Portraits of filmmakers: from television to book

Ten interviews with filmmakers from Hamburg have been produced by the local educational channel "Tide TV", highly subjective. Now they are being exhibited.

Tables with monitors, tablecloths with film images, texts and photos: In terms of exhibition concept, more would have been possible. Photo: Tina Fritsche

Here, young talent is promoted – and at the same time a story is told of the last 50 years of film: For a year and a half, three young authors conducted ten interviews with filmmakers from Hamburg. They were able to choose the ones that interested them the most from a pot of about 20 names. Their approach is the same: they themselves become visible in the films as questioners, telling their own stories from their own point of view.

This subjectivity was one of the few conditions that Claudia Willke, editor-in-chief of the Hamburg station "Tide TV," set for the three filmmakers Ann Kimminich, Anja Ellenberger and Marianne von Deutsch. There were no stylistic guidelines; each of the work interviews has its own aesthetic and mood.

Ten years ago, the "Open Channel" in Hamburg, where ordinary people could produce and broadcast programs for radio and television, was replaced by the "community station and educational channel" Tide, which is organized according to the editor-in-chief principle so that a minimum level of professionalism is guaranteed. Ten films for the tenth anniversary – that is similarly plausible as the basic idea of editor-in-chief Willke. For the longtime documentary filmmaker, "Hamburg is, along with Oberhausen, the city that most shaped film culture in Germany after the war. And that’s hardly known."

She wanted to introduce ten important artists from this scene. And because Tide also has a mandate to train young people in electronic mass media, this developed into a project that TV volunteer Kimminich, who alone shot six of the films, worked on for a year and a half.

Originally, the ten films were only intended for broadcast on the company’s own TV station, where one film has been shown per month since March. Then Martin Aust from the local municipal cinema "Metropolis" took an interest in the project: He organized a monthly series, too, which juxtaposed a portrait with a work by the person portrayed, who was also a personal guest.

Then the Freie Akademie der Kunste (Free Academy of the Arts), which has the self-imposed task of regularly organizing events about film art, got in touch – but rarely finds a suitable topic. Thus, the work interviews are now exhibited in their rooms: Monitors are set up on ten tables, there are a few chairs in front of them, and there are headphones and tablecloths printed with film images, texts, and photos of the people portrayed.

As an exhibition concept, this is disappointingly simple. Compared to television at home, not to mention the cinema screen, sitting on a hard chair with almost unavoidable distraction from the other exhibition visitors is certainly the least attractive way of media mediation. On the other hand, as another link in the exploitation chain, this "film art cabinet" is a success, at least for the broadcaster. And in May of next year, there will even be a step into an even older medium: Then the University of Hamburg will publish transcripts of the interviews, as a paperback in the series "Hamburg History – Film and Television".

The way in which Hamburg’s film history is preserved here is made clear in particular by the episode about documentary filmmaker Jens Huckeriede, who died in December 2013, a few months after the interview: Quite unplanned, Kimminich’s film became an obituary that does justice to both the artist and his work. Huckeriede is once again given space to explain his way of working: He has always made films about remembering, his best – and best known – being "Return of the Tuddelband," which tells the story of the Wolff brothers, comedic musicians who composed perhaps the best-known Hamburg folk song, "An de Eck steiht ‘n Jung mit’n Tudelband" – and were then expelled from Germany as Jews.

Excerpts from the films discussed have been chosen and edited with great sensitivity in the work interview. Thus one gets a good impression of the director’s work. Although the ten episodes are not intended to be portraits of artists, they do convey a great deal about the personality of each of those shown, if only by where they allowed themselves to be filmed and how they posed: The artists were allowed to choose the location and context themselves.

For example, Thomas Struck, who has always made a very culinary cinema, chats to the camera while cooking pasta in his kitchen. Animation filmmaker Franz Winzentsen demonstrates in his studio how his stamp trick works, Monika Treut lectures in her apartment about her work and its meaning. Sometimes the conversational situation was loose, as with Hermine Huntgeburth, Volker Einrauch and Lothar Kurzawa, who as the artists’ collective Josefine sit together on a sofa and interrupt each other. Then the editing had to provide structure. In contrast, animator Helmut Herbst lectures on the political significance of his films; interviewer Anja Ellenberger can be seen devoutly listening in Gegenschussen.

The greatest challenge, which then turned into the most interesting work, was the work interview with Peter Sempel. His condition was that Ann Kimminich had to come alone to the shoot, which then took place in the very dark foyer of Hamburg’s 3001 cinema. Similar to his films, in which the sound is always more important than the meaning, he narrates associatively in short, sometimes brilliant sentences. And willy-nilly, the young filmmaker had to cut in a way that the result was stylistically close to Sempel. That this was no easy job she hints at with a nice punchline in the credits: There Kimminich is responsible for "book, direction, camera, sound, editing & nerves."