“There have always been people who would have preferred to stop me.” Ulrich Seidl on the challenges of his work.
INTERVIEWER: PAUL RIETH
Mr. Seidl, your Paradies Trilogy is currently being shown in german cinemas, how did you come up with the idea?
Originally, this was a movie entitled “Paradise”, which should contain three stories. Any story about a woman in search of fulfillment of her unfulfilled desires. And in the course of the production of the film I shot a lot of material. In the end it was 90 hours. And at the cutting table I first cut a six-hour film out of the material, but then I saw that the best result would be three films and not one.
Your films have these oppressive lengths, in which we as viewers want to look away, but still have to watch longer. What kind of directing trick did you develop there as your artistic handwriting?
My point is to involve the audience and the audience. What is shown and told here is our world. It reflects our societies and our world and every single person who is sitting here in the cinema has to do with it, if he allows it. The means is also, so to speak, that one sometimes makes even very distressing scenes to look behind this beauty reality in which we live. And if you get involved with it then it may be agonizing or irritating, but it has to be seen as a lasting positive. Because you will deal with it. One will have to take a stand to view it as a spectator and will, for example, have to ask: And where do I stand? And this request is wanted.
You’re originally from the field of documentaries. In a statement, however, you say that you can’t look so deeply into the depths and abyss of the human kind and capture them in the documentary form. And yet, after “Hundstage” and “Import Export”, it is again a mix of documentary elements and a strong role of you as the director. Perhaps you can explain this “in-between” to me.
Yes, as you said, I started with documentaries. But even these documentary films were not pure documentary films in the same sense, but always a mixture of fictional elements. And then gradually I developed more and more to the feature film. Because what I used to find as a special freedom in documentary film, namely to shoot on a very small budget and discover things and then go through a process and bring out a film without having executed it so to speak, is now the feature film for me greater freedom because you can really implement what you think and that’s not the case with documentary films.
Do you think you’ll return to the documentary? That there will be directorial work from you that will go back to the documentary?
That’s already happened. Again and again I make documentaries between the feature films, see “Jesus, you know”. My next project is a small documentary there is nothing in the basement. I did not turn away from the documentary. But I do both big feature films and documentary films.
Let’s talk briefly about your background. Your film “Der Ball” caused such a big scandal in Austria that your film studies were made very difficult for you afterwards. And in the end you left the Film Academy. Now you are very successful with your films and celebrate premieres worldwide at the biggest festivals. How does that feel, or does the one perhaps even condition the other?
I do not know that. In any case, it’s like this: I had a very long and very difficult journey behind me, which ultimately led to success. My films have always been very hostile, especially in Austria. And it was not easy to do another movie. There have always been people who would have liked to do the trick for me. And I have consistently worked and have always done what I believed in. And finally, it has led to success and thus I am quite happy. Especially because I made more and more people happy with it, and gave them something. And that, I think, is the sense of filmmaking or even of art, that one does not affirm something for the audience, but that one questions things and gives the audience a different view of the world.
“My films have always been very hostile, especially in Austria. And it was not easy to do another movie. There have always been people who would have liked to do the trick for me.”
Your stylistic device is the very clear cadrage. It was not without reason that Berlin had an exhibition at c/o Berlin, where your film stills were presented as exhibits. What influence does this visual approach have on the stories you tell?
I think it’s always about finding unity with content and form. So it’s not the form I’m trying to squeeze content into, it has to be a unit. And I’ve come from a variety of formal means since I make films: that was always the documentary camera, the handheld camera, working with chance. And the other was always my desire to be very precise. So to make pictures that represent my view and are often very central in their design. And I have found a way to unite these two elements. And surprisingly, that works pretty well.
What advice would you give young filmmakers?
First, you have to be able to observe and you have to be sensitive, you have to watch and listen and you also have to develop a feeling, what is important, what do I want to say, what do I want to tell, what do I want to show … and the form will find then already. And you can rely on yourself. You can not think about the audience. Do not think about it: if I do that either way, then I might have more viewers. That’s all wrong. Only your own feeling counts and then you have to believe that.
Ulrich Seidl is an Austrian film director, screenwriter and producer. He grew up in Horn, Lower Austria. Following his studies in journalism and theatre studies, he studied at the Vienna Film Academy. He has received numerous international awards for documentaries such as Good News, Animal Love, Models or Jesus, you know. In spring 2012 his film “PARADIES: Love” celebrated its premiere at the Cannes International Film Festival. “PARADIES: Faith”, the second part of the trilogy, was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the 69th Venice Film Festival. The third film in the series “PARADIES: Faith” celebrated it´s premiere at the Berlinale 2013.
Image source: Ulrich Seidl – Originator: Manfred Werner – Tsui