Adda Elling, Morgane Dziurla-Petit, Clarissa Thieme and Agathe Riedinger are all filmmakers from different parts of Europe, but one other thing they have in common besides being European female filmmakers is that their short films have been selected for the “European Shorts” section of this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival.
Tara Karajica caught up with them at the festival and discussed their relationship to filmmaking and the short form, their respective works, women in film and their next projects.
How did you get into filmmaking and what inspires you to make films?
Adda Elling: It was actually quite a coincidence that I ended up making films. I was bored and restless at University and wanted to do something more than reading and writing all the time. I then started working for a small production company in Copenhagen where I tried working in different fields of filmmaking and quite quickly got completely absorbed in editing. For me, it was kind of magical what happened in the edit and it was a place where I learned a lot about filmmaking – and still do. Unfortunately, I’m not cut out to be an editor full-time – I really admire those who are though – and my obsession with understanding people, their behaviour and stories is what motivated me to start directing. Often, after I finish a film, I realize that my inspiration or motivation for making the film stemmed from something I was examining, experiencing or struggling with in my own life. I have an urge to enter other people’s universe and create a world on film specifically for and with them. I’m not aiming to represent their “reality” as “real,” I’m much more interested in exaggerating aspects of the “reality” that I’m trying to capture in order to emphasize what I want the film to show.
Morgane Dziurla-Petit: I started to want to make films when I was eight years old. I was an only child and I would spend most of my days telling stories to myself. I was in a theater club and I’ve always been attracted to directing, much more than I was to acting. It was simply in my personality. Later, when I became a teenager, I started to watch more and more films. I was – and still am – obsessed with the act of watching films.
Clarissa Thieme: Basically, I had no talent for drawing or painting. I remember my art teacher at school telling me that I am terribly uncreative. That quite confused me since I felt intuitively drawn to art. Eventually, I got a photo camera from my brother. At the time, my life felt quite scary, so I found comfort in putting this camera between me and a reality I desperately tried to make sense of. This basic setting never changed for me. Making film and art is an awkward yet poetic way to reach out and come to terms with the world and eventually myself.
Agathe Riedinger: I’ve always been writing stories and creating pictures. My studies at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Paris enabled me to go further in that direction and taught me to prioritize my thoughts. I’ve also spent a lot of my time in the photo lab in order to experiment with frames, picture composition, and technology. And gradually, I went from making photographic pictures to video pictures. Today, besides the need to defend ideas, bringing a perspective to life by pictures and emotions created by an actor, is magic. This is an extremely inspiring feeling!
Can you talk about your short films that are playing the “European Shorts” section of the Sarajevo Film Festival?
M.D.-P.: Excess Will Save Us is a documentary about a terrorist attack that never happened. Paranoia struck a village in the North of France and made the inhabitants alert the army about an attack. I chose to make this film as a comedy that would make people sad. A part of my family comes from this village and I feel very attached to it. It’s a place that I always found both funny and tragic and it was important for me to make something about it.
C.T.: Today is 11th June 1993 was developed in cooperation with the Library Hamdija Kreševljaković Video Archive Sarajevo, a private collection of amateur videos shot during the siege of Sarajevo. In 2006, Nihad Kreševljaković who runs the archive showed me some of its material. It offered a very different personal view on the besieged city that deeply touched me. I saw people like me thrown out of the blue into a war zone. And it showed their incredible courage of daring to be normal in times that are not. That is a very political and poetic thing in itself. To keep “dreaming” and insisting on your right to have a life and a future while all of this is under attack. This brought me to the sci-fi video which I found in the Video Archive shot on the day of June 11th, 1993, in Sarajevo. In the video, a group of young people imagine their escape from the war with the help of a time machine. I felt immediately attached to it. With their approval, I started to play with the footage back from 1993 trying to activate their time machine again. That’s how Today is 11th June 1993 came to life.
A.R. : Eve is a film about love. Not about the love someone could give, but about the universal need of recognition, of dignity. Eve and Lili are alpha women. Two women who shaped their ideal of beauty, who seized a divine power to become plastically perfect, therefore desirable, and, ultimately, worthy. I’m fascinated with those who recreate physically their beauty, who make their bodies undergo a rigorous work in order to reach perfection. It’s a real proof of courage and love towards oneself. It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to work on plastic surgery. These acts are sometimes perceived as a negation of what nature gave us, an attempt to imitate the Gods. The body becomes an armor reflecting a message of power, but it makes more visible the desire – the need – to be loved. I’m touched by this paradox. There is a poetic significance and a lot of humanity in this gesture. And it’s a paradox I wanted to express by telling a romantic and very vibrant story through the characters, and the way to express it, digital, plastic, flat and maybe alpha as well. I tried to express poetry in a place where, a priori, there is no warmth.
A.E.: Playhouse is my graduation film from the National Film & Television School where I studied Documentary Directing. The film is about two lovers experimenting with notions of power and representation through making their own film. When developing the film, I was interested in patriarchal structures and power dynamics on macro and micro levels. It was in the aftermath of the emergence of the #MeToo movement and I had started questioning the roles we – or maybe I – assume in romantic relationships. I had a lot of conversations over the phone with my friend Line about this since she had fallen in love with a woman for the first time in her life, and one day I proposed to make a film about her and her partner Rosie. Luckily, they were up for it – they actually needed it they told me. They were the perfect couple to make a film about. They had strange power dynamics and very different opinions on the representation of women and sex in films. I had a very limited amount of time to make the film, so I decided to abduct them and take them to an isolated house in France in order to have a more controlled environment. Along with my cinematographer, sound recordist and composer, we created a space that enabled Line and Rosie to relax and become more playful together – which also explains the title “Playhouse.” What ended up in the film is the result of Line and Rosie’s fun, artistic and intelligent minds. It was a truly tough and amazing experience.
How do you see the short form today?
A.R. : Short film is a world where we are allowed to attempt things, to have a freedom of tone and direction. This is a rare luxury in the film industry and a source of motivation to keep trying things out. The short film economy is complicated, but this pressure always produces mini-miracles, artistic objets and human encounters which make exhilarating new experiences.
M.D.-P.: It is a great form to train for feature films, but more than that and more importantly, it is a great place of freedom in the way we can tell stories. The short form is the best form to create unique objects.
A.E.: I love the short form! In my opinion, it’s a less restricted form. I think it allows experimentation with style and form. When I’m at film festivals, I always try and watch the shorts program as I find a lot of inspiration there. I often either love or hate the shorts I watch, and I like having strong reactions to films even when they are bad.
C.T.: I believe each film has its specific form. And as an artist or a filmmaker, it’s your job to find that specific form. I have a playful fascination with genre, but certain time slots an industry agreed upon make no sense to me artistically. Saying that, I am naturally in love with all forms beyond the norm of feature films. The long, long movies that expand your filmic experience and, of course, the shorts too, where you can still find a lot of courage to experiment. Shorts can be a carte blanche that is well used and I am always happy to watch that. In the best of all cases, it is like poetry, each one with a precise language of its own speaking to you directly.
What is your opinion on the situation of women in film today?
A.E.: I have a feeling that we are heading somewhere better, but to be honest, I’m not so sure about the situation as I think it depends on what country we are talking about. In Denmark, you see a lot of women in film, but I do think there’s room for improvement and I worry that the way we talk about gender equality in the industry is separating women from men instead of eliminating the gap. Earlier this year my film was selected for a festival in the U.K. and in the program announcement they proudly highlighted that 54% of the films selected for the festival were directed by women. As soon as I read this announcement, I suddenly saw myself as a female filmmaker instead of just a filmmaker. It actually really pissed me off. Somehow, it made me feel victimized and I usually don’t consider myself as a victim because I’m a woman. I’m well aware that the festival didn’t do this intentionally, but I do think it’s important to think about how we talk about these gender quotas – do they need to be a part of a branding strategy? My reaction might come across as a bit strong, but I’m just really looking forward to the day where female filmmakers don’t have to be referred to as female filmmakers.
A.R. : Better, even if the perfect equality has still not been achieved! Since a few years now and the Weinstein scandal, a wind of contestation and feminine rage has been blowing stronger. It provides us with more and more motivation to impose our work and have confidence in its value. In France, the 50/50 by 2020 movement that strives for equality and diversity in the film industry is shaking mindsets up and equipping us for a better future.
M.D.-P.: It’s shocking… When I started film school, we were sixteen girls and four guys. Today, it does not happen often that I meet women in film in high positions compared to the space that is given to men. The thing that I miss the most is having a sisterhood with women filmmakers in my everyday life.
C.T.: I am a woman doing films and art and I label myself consciously like that. Nevertheless, being a woman is one attribute among a trillion others I inhabit right now. Actually, I would like to not think about it at all. I would like to be just me. But I am aware that me being a woman shapes the radius that society thinks I should navigate in. So I look at this position consciously because it’s not mine, but it was given to me in a limiting way. So, naturally, I am a feminist. Of course. How could I not be a feminist? But in a male, white, upper class dominated business it is not only female voices that are missing. In film and art, we need way more perspectives in order to actually see the world we live in. If we reach that point, our own subjectivity will finally make sense because it will be one in a multitude of equal others. We have so many unheard voices, suppressed perspectives that need to be equally seen and heard. Because as societies, we will never find peace as long as we don’t allow all of them to find their own place and break out of the limited ones we try to reduce them to nowadays.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker and what is your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
A.R. : Andrea Arnold, for sure. I love all her work. The false simplicity of her reflexion, the sheer precision of her directing, the « punk beauty » of her pictures, everything… So if I had to choose one film made by a female filmmaker, I would definitely say Fish Tank or American Honey.
A.E.: Speaking of female filmmakers, I do think it’s important to have female role models. At the moment, I’m quite fascinated by Lucrecia Martel and I need to watch all of her films. I recently watched her film The Holy Girl and it was very interesting how she portrayed the young girls’ sexuality and I love the way she thinks about sound in her films – it’s very inspiring. I once went to see her give a talk and I just loved her reckless attitude and cool glasses.
C.T.: That is a difficult one! Second question first because that one comes immediately to my mind. It’s Nordrand (1999) by Barbara Albert, shot by cinematographer Christine A. Maier. Female head of departments. Quite something at that time. It was their first feature and it started what was then called the New Austrian Wave. Nordrand’s rough, direct beauty took me in a second. It’s a Viennese story about two young women, one from a white trash Viennese background and the other one originally from Sarajevo, who don’t get each other in their personal struggles but, nevertheless, bond and support each other eventually. Nordrand was an eye opener about how much cinema could be my voice too.
Favorite female filmmakers and artists – I have to put that in plural because there are so many inspiring voices: Agnès Varda, Chantal Akerman, Claire Denis – always! –, Sonia Boyce, Barbara Loden, Iris Gusner, Petra Tschörtner, Elfi Mikesch – as a filmmaker as well as a groundbreaking cinematographer and simply the gentlest, touching artistic voice I have the pleasure to know personally –, Etel Adnan, Agnes Martin both in their writing and their paintings… Oh my! Luckily, there are so many!
M.D.-P.: Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola are two women whose careers I admire. But my favorite film by a female director is We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lynne Ramsay. It’s a film that marked me strongly and I still can’t get over it.
What are your next projects?
M.D.-P.: I am developing a feature film called Gudars Skymning as well as other shorts. All are, in some way or another, connected to the universe of Excess Will Save Us.
A.R. : I’m working on two features. The first, produced by Germaine Films and Silex Films, is the development of my short film Waiting for Jupiter I directed in 2017. It’s about the attempt of a young woman to advance socially and the denunciation of our showbiz society. My second project, currently in the writing process, tells a crucial moment in the career of a transgender cabaret revue. The stories of two women and two demands for dignity.
A.E.: I’m working on a film about a perverse gay choir in Denmark that started in the “Gay House” in Christiania in Copenhagen in the early 1980s. It’s still the early days for the film, but I’m very excited about it!
C.T.: I am developing a feature film, Stimmen (Voices) about an idyllic resort in the Adriatic Sea, haunted by the voices of its past when it was a refugee shelter during the Yugoslav war. Then, I just came back from Dresden, Germany where I was doing research for my upcoming project, The GDR never existed / unheard #1 – 5, in collaboration with performing artist Tanja Krone. Tanja and I are one generation, her coming from East and me from West Germany. Basically, we grew up in two different countries and systems of which one just vanished. We never talked about this, we realized. No one does. It’s a blindspot filled up with prejudices and clichés in Germany. So it’s a film about this blindspot. Last but not least, there will be two new works bringing me back to Bosnia and Herzegovina – the documentary What remains / Re-visited and a new archive project in collaboration with the Library Hamdija Kreševljaković Video Archive Sarajevo.
This interview was conducted at the 2019 Sarajevo Film Festival.