Photo by Viktor Richardsson
Philip Scheffner and Colorado Velcu reunite for And-Ek Ghes... – and this time, they’re bringing the entire Velcu family. Tuesday, September 27, join us at Lichtblick Kino, 20:30 for the post-Berlinale premiere of And-Ek Ghes, a moving and formally daring portrait of Roma family life in Berlin. Directors Scheffner and Velcu will be present.
They first met in Craiova, Romania, in 2011. Scheffner was trying to convince a skeptical Velcu (left) to take part in his fourth documentary, a film about the unsolved murder of the young Roma's father on the German-Polish border in 1992. Scheffner's resulting Revision opened at the Berlinale four years ago. Three years later, the two were reunited in Berlin for the impromptu project And-Ek Ghes..., with Velcu sharing the directorial credit and his (many) family members in front of and behind the camera.
The result is a depiction of a year in the Berlin life of a Roma family that doubles as a playful reflection on the act of filming, speaking both to the brain and the heart. We met with both directors for a polyglot conversation (Velcu speaks Romanian; Scheffner speaks German; the two speak Spanish with each other) at the Kreuzberg HQ of Scheffner's production company Pong three weeks before the premiere of And-Ek Ghes... in the Forum section of the Berlinale.
Colorado, how did you end up in Berlin?
Colorado Velcu: For Roma, it's very difficult to live in Romania. We heard that in Germany it's possible to have a house and for the children to go to school. First we went to Essen, where we had a flat from the first day. But then there were some problems – no water, etc., – and suddenly we found out about a flat in Berlin.
Philip, when you visited Colorado in Essen you had your camera with you. Why?
Philip Scheffner: Somehow it was very normal to have a camera between us. It was even more normal than without a camera. Him in front of the camera and me behind... it's a space that we renegotiated all the time.
How did the other camera show up and how did it change the perspective?
CV: When he came, Philip brought a camera as a present for my 13-year old daughter Noami.
PS: Noami immediately had a lot of fun filming with her camera, and then her brothers and Colorado also started filming with it. I watched the material they filmed and was intrigued by it. We had a discussion with the whole family and I asked them whether they would work on a film together with me. In the end, there were four cameras: Colorado's family and the families of his two sisters each got one. And everybody had mobile phones as well... But we were still hesitating, like, can we really make a film? So we talked to the family and made a contract.
Is this when it became real for you, Colorado? When you realised you'd co-direct the film?
CV: When I signed the contract, I didn't think about myself as a real director, or that I’d get famous. I was impressed that Philip, a professional filmmaker, saw that I could be a kind of director.
PS: As we worked, I realised I was working on it less and less. I was thrilled. Colorado was setting the frame, thinking very precisely and seriously about how to film. So the dynamic of work relations changed.
The final result works on so many levels – how did you intertwine all that material?
PS: I was filming, the family was filming. I think there are at least 29 protagonists and 12 people who did the camera work. My first problem was that I had no clue what they were talking about, because most of the time they were speaking Romani. While Colorado was translating, we made a selection of scenes we thought were interesting or surprising. While doing that we also understood what the film is all about, because that was not clear in the beginning.
So what is the film all about?
PS: I don't know what the film is all about! For me personally, it's about a family coming to Berlin. But it's also a film about the possibilities of filmmaking. Like the scene in an internet cafe, where Colorado and a friend are just flipping through Facebook pages and commenting about people we don’t know. You could interpret that as a kind of a casting for a film...
Which is what they're actually doing! Colorado, is there a scene you felt strongly about?
CV: For me, the moments where I felt I was the director were most important. For example, the scene in Romania when I drive with my friends to the forest, and they shout and dance. I said to Philip that this scene is important, very Roma-like, and he agreed.
PS: Actually, while he was filming it, he said, “I am sure Philip would like it!” It shows how Colorado and I and everybody in the film are conscious about filming. Both of us are filming day-to-day situations, but at a certain point Colorado did something else: he was filming a film on purpose.
The ‘film within the film’ is made apparent – you show actual staging or reenact bits. There are different levels of reality at work here.
PS: Yes, you have the daily filming. This is also scripted to some extent. Then you have scenes that are like a summary, where we re-staged the whole thing. The film in the film that Colorado directed is somehow a summary of a lot of the material you saw before. Then in the end there is another layer of reality... the music video.
That’s a great scene. How did it come about?
PS: We knew that Colorado's son's main goal in life is to sing. Then Colorado said, “We wrote a song”. I had no idea what I would do if I didn't like the song. But it turned out to be absolutely beautiful. And the lyrics, which are not translated in the film, are very personal. It's rooted in personal experiences but over-the-top fictionalised, like a Bollywood song sequence.
Where does the Bollywood inspiration come from?
PS: Bollywood was a reference point for both of us from the beginning. When we were talking films, it was about Indian films. We discussed the actors, like if Shah Rukh Khan is better than Amitabh Bachchan. Coincidentally, when the family drives to Berlin, someone looks at the landscape and says, “It looks like an Indian film,” so that really was a reference, for everyone.
What's this film about for you, Colorado?
CV: I'd like Roma to see the film and think there is a place where it is possible for children to go to school, where it is possible to live like a normal person. So, first it is for Roma people. Second, it is for all of us. Against the idea that it's not worth giving 'those people' a chance. All those prejudices about Roma: they can't live a decent life because they don't want to live a decent life. It's about someone who gets a chance to make a life for himself and takes it.
How’d the family like the final result?
CV: The children liked the film. Only Noami didn't like the scene when it's the first day at school because she thinks she looks ugly. She's 13 so she's worried about her looks...
Could you imagine making another film together?
CV: It's impossible to say I will never do this again. But, frankly, two films about my family... I think it's enough!
And-Ek Ghes... | Berlinale premiere Feb 14, 16:30, Delphi Filmpalast
Originally published in issue #146, February 2016.