UF: How he does his job as a matter of course, loves it, and lets us join in no strings attached. A troubleshooter. And that doesn’t get evaluated or overly stylized, if anything it isn’t »heroic.« Heroes always get the top mark, they’re constantly being assessed.
Our protagonists are anything but balanced or perfect.
ML: It isn’t heroism, but it certainly is forceful personalities. They’re believable, they’re not artificial.
BF: In theater it’s the other way around. You believe everything great actors do when they’re most artificial. The »real« is acted. An essential feature of the Renaissance was the perfect blend of being and acting.
UF: The presence of the camera basically makes everything we do artificial. There’s the team, the camera, lighting sometimes. It’s a kind of agreement. It’s about creating intensity while people are still being entirely true to themselves.
ML: It’s the groundwork too, getting to know each other beforehand. But you have to abandon your own question – and certainly not expect any answers. That’s the difference to journalism.
MS: The participants have to be able to stay true to themselves. It’s about safety, so they can open up.
BF: It’s the other’s perception. Perception creates a level playing field and empathy.
ML: And truly mutual interest.
UF: The story of Piatigorsky, the cellist, who caught a glimpse of the great Pablo Casals in the audience. As yet unknown, Piatigorsky was terribly nervous and felt at the end that he’d played poorly. But Casals told him after the concert he’d played very well. Piatigorsky took it as false praise and was insulted. Years later he brought it up with Casals. Casals reiterated his praise; he had really seen how different and unique Piatigorsky’s fingering and bowing was in certain parts. You have to be able to see things in others. By the same token, everyone desires recognition.
MS: It’s the time we spend with each other. I spend a lot of time with people. And even more time when they’re not even there while I’m working with all the footage. These people inhabit me. In March, I’m meeting 100 people for the second time for »Jetzt & Jetzt«. I have to create 100 rooms in myself where they can temporarily move in. When the portrait and cut are finished they can move back out. I can’t live with them forever.
BF: In your work, everything is »scenic.« That’s the proximity to theater, to drama. How does the dramaturgy come about while filming, that is, before composing in the cutting room?
ML: We clock every situation while shooting.
UF: What’s interesting is what happens after the actual conversations, when we’re »off,« so to speak. You have to stay on, it’s valuable material.
MS: I always tell my staff they’re not allowed to push stop as long as we’re still in the room. As we’re leaving some participants will suddenly make key statements.
BF: In your art, is there a kind of primal scene you’re constantly returning to?
UF: At root, you’re always exhausting one topic. At the film institute in Cologne where I studied, the first day I saw JAMMERLAPPEN (WHINER) sprayed on the wall. Magnificent, I thought. It was covered up later on. My first film was about memory and disappearance, and I asked people if they could remember that tag. Hardly anyone could, and I felt very alone. But there was one who said he remembered, it read, JAMA LA LAPP. But he didn’t know what it meant. When Michael and I made the Opel film 25 years later, there was a similar moment. Only the shadows of the OPEL lettering could be seen on the building because the letters had been taken down when the factory closed.
ML: Between 1935 and 1945 the gestapo were in the EL-DE-Haus in Cologne (NS-Documentation Center of the City of Cologne), named after its builder Leopold Dahmen. The jail cells were in the basement. After the war it was said with Teutonic thoroughness, »Paint over the prisoners’ inscriptions, the Revenue Office will be housed here, and the files will go in the basement.« I made a film about how a citizens’ initiative tried to turn it into a memorial. Then the restorers came, scraped off everything in the basement, and you could read the prisoners’ inscriptions again. Our work, in many ways, is always about disappearance and memory.
MS: My primal scene involves my grandmother. At the end of her life she increasingly repeated her stories. But she’d always add a detail. Her old, shaking index finger cruised around Africa on an imaginary map in the air, describing her trip – it was cheaper back then to sail around than take the Suez Canal, which she highlighted with a swift finger movement. In her whole body, in particular her shaking finger, was the entire presence of the past. I wondered, what’s behind this story? I took a detour. It took me 20 years to make the trip to where my grandmother had been. Beforehand I asked 300 people what they knew about their grandparents. In doing so, I realized that a portrait of ourselves emerges when talking about our grandparents. Ultimately, the question is, what is really important in our lives?