You work as both a director and an editor. What brought you to film in the first place, did you study editing or directing? And how do you juggle your work as a director and your work as an editor?
I originally did a training programme in television, which was more technical in nature, and then started editing simple news reports. After that, I began doing documentaries as well, and over the years I had repeated contact with people working in film and was thus able to collect more and more experience and get involved in more complex projects. Later on, a bit too late perhaps, I then tried to study, but somehow no longer really fitted into the academic system, where the requirements are pretty rigid. I ended up quitting the course, also so that I would have enough time for my own projects.
The main difficulty for me today is that I’m not able to work on my own projects and a documentary by someone else at the same time. That’s because I really need to take my time when working on my own projects, to ensure that I can work slowly – which isn’t possible to do in parallel with other people’s projects that demand a great deal of time and effort. On the other hand, it’s precisely these projects that enable me to finance my own ones.
As an editor, you’ve worked on a wide variety of projects, ranging from television reports to features and from more experimental forms to classical documentaries. How does the work differ in each case and how do these differences make their presence felt in each particular collaboration?
There are as many forms as there are films and filmmakers. In principle, it’s the stance towards the material that’s decisive for how I work. To what extent do you subject the material to a preconceived hypothesis and then merely illustrate this hypothesis with the help of the material? Or do you interrogate the actual material, allow it to speak for itself, in order to find the hypothesis it might ultimately contain? The boundary I’m talking about here isn’t necessarily the one that separates television and documentary cinema, I think it depends more on the character, interests and courage of those involved. With Unas preguntas, the material always came first. Kristina was very open, as our goal wasn’t necessarily to make the film we ended up with or even any sort of film at all, the project could have just remained a ten-hour selection of material destined for an archive. Gradually though, we were able to see that everything seemed to aspire towards becoming its own individual closed narrative. But the opportunities to work so freely and openly are few and far between.
Both Unas preguntas, which we’re showing in this year’s programme, and Material by Thomas Heise (Forum 2009) involved compiling archive material or “material” in a wider sense or even in some cases editing it together for the very first time. Do old images require different treatment than new ones?
Old material is usually much rougher, more jagged, as it were, more open. It’s been collected for various reasons over the years and may well have moved a long way away from its originally intended purpose as this time has passed. It’s more abstract and you automatically have a greater degree of distance or a more neutral stance towards it compared with material shot more recently. For the latter, you often have to work towards achieving a similar distance, perhaps even by throwing the whole idea behind the shoot overboard to find a suitable entry point. Not every director is willing to do this, there’s often a lack of courage or a lack of trust in the material itself.
You also edit the films which you direct yourself, such as Führung (Guided Tour, Forum Expanded 2011), Le beau danger (Forum 2014), or Aus einem Jahr der Nichtereignisse (From a Year of Non-Events, Forum 2017, co-directed with Ann Carolin Renninger) – how does your approach differ in working with material you shot yourself as opposed to images that you didn’t frame yourself?
It goes without saying that it’s easier to work with other people’s material, because you treat it more rigorously from the outset. For my first films Von der Vermählung des Salamanders mit der grünen Schlange and Jeremy Y. call Bobby O. or Morgenthau Without Tears, I worked with two very experienced editors. This was also because I was afraid of my own way of seeing things, which was through the lens of the cameraman who strives for perfection. But I noticed relatively soon that this fear is unfounded. An editor should never work based on the idea of trying to protect the cinematographer because certain things didn’t work out here or there. A shot seemingly ruined by a rapid camera movement can still very much be used and when a shot isn’t “clean” or when you look to what might be contained in its margins, there is perhaps a unique meaning there, a unique point of entry that would otherwise have been lost to the vanity of visual composition. The key to editing my own projects is how I prepare the process. Making a precise transcription of both the dialogue and the content of sound and image is what helps me generate a distance to material I’ve shot myself. Führung, for example, was edited almost entirely on paper, as it were. This process of fairly pedantic transcription, which usually takes more time than the actual editing itself, is able to create a sort of abstract barrier between me and the images shot, which enables the perfectionism linked to visual composition to just fall away at some point. The transcription process also produces a pretty interesting text almost in passing, which can be seen and made use of outside of film contexts.
Which computer programmes or tools do you work with? You shoot your own films both on film and digitally, do you also edit on the two formats and what’s the difference?
I edited all my films digitally, with Final Cut Pro 7, which is no longer available. I would love to make a purely analogue film, but that would be very expensive nowadays.
Do you have any editors you look up to?
No, I don’t. You borrow something from everywhere you look, always just a little bit each time.
(Interview: James Lattimer)