What moves me

What moves me

“We are all meant to shine, as children do.”
(Nelson Mandela)

Why do I make documentary films?

Simply because real life and real people interest me much more than fiction – the “small” stories often more than the big ones. No matter what my film may be about: a river, religion, art or the consequences of climate change – I always try to show things the way they are through the eyes of my protagonists.
With each new film, the challenge arises again: to tell those stories in a way that will touch the audience’s hearts. Time and again as I have worked with people I am amazed by the courage and trust they show in truly opening up for my camera and how much positive energy they often share in spite of painful and even traumatic experiences in the past. As a child I witnessed the building of the Berlin Wall and understood very early that people will risk their lives so they can live in freedom, choosing to follow their inner calling instead of doing what other people tell them to do. That was an experience I have never forgotten and it laid the foundations for my deep dislike of dictators and ideologues of any kind. Many people I make films about are “outsiders,” non-conformists.  More often than not, they are self-taught individuals who live out their dreams against all odds:

„ It’s the dream that counts – the rest is feasible!“

I found this motto engraved in a massive bronze plaque on the floor of a studio belonging to a young Bavarian sculptor. For several months I followed him with my camera because he had the fascinating but – as I then thought – totally crazy vision of letting huge granite spheres weighing several tons float on an extremely thin film of water! But Christian Mayer really managed to make this magic happen, creating hauntingly beautiful fountains which mock our understanding of the laws of nature, „stone-dreams“ come true…

Or Hans Thurner, a Bavarian dairy farmer who was taunted by his neighbours as “Hans the Communist.” He became the target of these taunts in the early 80’s, when he dared break a taboo in his conservative community by pooling his resources as well as his profits with a good friend in order to pursue a second career as a self-taught artist. Hans persevered, becoming both a successful sculptor and a wealthy farmer. Years later, the same people who had ridiculed him earlier rewarded his efforts by electing him mayor of their town.

Then, there was Peter from Hamburg – a highly gifted child pianist whose mother wanted to make him into a “star, a little Mozart.”  To her horror, he rejected his mother’s rigid regime by running away to America where he became the owner of a profitable piano dealership and a sought after piano-tuner.  But it always remained Peter’s dream to make his own music.

So when I met him late in his life, he had given up his business, destroyed his credit cards, and was living in the Nevada desert in an old truck he had transformed into a rolling home and studio.  And he was playing his own music on an old upright piano – a very happy man.

Another “outsider,” Jane Goodall. As a young girl growing up in the sleepy seaside resort of Bournemouth, England, Jane dreamed of one day going to Africa and living there with wild animals. Everyone laughed at her childish fantasy – everyone but her mother who supported and encouraged her to follow her dreams no matter what. Jane earned the fare for her one-way steamship ticket to Africa by working as a waitress.  After a few detours, at age 26, Jane ended up doing exactly what she had dreamt of: Louis Leakey, the famous anthropologist commissioned her to study wild chimpanzees in the rain forest of Gombe on the northeastern shores of Lake Tanganyika. Self-taught, alone and with absolutely no scientific training to begin with, Jane remained there for many years – initially ridiculed by other scientists as the “National Geographic Cover Girl”, she soon became world-famous for her breakthrough discoveries. But at age 52, Jane Goodall gave up her career as a primatologist to become an ecological activist.  She has dedicated her entire life to this work.  As the founder of “Roots & Shoots,” a global youth organization working for animals, people and the environment, and as a United Nations Messenger of Peace, Jane travels the world more than 300 days a year inspiring everyone with her lectures about the need to conserve and preserve our planet and its life-forms.

It is a great gift for me to make films about people like these.   It is also a great gift to make films about the landscapes in which they – and we – live; to understand more and more about how much we are shaped by the land we live in – how closely our concepts of “home” and “land” are linked, and how important it is to be aware of our roots.

It was not until I turned fifty that I realized how true this holds for my own life – it happened while I was working on a portrait of the wild and lovely alpine river that flows through my native city of Munich… Until then, I had always imagined that I was “free” and “at home” wherever I happened to be living and making films – but the River Isar taught me something else: My true home is only where she is… and that is where I belong.
Embedded in a network of friends and people I love to work with, colleagues and producers who are open for these thoughts, thus enabling me to make my kind of documentary films.

11 documentaries that moved, fascinated, influenced and inspired me

“Rain” by Joris Ivens
“Man of Aran” by Robert Flaherty
“From Mao to Mozart” by Murray Lerner
“Kooyaanisqatsi” by Godfrey Reggio
“The War Room” by D A Pennebaker
“Darwins Nightmare” by Hubert Sauper
“War Photographer” by Christian Frei
“The Devils Miner” by Richard Ladkani
“Lost Children” by Oliver Stoltz and Ali Samadi Ahadi
“The Fog of War” by Errol Morris
“Rhythm is it!” by Enrique Sánchez Lansch and Thomas Grube

…and 11 feature films that moved, fascinated, influenced and inspired me

“The Great Dictator” by Charles Chaplin
“Johnny Got His Gun” by Dalton Trumbo
“Roma città aperta” by Roberto Rossellini
“Andrej Rubljow” by Andrei Tarkowskij
“Rashomon” by Akira Kurosawa
“Birdy” by Alan Parker
“One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” by Milos Forman
“Schindlers List” by Steven Spielberg
“21 Grams” by Alejandro Gonzalez Inàrritu
“The Lives of Others” by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Julian Schnabel

Masters and works I was moved, fascinated, influenced and inspired by

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portraits
William Turner, Venetian Watercolors
Wassily Kandinsky, the Murnau Period
Oskar Kokoschka, Cityscapes
Christian Mayer, Floating Granite Spheres
Richard Serra, Steel Sculptures in the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum

The Temples at Abu Simbel
Chartres Cathedral
Guggenheim Bilbao Museum by Frank Gehry
Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin by Mies van der Rohe
Munich Olympic Stadium by Günter Behnisch and Frei Otto

Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony Nr. 7, Second Movement
„Amarchaj“ by Stephan Micus
„The Magic Flute“ by W. A. Mozart
„Das Wohltemperierte Klavier“ by J. S. Bach, performed by Friedrich Gulda    “Officium” by Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble
“Mirror of my Life” by Estas Tonne

A. A. Milne “Winnie the Pooh”
John Steinbeck “The Grapes of Wrath”
Christian Morgenstern „Galgenlieder“
Emile Zola „L’Assomoir“
Rainer Maria Rilke: Poems in the English translation by Stephen Mitchell

Alice Miller
„Breaking Down the Wall of Silence”
„The Drama of the Gifted Child”

Jane Goodall
“Reason for Hope”

Portraits of Workers by August Sander, photographer
“Evidence”, portraits by Richard Avedon

Sven Nykvist,
Director of Photography for Ingmar Bergman

Vittorio Storaro,
Director of Photography for Francis Coppola in „Apocalypse Now“

Gerhard Lechner
Director of Photography, one of my teachers and a companion in many films.