An Interview with Andreas Dresen
“Stories that take place on one’s own doorstep”

The German director Andreas Dresen is particularly interested in the concept of critical examination, and filmed CDU politician Henryk Wichmann on his campaign trail in the German provinces. A recently appointed lay judge, Dresen is keen to add his own input; as a jury member at the 2013 Berlinale film festival he also pronounced judgements.

Andreas Dresen, 2009 Andreas Dresen, 2009 | Photo: Petr Novák, Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 Mr Dresen, in your two documentary films about the CDU politician Henryk Wichmann, you accompanied the local politician at intervals of several years while he was out canvassing for votes. What gave you this idea?

The first film came about during the 2002 federal election campaign and was commissioned by [regional broadcaster] Bayerischer Rundfunk. I and other feature film directors were asked whether we could make one-hour documentary films for a television series entitled Denk ich an Deutschland (i.e. When I think of Germany). I thought it was a great idea. The election campaign was in full swing, and normally I give the candidates and the umbrellas they set up on street corners a wide berth. But then I told myself that that was somehow unfair, which is how the idea came about of getting under one of the umbrellas myself with my camera. I didn’t want to do it in Potsdam, where I live and where people are very well off, but preferred to go out into a more marginal area in Brandenburg.

What made you choose Henryk Wichmann for your film portrait?

I wanted a candidate from a party I do not necessarily vote for myself in order to maintain the necessary documentary distance. Furthermore, I like to tell stories about losers – and the CDU is unable to gain any foothold in Brandenburg. I rang up the CDU press office and then met with two nice young candidates who laughed and said they are all CDU losers. Nonetheless, I wanted someone who fought with great commitment, which is how I came upon Henryk Wichmann; at the time he was just 24 years old and was running in the Uckermark region against Markus Meckel, an SPD grandee and the GDR’s last foreign minister. We quickly hit it off and teamed up.

“A democracy can only be any good if those involved take it seriously”

You yourself have been appointed as a lay judge at Brandenburg Constitutional Court. Do you regard this as a personal challenge, or do you also see it as your duty as a public person and artist?

First of all, I was surprised by the proposal. It came at the right time, however, because I happened to be travelling around Germany making my second Wichmann film and was spending a lot of time engaging with the concept of democracy. In the second film, viewers are presented with many discussions in which citizens do not leave a very favourable impression. A democracy can only be any good, however, if those involved take it seriously. I am the only lay judge in Germany despite the fact that this office exists in several of Germany’s state constitutions. This also gives me a different view of the problems in our country; what is more, my work, which involves quite a bit of travelling and allows me to get to know many different areas, means that I can perhaps contribute something different to that which a lawyer can.

“There can be wrangling at major festivals”

You are known above all for your feature films and for your own realistic style. Other filmmakers like to transport their audiences into a dream world. Why is this connection with reality so important to you?

The European cinema market is under great pressure from the American film industry. I believe it would be wrong for us in Europe simply to copy the US blockbusters – we do not have any better film stars, and we cannot make any better explosions. People have a justified interest in stories that take place on their own doorsteps. Sometimes a journey into one’s own living room can be more exciting than one to a far-off galaxy.

You were appointed as a member of the jury at the 63rd Berlinale from 7 to 17 February 2013. How did that come about?

Jury members are appointed by the festival’s director, Dieter Kosslick. I don’t know whether he does it all on his own, but he rang me up. I have often attended the Berlinale, and even sat on the short film jury once, so I am familiar with the festival from various perspectives.

What approach does the jury follow when judging the films?

In contrast to Brandenburg Constitutional Court, the process by which we arrive at our judgements is strictly confidential. We meet, we watch the films together, and we make a decision. What the majority says, goes, though in my experience there can be a certain amount of wrangling, especially at major festivals. Quite simply, there is a great deal at stake – what is more, there is no justice when it comes to judging art: whatever happens, our judgements will always be unjust, so I just hope that this injustice takes place at a pretty high level.

Andreas Dresen was born in Gera in 1963. From 1986 to 1991 he studied at the Potsdam-Babelsberg University of Film and Television. He has been an independent author and director since 1992. In addition, Dresen directs theatre plays and opera, is a member of the Academy of the Arts in Berlin and of the European Film Academy, and a founding member of the German Film Academy. He lives in Potsdam.