What does a woman need to be happy and fulfilled? After 20 years of living in Berlin, the film director Olga goes back to her roots in a small Siberian village, where she is confronted with traditional views of relationships, life and love.
Dimitra Kouzi: Olga, where are you from? Olga Delane: People consider me a Russian in Germany and a German in Russia. My great great grandmother’s name was Wilhelmine; she moved from Germany to Russia 200 years ago. The fact is that I am a German-Russian who moved back to Germany 20 years ago. I grew up under the Soviet culture, so I am a ‘Soviet’, too, even though the USSR is no longer. I was lucky to move to Germany with my parents when I was only 16 years old. Ultimately, I can feel at home everywhere. This is a great privilege.
What is your film about? On the one hand, it is an opportunity for viewers to discover a place such as Siberia, which for most people is a remote, extreme and exotic place. How do people live in Siberia? You can experience that in the film. Viewers can feel very close to the people who live there. Get to know them. On the other hand, this is a film about relationships – human relationships between men and women, family relationships. This is the basic storyline for the film. I live in a country (Germany) in which there are many opportunities in all aspects of life. As a free person, I am tempted to try them all, to experience, to evolve. On the other hand, the pace of life prevents us from experiencing all that we want, and to evolve as human beings, to taste this life and learn from our choices. In this incredible and inexhaustible freedom, there is less and less room for family, relationships, children. We are a generation that cannot develop relationships.
How did you find the village? A few years ago, in 2009, my father took me to the village and introduced me to relatives and friends. It is a Cossack village; once there lived 700 families, now there are only 50, mainly working on land and animal-farming. It’s a small scale. Here, people can dream that they will win one million, but they cannot ‘conceive’ a sum of one billion. When I first visited, word got around that I was an American journalist. If you carry a camera, you are a journalist for them.
Would you ‘survive’ in that village? I haven’t tried. I know I need to be in constant motion: do projects, have plans; I have to do something all the time. I guess I would be very anxious, sooner or later, or even aggressive. I have the feeling that people there do not develop. Everything stays the same. Undoubtedly, when you arrive at a place like that, a village where time has stopped, devoid of big-city ‘temptations’, there is no pressure to have a ‘career; there is no advertising, no internet – there is no telephone line sometimes. You are then forced to deal with the inhabitants of this place, and with your own, Western lifestyle.
What about the women? The basis of a woman’s life in the village is caring, working and children. She is safe. We in our world are far away from that. We have much higher expectations, but in the meantime we lost track in dealing with this freedom.
What was your biggest challenge (technically and/or emotionally)?My first shock was when one of my leading characters refused to be in the film. A German woman who got married to a Siberian hunter. I had to travel two days by train and two days by boat to reach her. I lived in her village (population 57) for two weeks because there was no boat for me to leave. On the other hand, this enabled me to work very well. One month after filming, she decided she did not wish to participate in the film and prohibited me from using the material.
What was even harder was when, one night before leaving for Siberia, something happened to our cameraman and he had to cancel his trip. We only had 10 hours to find a replacement. It could not be someone from Germany, as we would have to get them a visa, and we could not afford new extra-expensive tickets to Siberia. A thriller. In the end, we found a solution. We found a young talented and motivated cameraman in Siberia who, in addition, had his own equipment. There were emotional difficulties, too. When one of my leading characters died.
Did this experience change you? Yes, for me my protagonists are a symbol of endurance and strength. Despite their hard life they manage not to complain, but go through life as it comes. When I have problems, I immediately think of them and calm down. And what was for me only a suspicion before filming, that we need to keep our egos outside of a relationship, was confirmed. Yet, this is a huge process of working with ourselves.
Take us into your editing room. What decisions did you have to make while editing the film? First of all, to decide to start editing! I have not been to film school. And I had only one prior experience. But for that previous film there were no financiers who had requirements. We just did what we liked. For Siberian Love, everybody had expectations already about where the story should go. And we had tons of material after four years of shooting. We had filmed using three different cameras in different qualities, and we had six families as protagonists. My editor, Phillip Gromov, with his passion, helped me a lot to manage all this enormous work. It is not important what you prefer, but how you will make a good film.
How did you collaborate? What was it like working together? Maite: Through research we knew that, in the first stages of Alzheimer, early childhood is remembered. Based on theory, we imagined what would happen to an immigrant with Alzheimer. We hired a journalist who went to all nursing houses in Santiago and sent us a description of some 50 characters. Josebe was one of those. Her memory worked as we imagined, but it was an intense character, with a unique personality, which we would never have written, not even for fiction. She was our guide, which made this co-directing exercise flow with her.
Giedrė: Before coming to Chile I already knew, not only what Josebe looked like but also her likes and dislikes, where she lives, her daily routine, how she reacts, and this extensive research helped me and Maite to predict certain moments and when was a good time to turn the camera on and wait for a miracle to happen. In the beginning, we considered re-creating the character’s past in fiction. When we started filming, we realised that reality gives us more and is far stronger than fiction!
What is the message that you want to get across with this documentary? Maite: We want to explore how the past determines us, even when we are unable to remember what happened yesterday. Alzheimer’s erases the present, but often our lives’ milestones remain alive in our minds. This is an exploration of how the past coexists with the present, creating a new reality from daily observations, a different, lucid portrait of mental illness, with humour and joy.
How did dealing with the issue of ageing, memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and vulnerability affect you? Maite: I think it posed a constant question for me, what I am going to remember if I lost my memory, where I am going to live in my mind. In fact, I have already lived the first part of my life, so I will probably not remember anything from here to my old age. That is weird, how we are determined by our childhood and adolescence: for example, during research it was amazing for me to see how people with Alzheimer who got married twice, think that the person that is taking care of them is their first wife/husband. Working with these issues gave rise to questions in my mind that I did not have before; it is not a concern for me – it is more a reflection on what I am going to remember.
Did this experience change you? Giedrė: If you don't change while making your film, then there is no purpose in doing it – it shapes your life completely. Making this film, I asked myself, what is the most important thing in life? Another interesting thing is that it was for me a new environment, a new country and language, and what helped me to identify I think was Maite, and this was a very nice experience.
How do you get your film(s) funded? (Is it a studio film, a crowdsourced film, something in between?) Share some insights into how you got the film made. Maite: The first stage of the film (research, development and shooting) was financed by CPH:DOX. All editing and post-production was financed by the Chilean national film fund and the Lithuanian Film Centre.
What is the biggest cliché about women directors? Maite: That women directors speak about women’s topics.
Would you have any special advice to give to female directors?Maite: When a man asks, who do you leave your family with when you are working (shooting, or traveling for work), ask him the same question. Nobody asks men this questions. Why can’t we have a normal life and work in the cinema business at the same time?
How do you get your film(s) funded? (Is it a studio film, a crowdsourced film, something in between?) Share some insights into how you got the film made. Maite: The first stage of the film (research, development and shooting) was financed by CPH:DOX. All editing and post-production was financed by the Chilean national film fund and the Lithuanian Film Centre.
Which is your favourite woman-directed film and why? Maite: The Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel, because she was my inspiration when I was a student. For me, she is the only director that works with fiction and it really seems as if it were reality. I usually feel the fake in fiction, but with her I totally believe in her world.
Giedrė: Sophia Coppola’sLost in Translation. Because of its intelligence, subtlety and director’s trust in the audience. She is a brave director, and, what is most important, she explains by mood, gaze, atmosphere, touches, rather than words. From the avalanche of the current film industry, this movie is distinguished by its non-banal and ambiguous story until the very end, as we never hear what Bob whispers to Charlotte in the end. Indeed, it declines to polish all the details. This film I could watch again and again from whichever part of it. Sometimes, I deliberately start watching it from the middle. But, every time, watching it I feel catharsis, and this word I use very rarely, to be honest.
On the featured image: From left to right Producer Pato R. Gajardo, together with one of the two directors, the Chilean Maite Alberti, the editor Juan Eduardo Murillo and the Director of Photography Pablo Valdés.
Interview with Maite Alberti and Giedrė Žickytė, directors of the EFA-nominated short film I am not from here, by Dimitra Kouzi
I am not from here is the result of an experiment: the two directors where matched by the CPH:DOX festival to co-direct a film in the course of one year. The two directors were especially interested in capturing the feeling of alienation inherent to immigration – and also, perhaps, to living in a nursing home: the feeling of not truly being at home. They decided to make their film in Chile, a country that saw an influx of immigration in the 20th century, and searched there for immigrants afflicted with Alzheimer’s. The short film is the portrait of Josebe, a woman from the Basque country living in a nursing home in Chile. I am not from here, is not only multi-awarded it is now nominated for the EFA 2016.
Watch the trailer vimeo.com/146804030
What was your experience of CPH:DOX Lab?
Maite: I did not have so many expectations when I came to the CPH:DOX Lab, but it was a great experience. Αs it was not a traditional project – that you have been working on for a long time, with co-producers and involving international funds – I felt more free to experiment, a freedom I did not have in my other projects, and I worked on an idea that I was developing for a long time.
We had never met with Giedre before, so it was like a blind date, where we had to work and find common ground. We were both interested in working with memory from an alternative viewpoint: what you remember when all is forgotten. Giedrė: Quite an experiment on the part of the Danish doc festival to match two different words – the post-Eastern-European socialist camp and post-Pinochet Chile. Both countries with a post-totalitarian trauma, as well as with vibrant cultural spheres. Filming in Chile was a completely different experience from my previous ones, because I do not speak the language. Therefore, I started to follow my intuition more strongly – body language, and other direct and indirect senses.
What drew you to this story?
Giedrė: The fragility of passing time constantly concerns me. I come back to this theme in all my films, and it’s so sensitive that I can be moved to tears when I look at an old photograph, or listen to memories. Losing memory is something I fear for myself, so I tried to cope with this fear by searching for moments of light and hope in the story. My grandmother briefly suffered from dementia before she passed away. I was a child then and I have intermittent reminiscences, though some distinct moments haunt me, such as how weird I felt when we went to visit her and she didn’t recognise me. But my strongest memory is how she felt unhappy and not herself when she had to leave her home. My father’s sister took care of my grandmother and after the stroke she needed to go to a sanatorium to recover. We visited her there; it was a sunny day, a garden with lot of trees and a house full of elderly people. I don’t remember what we did but I remember the ravishing feeling of absolute loneliness and emptiness there. I was afraid to be there. It was the first time in my life I experienced fear of getting old. Making this film, I missed my grandmother – I imagined her in Josebe’s place.
Maite: In 2010, I wrote and directed a theatre play about Alzheimer disease and I made a lot of research for that; I learnt a lot about that. I think Josebe is like one of my play characters, only better, because reality is always better than fiction. In fiction you cannot put too much crazy situations because they are unbelievable; in a documentary, this kind of situations are a gift from reality. All the stories that we can make up already exist – we just have to find them. For me, films are like a factory of experiences for the spectator.
After I wrote my play, I really wanted to find some of these characters in reality, and that was my goal with this story: to find a character with Alzheimer’s that really remembered her early stage of life in another place, but not to remember the present. So, at a certain moment you can feel she is completely in her right mind because she can remember everything; yet, little by little you realise that she is lost in the present. So, that is the question: What is reality? Sometimes reality is in your own mind – you can live in your memories, which keep you alive.
How did you manage to achieve a cinematic feeling while filming everyday scenes in a natural environment?
Giedrė: I strongly believe that it is very important, not only what story the film is telling but how it is telling it. Before filming there, we researched the spaces in the house and the residents’ daily rituals there. Our task was to find a good position for the camera in each space, to frame a shot and wait for situations to happen, which we could guess about from our research. The film’s cinematographer, Pablo Valdes, who is a gifted and intuitive DOP, could instantly feel from our gazes if we wanted to move the frame or change the position. We needed our camera to be stationary, observational, so as not to destroy nor intrude into the fragile beauty and magic of the reality unfolding in front of our eyes.
Maite: I usually work in this style in documentaries. The documentary genre has sought to pursue great historical events as the narrative axis; however, politics and idiosyncratic social portraits can also be displayed based on the microcosm. Small situations from daily life that become exceptional can be more moving than explicit politics. In observational documentaries the question is, how to make extraordinary reality happen in front of the camera? I like to talk about “scheduling chance”. I am convinced that reality is cyclical, and those things that I observed during the research that were unique, happen again. For this to happen we need to be constant, patient and wait. For me, documentaries are an exercise in patience – waiting for things to happen in reality, without hurrying or pushing them, trusting that if one chooses the places and situations well, these will provide you with what you need. Each story and each character have their own way of being told and their own language. That is what we search for; the question is, what style does my character need to convey their subject and viewpoint.
What was your biggest challenge (technically and/or emotionally)?Giedrė: Before, I used to spend a lot of time with my protagonists and establish a relationship before I started shooting. Here, we had a totally different situation: Our protagonist, Josebe, did not recognise us. Every single day, we were like new persons to her. Secondly, I had to shoot a film in another language about a woman who feels she lives in another country. I was also the only one from abroad in that particular space, as was Josebe. I felt how the perception of the situations we were filming was under a totally new light due to not speaking the language.
Maite: I usually carry out extensive research, and I have a close relationship with my characters so as to prepare them for the shooting of the observational documentaries. I spend a long time with them before turning on the camera. In this case, I could not have that relationship, and it was weird for me. Every day was the first day – that was my challenge, in both research and while shooting; every day I had to explain to her who I was and what I was doing. At a certain point, we decided to put on nursery uniforms so that we could be part of her environment.
Let us into your editing room. What decisions did you have to make while editing the film?
Giedrė: The raw material was already very strong, and our greatest challenge was how not to destroy this fragile magic of life by the editing. Everything had to be very simple and accurate. Most decisions were made during editing; regarding the form, that was the moment where we discussed the most, rather than during filming.
Maite: The big decision in the editing room was to make a short film, rather than a feature documentary. Because there is a lot of time that nothing happened in that space, so for me it was not powerful enough material to do a feature-length. I think, with this kind of small stories, you must be prepared to decide during editing what kind of film it is. And it is better to make a good short film than a bad feature-length documentary. The other challenge was how to construct the character, show her not only as someone who does not remember, but also as a character that remembers her past. Because that was the interest thing about her: to not realise in the very beginning that she has Alzheimer’s, because when I met her, I did not realise it during my first approach. So I wanted to replicate that same experience with the audience.
Did you have a lot of contact with the characters (behind the scenes)? If so, what was your experience of that?
Giedrė: It was a very different and challenging experience for both of us, as we couldn’t establish a close relationship with our main character as what we were used to in our previous films. Every day, we had to introduce ourselves to our protagonist, Josebe, and she didn’t remember that we had met and filmed the day before. We had to be very attentive to her mood changes, and pay attention that our presence did not disturb her. We couldn’t control her – where to go, where to sit, even what clothes to wear. For instance, one day she decided to put on a very different jacket, which was contrasting with the ones we had filmed her in before, but she refused to change. However, we could control where to place the camera, as Josebe and other elderlies had the same daily routine, the same rituals and we could prepare for that.
What do you think are the most serious problems that elderly people face nowadays?
Giedrė: There is a widespread perception that we live in the era of an elderly world. With a low birth-rate, aging population is a common phenomenon in many countries. Also in Lithuania, my native country. One would think that with the aging population, there would be more elderly people everywhere – public spaces, restaurants, streets. However, that is not the case. I feel that is due to the remains of post-soviet heritage, as in European countries I see elderly people being truly part of the society. On the other hand, in Western Europe I note another tendency: there are less strong family bonds, and the phenomenon of elderly people’s houses is much more common than in Eastern Europe.
Maite: I think there are completely different ways to live in our old age now. For example, in my previous film, Tea Time, it was completely the opposite of I’m not from here, even if the protagonists are in the same age. In Tea Time, they were enjoying their lives, in spite of the fact that they were old, too. Today, we can speak about the third and fourth age; we live longer and have more options when we are old. But if you are ill, I think the big problem is that now society is used to the retirement homes. A few years back, at least in Latin America, families lived together with the old people, now everybody decides to send the older people to retirement homes. I think it is not a good solution for all cases.
What is Josebe (the main character) like now?
Maite: Six months after the original shooting, I went by myself to film some new takes, and it was impossible – Josebe was a new person
I'm Not From Here by Maite Alberdi and Giedrė Žickytė is now available for streaming on The New York Times, as part of the 5th season of Op-Docs.
Day after day, an elderly woman discovers that she is not in the Spanish Basque country of her youth — but consigned to a retirement home in Chile. “Maite and I are both extremely happy that our film has been selected for online streaming by The New York Times,” said Giedre Zickyte, the Lithuanian co-director of this EFA 2016-nominated short film. “The US premiere in the International Documentary Association (IDA) Screening Series on Monday 12 September in Los Angeles for the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations, was a full-house, sold-out event. From the very first scene people started reacting very emotionally to our film. There was a long round of applause at the end. Many people came to share with me deeply personal experiences with Alzheimer’s.”
Begun by Τhe New York Times’ Opinion section in 2011, Op-Docs is an Emmy Award-winning series of short, interactive, virtual-reality documentaries. Each film is produced with wide creative latitude by both renowned and emerging filmmakers, and has an exclusive online premiere on The New York Times online platform.
WatchI’m Not From Here and read more about it here:
What is a festival programmer’s favourite festival? How are films selected? How can we train the audience? And what do they like in Madrid which he finds in the North? I met Diego Trelles at the DocumentaMadrid and we talked about programming and Spanish Docs.
Diego Mas Trelles likes character driven films, compelling films, not only one style, or ways of storytelling.
"Sometimes a film gets you hooked from the first minutes, but it is not necessary. I look at the film and I have to like it for myself. It must awaken something in me.I first have to like the film and then I have to see if the audience in Madrid will also like it.
The subject is perhaps interesting, it can be what drives you, what gets you into the story, but it can also be the main character, a boy or a girl, or even the animation, or an interview, I am not against talking heads. I remember a film by Gianfranco Rosi, EL Sicario, it’s a 90-min.-long interview with a hitman for the drug cartels in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. His head is covered with a black cloth, and we can only see his body and the sketches he is making. He only speaks, and it’s incredible! You are hooked just by the narration."
Previous to his work as a programmer at Documentamadrid, he was programmer at the Sevilla European Film Festival, where he programmed European docs for five years. “I always try to be aware of what the audience likes. That is why I think we do not need international premieres in Madrid, or to follow other festivals' paths. Sometimes it counts if you know the film director or he has won in other festivals but this does not always work.” Some of the films - even those that have won in big festivals, we feel obliged to show them because otherwise nobody will show them, neither tv nor the cinemas, and we think that the Spanish audience should have the possibility to see those films.”
“I am not talking about the audience that is aware. But the audience can understand a good film. For example when they showed The act of killing, I remember that some people in the industry disliked the film - because they were troubled, they felt that it raised moral issues. I like this film, not only because of the subject; I remember when we showed Joshua [Oppenheimer’s] other film, The look of silence, it was late at night and the Q&A lasted another one and a half hour. Although the film was screened late at night and there was no more metro or bus, nobody left the theater – the audience was mesmerised by the director’s personality.”
Diego Mas Trelles travels to all the festivals and he sees over 1400 films per year. Which are his favourite festivals? “A festival I like to attend is the Berlinale – it’s a big city, it’s not classified like Cannes. I also like <a href="http://nordiskpanorama.com/sv/publik/“>Nordisk Panorama – it’s a good showcase for watching Nordic films and to meet producers and directors from the region. Of course I like idfa.”
He does not think that there is a trend in documentary making. What happens is that the life of a doc is getting shorter. “The media climax is shorter, and the glow of a doc is shorter. I see more and more cinematic docs where even the credits are well crafted and conceived. There is a deeper interaction with fiction! Sometimes you may be annoyed because you do not know if you see a staged scene.” In this year's DocumentaMadrid, a lot of the films were made by women. And the winning film, Sonita, is a film about a girl rapper from Afghanistan and her path to find herself, made by a woman director, Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami (trailer).
Is women’s gaze a trend? “I hope so, because it’s half of the humanity. We must follow the Nordic model, the way they promote, finance, show the films. I am a fan of the work they do, of the Nordic style. For example, take the film Those who jump, produced by the Danish Producer Heidi Elise Christensen, who also produced (Final Cut for Real).
One of the co-directors, Moritz Siebert, is from Chile but he lives in Denmark (the other two are Estephan Wagner & Abou Sidibé).
The film is a very international story, and it has a very strong Spanish angle in talking about a very important topic: the refugee issue. (In northern Morocco lies the Spanish enclave of Melilla: Europe on African land. On the mountain above live over a thousand hopeful African migrants, watching the land border, a fence system separating Morocco and Spain.) Diego is asking a rhetoric question: “Why can’t Spanish people make this film?” According to him, we should “ask the Spanish government!”
“I have produced fiction films and directed docs. I worked for ARTE and then as a channel delegate. I also used to work for the Spanish television, presenting and directing a program with feature docs. It was on every Friday night and had good ratings. The programme was cut off in order to have an excuse so as not to do co-productions. By cutting it off the TV station could say, “We can’t co-produce because we do not have a slot for the films”!
Who do you want to be?
I’m often surprised when I find out things about myself I didn’t know. I don’t think we have one true self but many different faces. Rilke writes about that in The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge: how we consist of so many different layers and faces. We walk around with them and put them on – sometimes one face gets worn out, or becomes thin like paper.
I have spent so many years of my life trying to be someone else and looking for something else, with a restlessness that in some ways is positive, because it’s about being curious, longing to explore, to move on. But there is also another side to it, when you’re always on the run, feeling independent and free, without anything keeping you. Loneliness can be brutal sometimes. I don’t have the same restlessness anymore. My mother talks about that in the film, that she no longer yearns for somewhere else, not in the same way as before, when she always carried a diffuse longing for elsewhere.
I appreciate to be in one place for a longer time; at the same time, I have a nomadic mind so I can get up and leave any minute. And I still love that feeling of being on the road, on my way, playing good music, watching the landscape changing, being in transit. Or just waiting for the plane at the airport, or arriving to a new place where I’ve never been before and don’t know what to expect.
I now spend more time in the countryside in Sweden, where I have an old house. I also live part-time in Berlin. These two places are very good for me because I feel so much at home and alive. There is no pretence. It just is what it is, natural, beautiful and raw. There’s a title of a book by Robert Frank: ‘Hold Still – Keep Going’. I very much believe in that. To not rush, but to be present. I think that’s the most important thing for a filmmaker or an artist. I work in a very intuitive way. I always have my camera with me.
Failure: How do you feel about it?
When I grew up, I felt like my whole life was a failure compared to others. My parents were artists, our home was chaotic and unconventional. We lived in the countryside in Sweden, our neighbours were farmers. My friends’ parents had normal jobs. I was ashamed and wanted to be like everybody else. In the film, there is a passage with a little girl with a cute dress, Sophia. We were best friends. I adored her. She was so pretty, their home picture-perfect. I felt like a failure compared to her. But underneath the surface things weren’t that perfect. And she dreamt of my life.
Now when I look back I am happy that it was not all perfect and that I have the experience of what it means not to fit in. I had to find my own way. Feeling that I was not in the right place made me curious to explore other worlds. I started travelling at an early age and went alone on trains in Eastern Europe for the first time when I was 15. I was very shy and had an old Hi 8 camera that I used to film everything I saw, people I met – a way to communicate and get in touch with people. I was so full of questions about love, the feeling of home, and I ended up filming very personal conversations with people I met on trains and in places in Bosnia, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy, all around Europe. I am now using that archive material for my new film, Notes On A Journey. Feeling different or feeling like a failure can also be a driving force for you to search for others who share your experience. I felt much more at home in Bosnia than I did in my own small village in the countryside.
There was a period in my teens when I revolted against the chaos that was around me, growing up in an artist family and a messy home, and with parents who were different. Everything had to be perfect. I loved writing, but suddenly it was related to prestige. I wrote chronicles for a daily newspaper, a full-page article every Saturday. I won many prestigious literary prizes. I was the youngest ever to receive a journalist prize at the age of 18. I was offered a book contract. I did everything right. I was successful from the outside. Yet, inside I was torn apart and very unhappy. It was all just a shell. The more successful I became the more distant from myself. Finally, I didn’t know what I wanted anymore, and all the passion was gone. When you are afraid of failure, you stick to the well-known, which I believe is the greatest threat to creativity.
I don’t care so much anymore about being loved by everyone; I am interested in the notion of failure, what that means. Also, the complementary idea: success, what that means. Of course, I want to always do the best I can, and I want people to like what I do. But who decides what is a failure? To write one great script, maybe you have to write ten bad ones before you get there. When I showed the first versions of my film to my mentor, Stefan Jarl, it was ‘a failure’ and I knew it, but it was part of the process. I believe that we need to defuse the fear of failure.
What do you want people to think and feel as they are leaving the theatre? After a screening at Gothenburg Film Festival, a woman came up to me and hugged me, saying, ‘Thank you for making this film! The first thing I will do when I go home is call my daughter. We never really talk.’
The end (or just the beginning?)
Meet us in Krakow! In competition at Krakow Film Festival
What do you see when you look in the mirror? Sometimes when I look at myself I almost get a surreal feeling, as if it’s somebody else, but still someone I recognize. Isn’t it strange that your eyes can see everything except themselves? I don’t judge myself as much anymore in the way I did when I was younger. I could be very hard on myself and never think that I was good enough, or see any beauty in myself. I think the eyes reveal so much, not only what they look like but also what they see and where they look. I remember when I was a child observing my mother before the mirror, how I could feel her judgement over herself.
How do you feel about getting older? I feel OK with getting older, only there is still so much I want to do and the older I become the more aware I am that time is limited. It’s so easy to long for youth, yet I wouldn’t like to be 20 again. I think what’s most important is not to turn bitter, to grow old with dignity and to accept the changes. I read about a woman who was afraid of getting wrinkles so she decided never to smile. But the lines in your face reveal what kind of life you lived. There is nothing more beautiful than a face that is full of life, and I believe that the strive for perfectionism, or for being beautiful will only have the opposite effect.
My mother says in the film that she was afraid of aging, that she thought that after 40 life was over. She was, and still is, beautiful but when she was young her beauty was also something she could hide behind. She lived in a myth, took different names for each new man she met. When she met my father and they got married she had to reveal her real name. She had called herself Melinda, from a song by Bob Dylan. Some people become younger the older the get, in their minds. My Dutch grandmother, Bep, with her thick, curly white hair, was much more strict and conservative when she was young. When she was over 90, she made her debut as an actress in a Chekhov play. She was playful and curious, and became freer and freer in her mind the older she got. More and more beautiful, too, I believe. I feel in many ways all the more connected with the child within me the older I get. And then it’s easy to say that age is just a number. It is, yet it’s also a hard fact. I remember when I listened to Agnes Varda giving a lecture in Gothenburg, how fascinated I was just looking at her face and how it was shifting from a little girl to a young woman, and to an old woman.
Do you believe in love? Love is probably the only thing I really believe in. Without love, without interaction with others, we are nobody. We reflect ourselves in the other, and when I see beauty in someone, hopefully that person will feel beautiful. There is a line in a song by Blonde Redhead: ‘If you start doubting me then I start to doubt myself’. We are so dependent on each other we come to live through each other. I think we affect each other very much, and small actions can have a profound influence. Just the way we see each other. The energy we spread around us. A smile from a stranger in the crowd. That is also love. Love exists in so many different forms. We all want to be loved for who we are. That is something we share. Probably that’s why love is a never-ending theme in so many films and songs.
In my film For You Naked two people fall in love without speaking each other’s language. They have to find other ways to get to know each other. I think it’s interesting because it’s easy to tell the same story about yourself. How do you present yourself to the other when you want to put yourself in a good light? Language can also be a protection where you just repeat the same story over and over again.
Freedom seems to play a key role in your life. When do you feel free? My mother says in the film: ‘If freedom is not feeling ashamed of yourself, then I am far from being free.’ I really think that freedom and shame are related. If you feel ashamed of yourself, of your body, of who you are, then you are not really free.
I feel free when I am surrounded by good energy in people and places. Places where there is air to breathe and things are not totally defined or formed. I am very sensitive to atmospheres and sounds. Freedom doesn’t mean leaving everything behind and taking off, but being in tune with yourself and the choices you make. At the same time, there is so much that we can never control, and in that sense we are not really free. I recently watched a great documentary, A Hard Loving Woman, at Tribeca Film Festival, which screened in the same programme as my short film Homeland. It is about Juliette Lewis and how she left Hollywood and started a rock band. She talks about beauty and how she never could adapt to the beauty ideal. When she goes on stage, she wants to be without makeup and just full of raw energy. It’s very empowering to see a woman who just doesn’t care at all, who doesn’t need to please others. I think that is the opposite of feeling shame. A little child doesn’t feel shame. There is a scene in the film where my sister’s daughter, Alma, aged four, sits in front of the mirror and puts on lipstick. She is playing; it’s a game. But it is also scary, how a four-year-old girl already knows women’s ‘codes’, the way she paints her nails, the way she moves. She knows exactly how to do it, imitating what she’s seen.