Conversations with Wim Wenders

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In the midst of his busy schedule in Israel, Wim Wenders sat down for a press conference on Monday. This took place at the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School, and was moderated by its director Renen Schorr. The questions covered a variety of topics, which Mr. Wenders answered with enthusiasm and interest. While the majority of questions were about film and politics, the very first topic covered was somewhat unique (questions accredited where possible).

About his current project, a 3D film about the work of choreographer Pina Bausch:

I know Pina Bausch for 25 years, I met and her and got to know her work in the early 80’s, and we became good friends. Already at our first encounter, after I’d seen three of her plays, I told her that I’d like to work with her one day and film her dance theater. And I said that every time I saw her, every time I saw a new play. And eventually, Pina took me seriously and said ‘so when is this gonna happen’ and I said ‘well, as soon as I know how to do it. And I seriously ruined my brain for a long time as to how to film dance. And I saw lots of things that were done about her, and I thought nothing was appropriate. I thought that filming dance was strangely impossible, because dance by definition uses space and can’t be captured by our two dimensional tools. Neither photography nor film ever really renders the beauty of her art. We both got older and each year she asked me so when are you going to do it? And I said I don’t know yet. Until two years ago, I saw one of the first digital 3D films and I called Pina from the theater and said ‘now I know how to do it’. We started to plan the film for this fall, prepared it together, and then, in the summer, she very very abruptly and without much notice, left us. After her death, I first cancelled the project, because it had been a project that we had begun to do together. Eventually it dawned on us- basically the dancers asked us, to not abandon it, to do it never the less, because all the plays that are still on were rehearsed by her and carry her stamp, and it was actually even more important. We’ve done the first shoot, I’ve started to edit, and then continue shooting early next year. If everything goes well, the film will be done in the fall of 2010. I got very close to her dances, because we were working for weeks very closely together, and I not only shot the performances but also scenes just for the film so I got to know them very well, I almost became part of the family, and it changes things enormously if you can look behind the scenes and you can see how brutal work it is for it to look so poetic and light in the audience. It’s one of the hardest works I’ve ever witnessed. And Pina loved Jerusalem very much, she told me quite often.

On current Israeli cinema (Kol Yisrael):

Well, I heard a rumor that it was thought to be mediocre. I must say, my impression is very different. Over the last few years, especially in the European cinema, we saw lots of Israeli films, some of them I really loved enormously. And I think that over the last couple of years there have been some really remarkable films coming from Israel. It is a driving force in our assembly of voices. And I’m friends with some filmmakers. Two or three weeks ago I had a workshop with Ari Folman, and we showed and discussed Waltz with Bashir, there was a very big audience. It’s an extremely creative and innovative film.

On the difficulties of making film (Kol Yisrael):

It’s always good to have to fight difficulties. Whenever it gets easy, the creative juices don’t flow so well any more. For any film it’s good to have to struggle and have to fight and have to reinvent itself. All the industries that are settled don’t produce much worthwhile, as you can see in Hollywood these years. Nothing’s coming out. With little difficulty, there’s no interest.

Wim Wenders/Photo: Zvika Portnoy
Wim Wenders/Photo: Zvika Portnoy

On the inability to make a film that is truly anti-war (Midnight East):

A: Well, you have to make a real extra effort in order to be able to show something and make it very clear to the audience that what you show is not what you like. Most films can’t really do that. Even if they verbally distance themselves by just showing it, and the way they show it, they make it very hard to understand that war. The film that did it very successfully –one of the very few examples- is Waltz with Bashir. That is a film that very successfully was able to step back from the trap of the war film. Really creative –maybe by being an animation film, allowed distance- and made me feel like my anger and my repulsion of any war was confirmed, more than any other war film I’ve seen in recent years. It’s a very very intelligent movie.

On the topic of boycotting Israeli film (The Jerusalem Post):

 I know many reasons to boycott god-knows-what, but if I look at the Israeli films I’ve liked from the few last years, I wouldn’t know a single reason why I should boycott Israeli cinema. On the contrary. Our goal in the European Film Academy is to promote movies all over Europe as best as we can and I think Israeli and Palestinian films have done really well since we’ve accepted them.

On boycott in general (The Jerusalem Post):

It doesn’t work. In general, very often boycotts reach the opposite than their goal. Take Cuba. Boycotting Cuba really secured Castro’s rule. They very often have the opposite effect. I’ll boycott boycotts.

On whether or not he has plans to work with Israeli film students (Sam Spiegel website):

No, but if you don’t plan- things happen. If you plan, nothing happens. So I come here without any plans. I know some of the graduates. I met Nir Bergman when he showed Broken Wings in Berlin and we became good friends, so who knows.

On his link and changing relationship with Israel:

Of course it had undergone change over the years. Israel has undergone changes over the years, my country as well. I lived in America for a long time. All these have an influence on you. And it’s hard to even talk about Israel as if it was one thing. Israel is not one thing. Like America, it has different facets. I can’t say I love America, because there’s a lot about America that I don’t like at all, and that I’ve been very opposed to over the years. So I couldn’t say I love Israel because there’s a lot of stuff going on-especially in politics- that I’m certainly not agreeing with. On the other hand, the people that I’ve met and the journeys that I’ve made in and around Israel have made me really have a close relationship and I really have a feeling for the place and I wish it was doing better. It’s an impossible situation and the gridlock it is in could be helped. Too many friends here not to be concerned. But I couldn’t really give one answer. Israel is one of the most complicated places in the world, and this city here certainly is too and one answer would be very superficial.

On the concept of a ‘Global Village’ (Channel 9):

You never really know what people mean by globalization, because a lot of people mean different things and their experiences and where they’re coming from defines the question. Nobody knows what the ‘global village’ is. Everybody uses it, and I happened to spend a week in a global village a couple of months ago. I look at the expression ‘globalization’ from that point of view. I made a short film in Calabria, which is south of Italy. It’s a very poor country, with a horrible history of emigration. The young people have left for generations. The coast is empty; most of the villages are dead or half-dead. There’s town with 3,000 buildings and maybe ten percent are inhabited. The other ninety are empty. And I went to this place because I heard the story and wanted to check it out. A little town called ‘Riace’. And Riace has been devastated for a hundred years by all young people leaving. And on the coast of Calabria a lot of ships landed in the past few years with refugees from Africa, boats with Kurds. From all sorts of zones around the Mediterranean, from the Balkans. There were boats arriving at Calabria, and of course all these boats were sent back. And the mayor of Riace, looking at his own village and realizing it was empty, and looking at these people who arrived, said ‘this is stupid, we shouldn’t send them back. We have all the place in the world’. When he saw the people arriving, he saw a boat full of Kurds, he said ‘they look like all the people in my village’ and he invited them. And it became a UN Project. And it’s an amazing example of ‘Global village’ because now this little town of Riace is very much alive, has people from Afghanistan, from Lebanon, from Serbia, Eretria. It’s really a global village in a true sense of the word. People from all over the world are there, they have shops – all of a sudden there are jobs in the city. It’s an amazing example of a global village. I prefer to have that image in mind if anyone mentions globalization, because it’s better to have in mind things that work than only things that don’t. So globalization can also sometimes work. It doesn’t always though, I know that.

 In globalization the greatest injustice is trade, and the big nations who insist on trading and the smaller ones have less and less part of the cake. Africa’s part of the world trade now is 1%. If Africa had 2%, it could solve all of its own problems. But it’s going down.

Wim Wenders/Photo: Zvika Portnoy
Wim Wenders/Photo: Zvika Portnoy

On the decline of cinema as an art-form:

Of course the reality is, when you travel a lot, no matter where you go, you realize cinemas show the same junk all over the world. And you really have to dig hard to find other places where they find other kinds of films. In Moscow, it’s the same cineplexes that show that same film as in Berlin. And the art-house market is shrinking every year. The budgets are getting smaller, and distribution is getting diminished, and the amount of theaters that play movies that are not strictly commercial is shrinking. So you’d have to be a great optimist to deny that. But on the other hand, whenever you see people who come out of a different movie, that is not just entertainment, one that is actually giving them some, you find that there’s an incredible satisfaction. A lot of people are hungry to get more from movies than just entertainment. A lot of people who come out of these cineplexes they already don’t know what they’ve seen. You ask them the next day, they have no memory. A lot of movies create no more memory, just instant junk-food. I think the movies that give us better food for our soul and the eyes will not disappear, but it’s a hard time for these movies right now, because this excessive consumer age has driven everything else to the borders. I think it’s the consumers themselves who have to make up their minds, if they want to die on junk food or if they want to live a little healthier lives.

 It is pessimistic, but I know that the kind of cinema I like will not disappear, but it has a hard time. Some of the best films I’ve seen over the last few years…Waltz with Bashir, for instance, is the best film I’ve seen in the past few years, and it found a relatively small audience. I thought it was going to go through the roof. I thought a movie this innovative and this brilliant will be seen by millions of people. The audiences remained art-house audience, it didn’t transcend into other audiences, and that made me sad. Ten years ago that would have been different. A film of mine that was very successful twenty years ago ‘Angels over Berlin’ (Wings of Desire), if it came out today, I wouldn’t say it would go unnoticed, but it would be very small audiences. That is the difficulty.

On not taking oneself too seriously (Goethe Center):

This is a funny question, because in a press conference, almost by the very situation, you are completely tempted to take yourself so seriously, because you expect it as well. But I can’t any more, I’m sorry. I know that every now and then I do something that may be useful and nourishing for other people. But to take myself seriously as a person or important would undermine everything I really try to do. I think it’s good advice. Take things seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Of course, in movies –especially directors, who very often have a very inflated ego, which comes with the job. It’s a dangerous job, somebody has to do it.

Wim Wenders/Photo: Zvika Portnoy
Wim Wenders/Photo: Zvika Portnoy

On actors he most enjoyed working with (Channel 10):

I didn’t work with her- I always dreamed I’d make a movie with Gena Rowlands. It was an incredible pleasure to work with Jeanne Moreau, but we only worked that once. On the other hand, I made three films with Bruno Ganz, and he is one of the greatest actors I have worked with. I managed to work twice with Dennis Hopper, so some of my heroes I did get to work with. Not all of them. I have some regrets.

On whether there are any up and coming filmmakers that have both artistic depth and commercial value (Galei Tzahal):

Sure. I mean, there’s a nomination for best newcomer in EFA this year, Ajami, which is a fantastic first film. I expect a lot from Ari Folman and Nir Bergman’s next film. I deal so much with first filmmakers, because I teach so much for the last ten years. I expect nothing but the greatest from these people. Some of the people I expect a lot from you wouldn’t know, because they’re just about to make their first films. And I think they are all over. I think there’s a whole proletariat all over the world of young filmmakers –in Israel just as well as in my country, and everywhere else- that because of the technical possibilities of digital cinema are able to, with very little money, do amazing work. The only drawback today is that distribution does not work in their favor. Distribution is not adventurous. Distribution is a narrow gate –a very narrow gate- and a lot of the talent stays outside of the gate. And I hope that in the near future distribution changes and that there are other ways to have access to young movie makers and their films. I have the highest hope for open portals on the internet, or other venues, that will necessarily have to form, because the traditional theater is in no way able and capable and willing to open up. Most of these films can make films digitally, and they have a digital project that they can show, but in order to get through the narrow gate of distribution they have to make a print, which they can’t afford. Digital cinema has not really come up with a solution for the distribution side of it. It’s still an incomplete circle. All these cameras can record digitally, but there are not enough cinemas that are equipped to show digital films. I think we need to come up with a new distribution system that can actually show case the work that is done today and that goes unnoticed.

Image credit: Zvika Portnoy

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