Apr 12, 2015

A Conversation between Christoph Hochhäusler and Amie Siegel

On Saturday, April 10 I attended a screening and panel discussion organized by KINO! 2015, Festival of German Films, New York. The discussion was held at Deutsches Haus at NYU. The screening was of Christoph Hochhäusler’s latest film, The Lies of the Victors (2014). Hochhäusler is a filmmaker, as well as a fellow cinephile. He has had works premiere at Berlin and Cannes and also published essays in various film journals, given lectures at universities, and programmed film series. 

Hochhäusler is considered a part of the “Berlin School,” a group of Berlin-based filmmakers that  emerged in the 1990’s. Their films are grouped under the title of the Berlin School not necessarily for a declaration of a similar art movement, aesthetic, or political cause. More so, they are filmmakers looking to express a cinematic experience that captures the search for a new identity in a country, and more specifically a city, that was literally separated in half for almost three decades. 

Amie Siegel's Berlin Remake (2005)
The panel discussion was a conversation between Hochhäusler and American filmmaker and media artist Amie Siegal about the use of a cinematic landscape, specifically Berlin in film. Siegal spent many years living in Berlin and created an installation piece entitled Berlin Remake (2005), in which she uses double projection: one side showing a scene from a classic film portraying Berlin and then the other side showing a remake of the scene she made in the early 2000s. Siegel addressed this project in a similar way in which the Berlin School was working, searching and comparing for the different identities in which Berlin constantly finds itself in. Hochhäusler and Siegal spoke about ways filmmakers over the years have portrayed Berlin, what it means to shoot on-location and in a studio, and a so-called “dream” or nostalgic Berlin often captured by filmmakers. 

Furthermore, Hochhäusler studied architecture in university and thoroughly discussed the importance of space and architecture in film. Often architects will think about how people will feel in the space and what atmosphere it creates. Hochhäusler used the example of ancient Roman architecture, that spaces have a “spirit.” This idea plays a great role in films that use space to create a feeling or atmosphere. Just as filmmakers use Berlin, or films that use New York City, to create an atmosphere. Or even a film like Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), which literally creates a spiritual or metaphysical space within the landscape and ruins. 

What was interesting about combining this panel discussion with KINO! Film Festival was that at first Hochhäusler’s film, which preceded the panel, was hardly mentioned. However, it made for quite a compelling discussion, surely much more interesting than if they had spend the entire panel discussing Hochhäusler’s film. Fortunately, Hochhäusler and Siegal have been longtime friends, they met at Cannes in the early 2000’s, which made for a fluid and energetic discussion, as sometimes panel discussions can come off as a little awkward. The moderator, Ulrich Baer, a professor of German and Comparative Literature at NYU ended up being left out of the conversation on many occasions because Hochhäusler and Siegal already had quite a rapport. The panel discussion provided a more constructive and in-depth critical discussion than the typical Q&A. The other atypical aspect was that the screening, which was held at Cinema Village, and in a different location that the discussion, which ultimately meant half the theatre was lost on the way over. They had obviously planned for this as there were half the seats available at Deutsches Haus. While moving the discussion seemed a little strange to me, it ended up providing a more intimate and enjoyable experience. It also created more of a separation between the screening and the discussion, hence the very light discussion of the film itself. 

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