How a film is born – Part 1

Interview with the filmmaker Rüdiger Sünner, Berlin (for LOGON: Angela Paap)

How a film is born – Part 1

A.: Dear Rüdiger, you produce quiet, slow films, which invite us to watch and pause. Let’s talk about the watching part. In your Rilke film you look at a heather herb, a pretty, small and inconspicuous plant. Rilke says in a poem: “I love listening to things singing”. This is what you have done in your film. And I think that your films have this quality, which sets them apart, namely the quality of pausing and observing what the objects tell us.

R.: Yes, pausing: You are referring to the time factor. My films are rather slow. This is the reason why they are not shown on TV or why TV editors write to me in private that they think my films are great, but that they could never buy and broadcast them. The explanation for this is usually: People’s viewing habits are used to another kind of pace, we need more music, less silence, more commentary, more didactics. I give the viewer more time and leave him alone with things, for instance with Rilke’s words.

When I go to the recording studio with my speakers, e.g. with the speaker for the Rilke film Hans-Peter Bögel, who is one of the best speakers in Germany and who has been the speaker for several of my films, I have to slow him down. He had spoken on television and the editors told him: We are falling asleep, give us some more speed! And this is what he brings to my studio – I have experienced this with several speakers – and I have always slowed them down: more slowly, please, with longer pauses. Additionally, I prolonged the pauses that the speaker made for Rilke and also for Paul Celan [another film by Sünner].

Paul Celan wrote incredible poems, you cannot grasp them the way you read a newspaper article, you cannot understand them the way you understand an Eichendorff poem, they are even darker, more blurred and more difficult, that’s why I have to give the viewer some space to breathe. There are the first images of a poem and then the speaker takes a break – this is not just a reading, there is also the image level and the sound level, and a lot is happening: sounds, pictures, perhaps some music or just single tones. You have to digest that.

I would like to create a state, which goes very deeply into the viewer and where he does not only react, but where he gets an echo, a memory, a feeling out of himself.

This takes time. Sometimes I think, I could make even slower films, perhaps they are still too fast.

A.: I think it is important that through art we create spaces to linger and to just observe things and let them have their effect on us and thus get into a dialogue with something essential. What would interest me in this context is, how do you get your meditative images? In the film about Dag Hammarskjöld there is just this Lappish landscape. Or we watch icicles thaw – very slowly. How do these silent pictures develop?

R.: Well, I am led to these small scenes in different ways. In the Hammarskjöld film I filmed in an ice cave below a glacier, where there was this constant trickle. And there were the most beautiful green, blue and white indentations in the ice, whose illuminations by the sun were intriguing. I had read something by Hammarskjöld that in Lapland he kept having this constant experience of flowing, streaming transitions of ice and water, spring and winter, day and night, cold and hot, it is a landscape of transitions. Now it is raining, but in the distance you see a bright sun stripe, or you are standing in the bright sun and 100 km on there is a black wall where it is raining heavily – constant transitions. And this constant trickling of many streams, glacier streams, waterfalls, dripping rivulets etc. You see all this when you hike in Lapland.

We do not know exactly where Hammarskjöld went on his hikes, but then I walk myself and have atmospheres and texts in my head. And when I believe that I am in a similar atmosphere and see the things, that create these atmospheres –there were these dripping icicles – and I lay under them with my camera and then it is about recording it well. There are many ways to film something like that.

You have to get close; you must not be afraid to be really close, even extremely close.

Once in a while you have to squeeze through something and lay down and do whatever it takes to get there. I am very happy if I succeed in the end and I take it with me.

In my cutting room, however, I have absolutely no guarantee whether something like this will be in the film or at what moment it will be in the film and with which text passage. I have saved it, I keep the atmosphere in my memory and then it can happen that I suddenly think of a text by Hammarskjöld and I know I can fall back on it. Then I put the two together and the most beautiful thing is when both of them together create something completely new. The picture is then not an illustration of the text or the text just describes in words what the picture says, but perhaps only the “flowing in itself” remains. This can become a short digression about the nature of transition, about a landscape that is full of flowing.

(to be continued in part 2)


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Date: June 10, 2020
Author: Angela Paap (Germany)
Photo: Rüdiger Sünner

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