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11th TDF: JUST TALKING 19/03 (3/20/2009)

JUST TALKING 19/3

The conversation of “Just Talking” that took place on Thursday, March 19 was dominated by the way a documentary maker approaches his subject. Present were the directors: Dimitris Athiridis (T 4 Trouble and the Self Admiration Society), Insa Onken (Rich Brother) and Eric Bergkraut (Letter To Anna).

Dimitris Athiridis, who comes from Thessaloniki, turned to cinema from photography in order to record the curious story of Terry Papadinas, a musician who became a star of the Greek indy rock music scene in the ‘70s, became an icon for the punk subculture, but whose self-destructive nature led him to the fringes of society. “I used to know Terry long ago, and when I met him again I felt the urge to film him. I asked him what he was doing and he said ‘ I wake up at 8 in the morning, shave, have coffee and around 10 I want to kill myself’. When I heard these words I knew I had to make this film”, the director of T 4 Trouble and the Self Admiration Society said.

Speaking on the relationship between director – subject, Dimitris Athiridis stated that “you have to find the right distance from the man and keep it, as if you’re revolving around him. Keeping this distance, so that I wouldn’t get too close was a source of anxiety for me. I felt the desire to protect him, but at the same time I wanted to protect the honesty of my material. It was an intense balance, which I tried to maintain, so that I wouldn’t prettify things”, the director noted.

The film Rich Brother is Insa Onken’s directing debut. In this film we share two years out of the life of young Ben from Cameroon, who arrives in Germany and without having a work permit turns to professional boxing to get the financial comfort he dreams of. “Boxing is a metaphor for Ben’s fight to fulfill his family’s expectations as well as his own. Right from the start he was ready to open up, having the courage to express his opinion, in spite of being in Germany illegally. We are now very good friends and we speak every week”, the director said, and she then referred to the welcome Ben received from his family when he returned home without riches, without the expensive gifts they had asked him to bring them. As soon as his friends and relatives saw the film crew they thought he had hired us and they wouldn’t believe that he was still poor”. In closing, the German director confessed that “Subconsciously, I may have manipulated Ben, wanting certain things to happen to him that would make the film more interesting”.

Ben was present at the discussion, and he confessed that in the beginning he didn’t know if he would have the strength to take part in this process: “Maybe someday, if I visit Cameroon again, I’ll show the film to my relatives and they might believe me. They still think that you get rich very easily in Europe”.

Eric Bergkraut’s leading character in Letter To Anna is not longer living. She was the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, harsh critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, whose assassination remains a mystery: “I had collaborated with Anna in my previous documentary Coca: The Dove from Chechnya, which dealt with the savagery of the war in Chechnya. After her assassination – and given that I had plenty of material from interviews with her – I felt the obligation to dedicate my next film to her”, Eric Bergkraut noted.

“In documentaries, the key word is the trust of your leading character or characters. If you win it, then you are on the right track. But let us not forget that the documentary is a subjective interpretation of reality and not reality itself”, the director added and continued: “We must be honest with our leading characters. If you don’t get involved in their lives, there might never be that magic moment that makes the film special. And naturally, through this process, many strong friendships are born”.

“It’s a fact that my films are harsh accusations and don’t offer themselves for new friendships. But I don’t believe that my life is in danger because I indirectly attack the Putin government, and I don’t believe that the Russian government takes films and art seriously. They don’t even take human rights seriously”, Eric Bergkraut commented.


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