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Advanced Filmmaking: How to Make Pictures Move

filmgalerie 451Copyright: filmgalerie  451
Scene from Girls from Jenin (Photo: Filmgalerie 451)

16 December 2010

Even pros appreciate teachers who can show them all the ropes. That is why the Goethe-Institut sends experienced filmmakers around the world – with the occasional reward of a cinematographic treat. By Andreas Wirwalski

The advanced training courses that the Goethe-Instituts around the world offer together with recognized filmmakers not only convey the German culture and language. The main focus of the courses is professional expertise.

One of the more successful examples of this knowledge transfer is the commitment shown by the Berlin documentary filmmaker, Sebastian Winkels, to a project in Southeast Asia. Trained both as a cameraman and a director, Winkels’s breakthrough came in 2003 with his full-length feature film debut, 7 Brüder (7 Brothers). From April 2008 to October 2009 he was commissioned by the Goethe-Institut in Jakarta and the Jakarta Arts Council to hold a series of lectures for young Indonesian filmmakers on the basics of cinematography. Under the motto “Indonesia – Ten Years After Reformasi” the aim was to give professional filmmakers a thorough grounding in how to make documentary films that were both artistically top-calibre as well as intellectually independent.

The project, co-sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, was initially limited to a period of twelve months. “At first, in the summer of 2008, we had quite a large group of about 30 members, all aged between 30 and 35. They were then split up into seven smaller teams, each with its own director, cameraman, editor, etc,” Winkels remembers. “As soon as I told them, however, that we would be really getting down to some hard work in the next few months, the numbers dropped off somewhat.” At Winkels’s recommendation, the project was extended for another six months resulting in remarkable productions created by the four crews that stuck to it.

A stepping stone to a career

The film group initially produced five shorts entitled Tales from Jakarta, one of which made it to the short film section of the 2009 Berlinale. According to Winkels, when the workshops came to an end, four “really good” full-length treatments emerged, two of which have already been filmed. This is why, for the time being, tutor Sebastian Winkels is staying in touch with his students. He was last in Indonesia in September 2010 to consult with his teams.

Winkels has in fact already witnessed that these film workshops are not just a means for the committed participants to get a certificate, but that they also represent a major stepping-stone to a (new) career – as was the case in Yaoundé in Cameroon. In the wake of the course he held there in 2007 one of his course students, Ariani Astrid Atodji, has managed to make it to the renowned International Festival for Documentary and Animated Film in Leipzig this year. Her film Koundi and the National Thursday was entered in the Generation DOK competition section at the festival.

Just how enthusiastically workshop participants go about their work also became quite obvious to the Berlin film director and producer, Frieder Schlaich (The Invisible Frame, Halfmoon). Back in 2005 he was commissioned by the Goethe-Institut in Ramallah in the Palestinian Territories to hold a short two-week course in camera work for 16 schoolgirls from the town and refugee camp of Jenin. “After an introduction on content and technology, in which the manipulative elements of TV reporting were also discussed, the girls were then to spend a half day shooting and a whole day editing,” Schlaich recalls.

Headscarves and cameras

The result was nine interesting short films on everyday life in Palestine. Film lecturer Schlaich was almost infected himself by the “euphoric” motivation of these adolescent girls who, in their headscarves and armed with a camera, did not shy away from confronting male strangers on the street – quite in contrast to the usual social conventions prevailing in the Muslim world. Frieder Schlaich, for his part, has captured the project in a film of his own – a 60-minute documentary called Girls from Jenin. He is now proud to report that in the meantime one of the girls from that course is attending a film school in USA.

Schlaich has also held similar workshops in Algiers and most recently in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) in March 2010. There however he was working with adult students from the Blue Nile Film and Television Academy and the Ethiopian Filmmakers Association. He is so impressed by the “tremendous energy” of the young filmmakers that in the future he is looking forward to working on more long-term projects, in order to be able to accompany the time-consuming activity of shooting films on a more intensive basis.
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