognition at prestigious film festivals which has escaped the subsidized mainstream productions, which have had little industrial or artistic impact. The indifference of the media and cultural commentators still seems shocking, seemingly unaware of the importance of this phenomenon in Galician contemporary culture.
These new documentaries are heterogeneous and polymorphous, as their idiosyncrasy demand: creative documentaries, unreconciled cinema, non-fiction cinema, mutations... Perhaps the only connection shared by these artists is their personal and singular perspective on the issues they examine, some of which were also the focus of 20th century Galician writers: the landscape, the rural world, emigration, memory, and the passage of time. These are eternal themes but here they are dealt with from a significantly personal and subjective perspective, and the films have emerged from the periphery of the conventional audiovisual industry and established culture. They are thus a breath of fresh air, different, daring – in short, contemporary – and they also mark a generational renewal which has not yet been sufficiently recognised. All of these film-makers have been free to undertake their own explorations, set aside all commercial interests, and place the film at the heart of everything, with no dogmas, standards, production models or norms to follow. The tales they tell are hybrid, with an interplay between fiction and documentary and a questioning of the traditional objective point of view of the genre. Thus, creativity leads to exploration and investigation outside the “comfort zone”.
This approach has still to fully establish itself, but time is in its favour: the systemic crisis of audiovisual production has led to a questioning of all the certainties of the dominant model. We are at the end of a second Cretaceous period: then, the dinosaurs died and the small mammals survived. It seems that we are witnesses to an unstoppable process which will free us from the traditional hegemonic norms and enable film-makers to tell the tale they wish to tell with the resources that are available to them. As Bresson said: “My ability to take full advantage of my resources decreases as their number increases”.
Over the course of its history, PlayDoc has become a by-word for the exploration of territories beyond the “comfort zone” and a great venue for celebration, for making and renewing acquaintances and for learning. This is the wind that is blowing through the Galicia of the future. Let us be proud, then, celebrate this event and share in the discoveries of these travellers through and unfettered explorers of reality, which never ceases to amaze.
A Comfort Zone is a psychological construct that describes a physical, psychological, or emotional space, where we feel safe and comfortable with our way of life. In this space the individual does not seek out new horizons or take risks, and tends to confuse his perception of reality with reality itself.