Berlin, summer 2016. Filmmaker Nola, noise-punk singer Katja and actress Martina’s days of hanging around their apartment are numbered after being threatened with eviction by property speculators. Eschewing traditional narrative, Irene von Alberti serves up a film within a film through the character of Nola as an unconventional way of asking questions of how these things happen. Part lecture, part dream-like surrealism, Von Alberti puts theoretical discussion surrounding topics like feminism, anarchism and how to keep your art and your community afloat in the forefront as the three friends learn that simply sharing ideas is the first step to changing the world. Join us for our EXBlicks screening on Monday, January 29, 8:30 at Lichtblick Kino, with Irene von Alberti.
Why was this the right time to make this film?
Twelve years ago I directed Stadt als Beute, after René Pollesch’s eponymous play. People coming to Berlin for the first time were still being influenced by it, even though you could see how much Berlin had changed since then. So I thought, it’s not too late! The horizon’s getting smaller but there is still time to make a change! I felt this idea of pursuing change was still so relevant, particularly with increasing gentrification. I wanted to comment on how much unused space is being built upon around Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, and to make another timepiece which captured the zeitgeist of 2016/17. When starting the script, the AfD were gaining traction and bee-lining for the Bundestag; it wasn’t a joke any more, their expanding voter base was unnerving. You can’t say you’re opposed to the government anymore, because now the far right has come along announcing they’re the opposition. Everything has slid into a completely different political position. That’s why I thought, lets just go back to asking simple questions with total naivety, questions which feel necessary to ask at this time in this unstable political landscape. Where do we need to position ourselves in order to find this position again? That was the main theme of the film: to ask questions.
Through its ongoing talk of how to create change, the film feels like an outcry against new society and right-wing activism. How did Berlin’s drastically changing 21st-century political landscape influence you?
The vote was in September, and the AfD rose by the time we’d finished shooting, but you could sense this encroaching concern. People said “No, it won’t happen…” but it was certain that it would. People were filled with fear.
The film comments on Berlin’s housing system and now seems like more relevant a time than ever to be talking about it.
Berlin is being sold, shared and handed over to investors. There was that depressing time at end of the 1990s when everything was sold and squandered, and things like city development and architectural politics are so important now, but it didn’t exist then, and it’s only becoming more difficult. Of course Berlin’s situation is a little better than London or Paris, but still, it’s such a shame that these problems are increasing, and this concern is evident in the film.
The film is centred around feminist rebellion, and includes women at work, mothers… how did you want to portray women’s roles?
Feminism is an outdated word, but it’s getting more and more current, there is no clear plan, so all that we can do is take these roles apart, sit down and talk about them. Our three artists, they appear to be privileged white women, but there are so many aspects of feminism. I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. The inclusion of middle-aged women, the ladies in the Kita – this hits home for a wide audience; so many women who have children are still working and don’t have rich husbands. I found the political aspects of making this film fascinating. Scenes like these may really only be opening a door for women, but what’s important is recognising that things don’t have to be like this, that things can always improve. The Bechdel Test is now used in all big Hollywood films. Everything that you can see, you can change, you just need to have an idea.
Is it more difficult for a woman to be taken seriously in the industry?
At the start it wasn’t such a big deal, there were so few women who made films, I even thought it wasn’t bad to be a woman in this industry. Now, it’s more difficult for women. Things have changed, and this is why it’s so important that organisations like equality initiative ProQuote Regie, started by female film directors, exists. I mean, look at the uneven figures (only 22 percent of feature films are directed by females), how pay is shared (83 percent of film funding in Germany goes to male-led film projects) – it’s a mess. I didn’t use to believe that I could make these ‘bigger’ films, I thought oh, I’ll never get that money anyway, I’ll just stick with small cheap films, otherwise, I don’t have a chance. So the advice I would give to women in film is to never hold back, things won’t get better if you just keep making these tiny experimental films. A male colleague on Facebook recently angered me, suggesting that the ProQuote discussion was a joke because it’s a fact that there are barely any gifted women. It’s 2018 and comments like these still happen. Look at Angela Schanelec or Valeska Grisebach; these women are changing the film landscape.
Many of the actresses are your friends?
I already knew Katya (Weilandt) and Martina (Schöne-Radunski). I found them both so inspiring, not just as actresses, but as people. I wanted them to use their own names because the film is a bit of a mix of film and documentary, so there is a mix between playing a character and documenting their lives. They helped adjust the script a little and inputted alongside me. The third protagonist is Nola (writer and novelist Julia Zange), she’s the perfect mix – a great actress who’s cleverly convincing at asking questions. The interviewees needed to play along, and really believe that she was making the film.
So, in some sense, the characters are playing themselves?
It varies, but yes, some aspects of the girls’ personalities are present. Martina fronts her own band, Cuntroaches, who feature in the film, whilst Julia has very few elements of her life in it; but she’s got some serious political direction, and has the attitude to ask about it. Katja meanwhile cares about everything and for everyone. She’s both patient and pragmatic, so she fitted the role of the one who was responsible for filling the fridge.
Do you see versions of yourself as a young creative in these women?
Interesting question… Yes, but I also think that creative resistance isn’t as big a deal as it used to be when I was younger; we complained more, and everyone used to be anti-something. Nowadays, the issue of resistance feels a little less [urgent], because the fear of exclusion is greater. Take a character like Martina. She’s so free in her art and music, the scene with the homemade Acne leggings… this is her art, her form of action. It resonated with me, the way she holds herself with such confidence. This is something I feel we are seeing less and less of.
Can political cinema change the landscape?
Cinema for me isn’t about storytelling and giving a solution. I want a film to change me, I don’t want to be the same person after. One of the reasons I made this film was to ask the question: what is a political film? I wanted to find out, I didn’t want to make a film where after 90 mins the film is over and you’re still the same person afterward. You need to be constantly prodded. Films are not as important as what the audience get from it. Special effects and flashy actresses aren’t the important bit – what matters is being active and saying you hate it or love it, or better still being able to find yourself within the film.
The end of the film resounds with this positive sense of acceptance and community…
This was the essence of what I was aiming for with this film. I didn’t want to leave it on a pessimistic note. It links back to the Philipp Felsch scene. He wrote the book Der Lange Sommer der Theorie: Geschichte einer Revolte, which also inspired the film. He captured perfectly the mood of the student revolts of the 1970s and 80s, people meeting in the park to share ideas, and that a community feel and exchange of ideas is so much more important than trying to build a political career. A collective power is richer more influential than an individual one. In the final scene, I wanted to show that these people are going out into the world together and fighting for something together.
Stuttgart-born Irene von Alberti worked as a freelance camera assistant during engineering studies in her 20s. Together with Frieder Schlaich, she opened alternative distribution and video label Videothek Filmgalerie 451 in 1987, which later served as a platform for her own films. Her directorial debut came in 1991 with short film Der Prototyp, followed by 1995’s episode film Paul Bowles: Half Moon, after the writer’s short stories. The Long Summer of Theory premiered at Munich film fest in June 2017. She now boasts 13 producer and four writing credits and hopes to further her directorial efforts.
EXBlicks: The Long Summer of Theory in the presence of Irene von Alberti (OmeU), 29 January, 20:30, Lichtblick