Ingmar Bergman said that the human face is the most important subject in cinema. These are films that put that to the test: their focus—more or less—is on a single face for their running time.


What can be called "cinematic"? Does it always have to be spectacular visuals, galactic odysseys, blistering documentary voyages to the ends of the Earth, epic Griffithian montages of hundreds or thousands of people filling the screen at once?

Or could it be a single person, speaking to camera for feature length? Shirley Clarke's justifiably beloved Portrait of Jason was one of the first films that put this way of making documentaries in the collective imagination. In all the films in our selection, like Clarke's classic work, we come quite literally face-to-face with the subjects, discovering so many startling psychological details along the way.

A specific gait. A way of sitting in a chair. A curious tic. A recurring gesture. All these things leap out of the screen in these focused portraits, where the human face and body is allowed to tell the story practically all by itself. So many histories, tales, and insights spring out of these extended portraits: those of poets (The Distance Between Me and Me), dying painters (Our Film) and philosophers (Losev), learned critics and restless cinephiles (The 15th Stone, Danses macabres), war criminals (The Specialist). This all comes to a head by the time of Dead Souls by Wang Bing, an epic 9-hour parade of testimonies told with a characteristically unblinking directness.

You can find it all in these faces.

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Films in Spotlight is powered by Doc Alliance, a creative partnership of 7 key European documentary film festivals. Our aim is to advance the documentary genre, support its diversity and promote quality creative documentary films.

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