Through the camera acting as an eye and as a provocateur, a documentary filmmaker can extract the reality of a situation, prodding and probing in search of a deeper truth behind the safety of the camera lens. This is, at least, the truth for the movement of cinéma-vérité, pioneered by Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov in the 1920s and later developed by Jean Rouch, Edgar Morin in the 1960s, which sees the presence of the camera as a necessary catalyst to extract more truth from a situation rather than if it had been hidden from view.
Arguing that the presence of the camera made people act in a way that was more authentic, thus allowing a deeper inner truth to spill out, this mode of documentary deals with the relationship between ‘real’ everyday people and the interviewer behind the camera. Making themselves a participant in the film itself, creating and manipulating its direction, filmmakers such as Rouch, Morin, Albert Maysles and John Cassavetes have pioneered the genre with cornerstones like Chronicle of a Summer, Salesman and Faces.
Thriving in a time when cinematic experimentation was still in full force, in modern cinema, it’s more difficult to see such similar filmmakers, with Michael Apted’s Up series coming to mind along with Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal and Marc Isaacs’ captivating short film, Lift, made at the dawn of the new millennium.
Setting up a tripod in the corner of a lift in a suburban London apartment, Issacs captures the lives of the recurring individuals who reside in its many apartments. Acting as something of a participant himself, the filmmaker becomes a curiosity to each person, a strange, initially pointless experimenter who is soon altered to become a regular point of reference for the community and a soundboard to which to talk, discuss and ponder.
The reflective innards of the enclosed elevator space becomes the most unlikely interview room for each unwitting participant, allowing for a brief yet intimate discussion on anything from a boozy night out to an individual’s descent into schizophrenia. Humanising the peeping plastic black spheres of CCTV cameras that plaster themselves to the corners of standard lifts, Isaacs’ simple film revels in the joy of communication within a place that is so often plunged in awkward silence.
As the metal lift scales and clangs the many floors of the apartment, so too do the lives of its residents ebb and flow. Whilst each and every unnamed participant of the short film carry their own charming entertainment, there are a handful who are going through a particularly significant moment of transition, including a man who is constantly looking for love in London’s twilight to another who goes silent throughout much of the film only to reveal his tragic life story at its end.
Though short, Lift is simple and effective, providing a glimpse into the joys and struggles of those everyday individuals who so often go unnoticed and unheard in modern society. Capturing the absurdity and tragedy of British life, Isaac creates a slice of life that should be seen and appreciated as a nugget of sagacious wisdom that slips snugly in your back pocket, ready to be accessed online to reaffirm your hope for humanity.