Being a filmmaker means not only registering, recording, or even manipulating the image and sound to create something that is worthwhile, but also taking full responsibility for one's creations. It does not matter if one is an artist trying to alter human souls or a commercial director who would like to offer the viewers simple joys and seductive escapism. Each filmmaker interacts through his or her work, thus engaging in a reciprocal dialogue with the audience. This simplest form of communication, which is quite often misunderstood, requires not only the ability to put one's thoughts into an appropriate form, but also to learn to listen. Jay Rosenblatt, this year's laureate of Camerimage Award for Outstanding Achievements in Documentary Filmmaking, has repeatedly proven with his films that he is a very sensitive filmmaker, trying with his creations to make the viewers more self-aware and critical of themselves.
Jay Rosenblatt,
Jay Rosenblatt Archive

It is no surprise when one considers the fact that Jay Rosenblatt has a Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology and for some time worked as a therapist, learning the extraordinary strength and great frailty of the human psyche. Paradoxically, what led him to start his romance with cinema were the efforts to help his patients by opening himself to their problems and ideas of themselves. Saddened by what he had seen in the so-called “instructional films” that encapsulated a therapist's duty in a number of neat and simplified definitions, Rosenblatt decided to appeal with his vision of humanity to a much wider audience. It was 1980. Three and a half decades and over thirty projects later he is recognized as one of the most prominent American directors of short films. His works are screened in prestigious institutions like New York's Museum of Modern Art, still surprising the subsequent generations of viewers.

Jay Rosenblatt's films do not conform to the easy and popular ideas of humanity; they provoke an instant reaction and force the viewers to put themselves in someone's shoes, to try to understand a perspective other than their own. They are so memorable due to their unusual form and the director's quixotic quest to find humanity in everything that surrounds us. One of his most acknowledged creations is a documentary about five men widely considered as monsters: Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Francisco Franco, and Mao Tse Tung. Human Remains, awarded at various film festivals, including Sundance, does not reminisce the horrors those dictators were responsible for; instead, it explores their private lives, and thus radiates with ironic, slightly poetic and timeless reflection on the different appearances of evil.
Still from "I Just Wanted To Be Somebody",
courtesy of Jay Rosenblatt

Coming back to the matter of form, an essential thing in understanding the way Jay Rosenblatt's films work and gain their universal values. They are closest to documentaries, as they are composed of archive materials, found footage, fragments of old movies, TV news, home movies, still photographs and edited parts of film soundtracks or carefully selected sounds. They use voice-over, which in these cases stand for the author's voice, nevertheless, the definition of a documentary is too narrow to describe Rosenblatt's artistic creations. His films are perfectly realized hybrids composed out of various forms of cinema; they resist being described with merely few words. Just as human identity, spirit and the soul's capability of conforming to evil resist being defined by a few encyclopaedic definitions.

Although his creations were evolving throughout the years in terms of form, aesthetics and narrative qualities, Jay Rosenblatt's first two films - The Session and Doubt - had already heralded most of the themes he would explore throughout his whole career: opening oneself to another human being, trying to understand the essence of human capability of doing both good and evil, provoking discussions about cultural taboos (such as suicide) and penetrating the mechanisms of human memory, both individual and collective. This last aspect in particular, made Rosenblatt's cinema timeless. The phantoms of passing time, forming one's identity and shaping the way complex, associative mind works, as well as marking people's understanding of the surrounding world, bring to mind the celebrated Proust's Madeleine.

Still from "Phantom Limb",
courtesy of Jay Rosenblatt

I don't have answers and I don't think films have answers, but they hopefully can be catalysts for a deep discussion and a way of reflecting with one's self as you're viewing it, said the American artist in one of his interviews. We are very proud that Jay Rosenblatt will once again be the festival's guest, this time not only as a juror or a great friend of Camerimage, but primarily as a recipient of the Award for Outstanding Achievements in Documentary Filmmaking. As a tribute to Jay Rosenblatt we will screen some of his works, the titles will be announced in the upcoming weeks. Should you be interested, this is the kind of cinema that challenges the viewer, it is worth confronting it, especially considering the fact Jay Rosenblatt will be at Q&As after the screenings.