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Philip Scheffer’s film HAVARIE receives its world premiere in this year’s Forum. Together with his producer Merle Kröger, he wrote the above letter to his TV editors in order to explain a radical shift in the film’s concept that he deemed necessary for reasons connected to the medial representation of the situation in the Mediterranean. 

The Forum already showed the world premieres of Philip Scheffner's previous films REVISION (2012), DER TAG DES SPATZEN (DAY OF THE SPARROW) (2010) and THE HALFMOON FILES (2007).


Dear Sir / Madam,

We – the director, producer, and co-producers – are writing to inform you of a fundamental change in the concept of the documentary film HAVARIE (working title) by Philip Scheffner that has emerged over the course of the editing. The changes should be understood as a supplement to and update of the previous letter and concept dated January 6, 2015 you have already received. Each of the shoots was successfully carried out as described in that concept. The video material is available and there is nothing wrong with it on either a technical or artistic level.

Yet since October 2014, both the political situation and the way what is happening in the Mediterranean Sea is being disseminated have worsened significantly. We note with grave concern that the images of people in boats risking their lives to secure a future for them and their families as a result of European border policy have become part of our everyday life today, one year later. We are resigned to seeing these images week after week on television. There is an increasingly feeling of helplessness, which is at best expressed along the lines of “We can’t do anything” and at worst in the sort of fear that has led to arson attacks on refugee housing also being carried out on a weekly basis.

In this situation, we do not want to make an observational essay that ties together the portraits of five people and gives the viewer the chance to superimpose the image of the individual on to that of the anonymous “crowd”. Philip Scheffner has decided to radically restructure the cinematic space with which the five protagonists come together.

At a visual level, the cinematic space is compressed into one single, unedited sequence that extends across the entire length of the film. It is the footage by Terry Diamond, the short YouTube clip that formed the origin of the HAVARIE project, that seems to us today like the essence of the situation in the Mediterranean in concentrated form. In individual images, the inflatable dinghy with thirteen people on board has become an icon for the pictures that appear daily on the news. We are forced to look, to grapple with the perspective (from above), with the impossibility of proper recognition, with the silent waving of those on board. The reflections in the water and the slowing down of the material produce “ghost images”: the dinghy seems to multiply, to elude our grasp, and even disappears from our field of vision in the end. And ultimately, the film doesn’t spare us from the tracking shot that leads us to our own position: the huge ship of glass and steel and the tourists staring off into the distance.We are bystanders. We have made ourselves at home in that role. The film HAVARIE makes us painfully aware of that fact.

As described in the concept, the soundtrack commences with the actual radio traffic between the "Adventure of the Seas" cruise ship and the Spanish Coast Guard on 14 September 2012, thus establishing the axis of time in dramatic terms. The chain of encounters with the protagonists is embedded in the soundtrack and leads as planned from one person to the next like a journey across the sea: the love story between Rhim and Abdallah Benhamou, who were separated by the Mediterranean, Abdallah’s trip across the water, past a container ship upon which Ukrainian captain Leonid Savin, his Russian-Ukrainian crew and a handful of Philippine sailors are transporting containers between Algeria and Spain. At dinner, the officers avoid speaking about the war in their home country, while the sailors sing the song of the lost son, which recalls the spirits of those who died in the Mediterranean. The same song is played by the band on the "Adventure of the Seas", where Guillaume Coutu and his wife Emma live and work.

Life on board is like a freeze frame, a still photo in which time and place are lost. Guillaume remembers the encounter with the dinghy, the moment of that improbable encounter that “came from nowhere”. Irish tourist Terry Diamond shot this footage back in 2012; for the security man from Belfast, observation has become second nature. Night after night, he hopes nothing will happen, in a city whose streets used to echo with the sound of passing tanks and where his best friend was shot dead before his eyes. The same thing went through his mind over the ninety minutes in which he watched the dinghy in the distance from the upper deck of the cruise ship. The boat whose passengers he did not recognise. The same dinghy in which Abdallah Benhamou may have sat, torn between the decision whether to wait for darkness and risk the life of a gravely ill man or to rescue him and be arrested along with the other men, thus risking deportation, an entry ban and prison.

Sound is not decoupled from image in the film. In terms of their content, the stories approach the image, which seems to wander again and again through the various perspectives, with the viewer’s distance from events perceived differently depending on whoever is speaking at the moment. From the middle of the film onwards, there are surprising moments of synchronicity which open up a space for associations, connections, and conjecture once again.

Following an internal screening, the distributor and the editor responsible at Arte both support the changes made to the film as described above. In addition, we have, to our great joy, received the news that the film has been selected for the 2016 Berlinale Forum in this current form. (Please treat this news with absolute confidentiality, as the official program is only announced shortly before the film festival.)

Even if the film material shot does not ultimately appear in the film, the situation in which it was produced becomes clear in what the protagonists say, with a corresponding “film” being generated with increasing intensity that takes place purely in the mind. At a later date, we could imagine using the pictures of the protagonists, the ships and the Mediterranean setting which the film does not provide, such as in an installation with an art context. It is not that we want to intentionally hide or hold back these images, but rather that we want to halt the impulse to look away and turn to individual, tangible, bearable pictures, if only for the length of a film.

The cinema mix was done on 15 September, and the picture lock for the colour corrected version was carried out on 23 September – our studios can confirm both dates. We were able to have the deadline to submit the first copy to the DFFF extended to 15 December 2015.
Philip Scheffner and all the participating producers and co-producers will be happy to respond to any questions, feedback, and criticism at the usual e-mail addresses.

Thank you for your attention and understanding,
Merle Kröger and Philip Scheffner, pong Film GmbH
on behalf of the whole team
Berlin, 30 September 2015

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
  • Logo des Programms NeuStart Kultur