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Interview with Edgar Reitz

Pardi di domani Jury

Edgar Reitz

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You are one of the most famous authors in the world for having directed such a great cinematic utopia as Heimat, but you came here to become president of the jury for the short films competition. How do you feel having this role?

When I first got Carlo’s invitation for the short films jury, I was surprised, having been known for decades for making the longst films in the history of cinema. Then again, over 50 years ago even I started out making shorts, and I was part of a movement, the “Oberhauser Gruppe”, a gathering of short film directors. That’s where New German Cinema was born.

 

You have taken your first steps with short films. Which memories do you have of that period?

Naturally, the situation was completely different in the early ‘70s. To me, the foremost thing was experimentation. I felt like I was part of a generation of pioneers: I wanted to discover “the language of cinema”. To me, the camera was a tool used to investigate social mechanisms. I immediately believed that you could show mankind a new vision of the world through the art of filmmaking.

 

The beginning of your career is rooted in the German cinema of the Fifties. Although you immediately gave your personal touch to your works, what is your opinion about the productions of that period, chosen as subject of the Locarno’s retrospective?

Like most directors of my generation, I had no interest in German films back then. I loved the great Italian filmmakers (Rossellini, De Sica, Visconti and Fellini), and I admired Truffaut, Godard and Malle. To me, German films were nothing but the expression of Adenauer’s age of restoration. My rejection was so strong that I hardly know any of the films shown in the retrospective, and looking back that attitude is probably unfair.

 

Talking again about Heimat, you said that (after your previous experiences) you wanted to do something that fully reflected your idea of cinema. Consequently, you didn't put any limits on your movie. But can limits also have a positive value for you?

Every artistic endeavor has “limits”: facing the borders of possibility has always been important to me. However, I find that cinema is only now starting to lose its early restrictions. Only now do we acknowledge the possibilities of great, epic storytelling. Literature, which has existed for millennia, is much further ahead in that regard. There’s the short form of verse, the dramatic structure of theater, the scope of novels… We still have many borders and taboos to break.

 

You have said that literature has always been your main form of inspiration, in particular Proust's great novels. But can literature be a referent for short stories or poems, or even for cinema in its shorter forms?

I love Proust and Dostoyevsky, but I would never try to put great literature on film. I think every art has its own laws and themes that cannot be transposed elsewhere. No art can be the starting point or substitute for others.

 

There are several contemporary authors who, although in a different way from yours, have returned to work on long cinema formats. I think for example to the Filipino director Lav Diaz. How do you judge these experiences?

In 1980, with Heimat, my aim was to combine the experiences of a lifetime in a great narrative form. My main thesis was that a human being can be observed in a realistic fashion only if you consider the time and places of his existence as important as his attributes. I’m glad that today many filmmakers tread the path of epic storytelling – successfully, too.

 

Which advices would you give to young filmmakers, who use short film as a gym to access subsequently to something bigger? Is it a necessary step?

You mustn’t underestimate shorts: it’s much more than a gym for new talents. It can be as much of a great work of art as a feature film, even though the commercial world doesn’t see it that way. I suggest to all young filmmakers to view their shorts as an expression of their entire selves.

 

Lorenzo Buccella

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