Kino immer anders

Lucia, Pascal, Hanna and Victor stand at the very beginning of their career. Although they all pursue different dreams, they share a desire to find their place in life. In the upcoming documentary TEN YEARS four young people share their experiences for ten years and how they face life’s challenges. In a one-man team, Matthias von Gunten has captured their ups and downs and provides an intimate insight into the development of four young people. In an Interview with Matthias von Gunten, we discover the makings of a film this size.

First of all, I would like to congratulate you for the release of TEN YEARS (Orig. Zehn Jahre). TEN YEARS is a longitudinal documentary that has been filmed over the course of ten years. The majority of your filmography consists of documentaries. What is your stance on the documentary film as a genre?

Well, that goes way back. I’ve always had a fascination to create or visualize something out of the things that exist and the things that are visible. I feel like there is nothing more beautiful than humans that act authentically. It doesn’t have to be spectacular. I also believe that the reality of a thing is really fascinating to me. I could just stand somewhere for hours and watch what’s going on around me. For me that is super interesting, even more interesting to me than a fictional story.
Also, I don’t possess a big desire or the talent to invent something. I’ve tried several times to invent something, but it never convinced me. There are people who can do that. But I am rather the kind of person who observes and is fascinated by what is already existent and creates something out of that.

You mentioned that you like to observe humans. I can imagine that if you follow four people around for ten years, the emergence of a connection or relationship is inevitable?

Yes, it’s not possible without it.

How does that shape your approach as a filmmaker?

To purely observe is not possible. That only works from distance. But then you also don’t get to learn more about the people except how they are seen from an outside perspective. The goal of this film is to give the opportunity to think and feel with the protagonists, which means that the establishing of a certain kind of closeness is required. I want the audience to get close to them. Because of that I also must have some connection with the protagonists. Which means that I first must get to know them, and that they also have to get to know me. Of course, I must get information on them, but I must find out how they feel comfortable. If I want to get footage which the audience likes to see, then I need people that are with themselves. People who can be themselves, who don’t try to put on an act, who are not stressed. If I would film you, then I would first get to know you and find out where you feel the most comfortable and in which situation you would most likely forget the camera. And that is amongst other things a matter of trust. The protagonists had to trust me. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have worked. Only great moments arise when they are unselfconsciously themselves.
And talking of relationships, it naturally influences me as well. And to me that was very beautiful, and I considered their openness as a gift. And it’s funny because regarding the two female protagonists I was pondering on how to approach the process so that it never gets a weird touch. In a manner of speaking “older guy films young women”. Until I said to myself that I would see them as my younger sisters. And then it worked, for me at least. I think for them it worked from the beginning on, they never had a problem. But I…I’ve seen films where there were older guys filming younger women and I thought to myself what exactly did he want from them. And I didn’t want that by no means.

I think the connection you’ve built is noticeable during the film. But to me although the nature of the documentary is very intimate, a certain kind of distance remains between the audience and the protagonists. So I was under the impression that your close relationship with the protagonists influenced your decision-making on what was shown and what not.

For example?

For example, there was no explanation on the bankruptcy of the bakery. Or what was really going on with Pascals family. And my question is, if there had been a conscious decision to leave out these things out of respect for the people involved or maybe it’s just my impression.

It’s all correct what you are saying. Respect is a precondition. If they wouldn’t feel respected, they wouldn’t be able to participate. They are all people that are confident enough that they won’t put up with everything. I restricted myself to those things of which I’m sure that they are comfortable with. And I didn’t feel like I had the right to dig deeper. Because to simply build a relationship to get a spectacular scene goes against my character. Of course, I tried to have some kind of relationship with them for the film, but I think the ratio between an actual relationship versus a relationship for a purpose was in a good balance. They told me much more than what was in the film eventually.
And also, for the scene in which Pascal describes how his mum reacted to his coming-out, I asked him several times if it was really okay for him to include that. Less because of the coming-out but more because of what he says about his parents. The parents came to the premiere, and it was really difficult for them. And I have to try to resolve that with them somehow. But Pascal was the measure for me. If he had said that he wouldn’t want that in the film, I would have taken it out immediately.
And there are also other difficulties. With four people you as a director have limited options for each person. You must tell a story arch over ten years, which cannot be too superficial but also not too deep with some people. Otherwise, the story will fall out of balance. You can compare it to a crib mobile, it always consists of different threads and their lengths always must be adjusted to the weight of the item that is hanging from it. There needs to be balance, which means you can’t put everything into the film, even though you would have liked to. In Lucia’s case, I left out a very elementary part. She wanted to study Psychiatry because she was suffering as a child from depression and an eating disorder. And somehow, she managed to get herself out of it on her own and this is when she realized that she might be capable of doing the same for other people. We tried so hard to include that interview in the film somehow. But it just didn’t work.

In a previous interview you explained that you selected your four protagonists based on their strong desires in life. What did you mean by that?

I know that telling a story gets difficult when you don’t feel what the protagonist desires. If you know what the protagonist wants, it gets interesting. There are a lot of people that don’t know what they want. And that’s also interesting. But I couldn’t imagine having people in the film who don’t know what they want next to people who do. Because those that don’t require much more time. And that’s why it was clear to me that I was looking for young people that knew what they want. They can be mistaken as well. That’s okay but at least they want something. That’s the kind of people I was looking for. There already is some preexisting energy. Film is always energy. My relationship to the audience is how much energy I transfer. It can be a very subtle kind of energy, but it has a lot to do with energy. If you are curious, you develop energy and want to know what happens. If you are not curious everything collapses.

Your film starts with the thesis on how the younger generations handles live. I think it’s interesting how in your documentary from 1988 JOURNEYS INTO THE INTERIOR (Orig. Reisen ins Landesinnere) you are younger than your protagonists and are observing them from the perspective of a younger person. Now with TEN YEARS it’s the opposite. Of course, those two documentaries have different focal points and different themes but is there a noticeable difference between generations on how they approach life?

I think that’s a very good question. That’s also something I’ve always asked myself. It’s also one of the reasons on why I’m interested in this subject. Do people handle life differently from different generations? Or is there something fundamental in the development of a human that is universal? I tend to believe in the latter. But I think both hold a little of truth in them. I think the younger generations are more pragmatic. I think they are in no case passive, disinterested or apolitical as they are so often accused of, I don’t agree with that at all. The Young I know of are in many cases wonderful. That they are more pragmatic has simply to do with the reality. I belong to a generation…I never once thought about how I am going to survive. I simply thought that my task was to find out what I like to do most. The fewest of the Young think like that nowadays. Because they are in a different situation. I think I’m very privileged to have grown up in that time. In a time where I really felt like the whole world is open to us, we could choose what to do. We just had to do well.
On the other hand, there are topics that everybody will have to face in their life. How much do I believe in myself? How do I tackle problems from my past? We all carry stories in ourselves and that is nothing new. It doesn’t belong in this or a different generation it belongs to human nature itself.

For TEN YEARS you operated as a one-man team. How does it feel to work alone on a project for ten years?

It brings a lot of freedom. I did it like that because I only wanted to do what I want and to account for nothing. I also tried to raise money, but I couldn’t find any investors in the beginning, only after some years, because I was unable to get the idea to the point. So, I was also forced to do it like that. But it was also my intention to work like that. It’s the freedom to decide to film one day and to not have to coordinate with anyone else except for the protagonists. But on the other hand, it gets very lonely, but I did know that from the beginning. I also had my crises. But what’s funny is that there was never pressure.

No pressure from the protagonists?

No, in fact it was the opposite. They had a great time. First, I only wanted to do three years and after three years I felt like over the course of ten years there would be more visible developments. And I feared they would tell me that they were now in a different place in life and that it was a bit overdue. But they never said that. Yes, come over. When are you coming? That’s what they said. And I also just liked them. They were my motivation to continue when I was in a crisis.

Obviously, the protagonists have changed over those ten years and I’m guessing you as well.

Of course.

How would you say has the result deviated from the original idea?

I must say that for this film there was no original idea. I just thought that I would take four people and see what happens. It also contains some kind of comfort by postponing the conceptual work for later. But that I didn’t have a clear vision was something I was suffering from. This is also a bit excusable because it’s difficult to know what will result from it. That’s just something you can’t know. I don’t know where Pascal will be in ten years, or Lucia or anyone else. From that perspective I had a good excuse towards myself. Which is also needed sometimes (laughs).
With documentaries you always work until the end to find out what it is about. You don’t make something up and work around that for five years to achieve exactly what you were thinking of five years ago. But the process is more about finding out what the substance of the film is. What the film is actually about. And for a long time, I had statements in the film, societal, sociological statements but the more we were working on it, thankfully I had a fantastic editor Annette Brütsch, the more we found out that it’s not about conveying some kind of message but to make the protagonists tangible. And what their stories are telling can everybody decide for themselves. And that’s the biggest freedom for the audience.
What I can say is that I really wanted to feel people. I can’t say more than that. I also don’t feel like teaching people something. It has more to do with why we like stories about people. Why do children like fairytales? It’s always about reflecting on yourself. It’s always about understanding on where you stand. And I wanted to give that opportunity. In this way that you can follow the story like a child and draw from it what you can. And for those that can’t draw anything from it, it’s a bad or a boring film. And for those who can, they get something out of it. And that’s why I can’t say that I had something specific in mind and the result deviated from it. I had to find out the whole time what it is about. Which meant to more and more to dismantle the superstructure and messages to get it slender so that it is essentially about people. It’s like when Lucia says in the end that she always wanted to change the world and now she still wants that, but her world is now much smaller. To do her job well and to take care of her child is good enough (laughs). And that’s how our process was as well.

By Kim Spieser

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