German Film and Television Academy Berlin “Films Have to Be Political”

The Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie in Berlin.
The Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie in Berlin. | Photo: © Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie

Since September 2010, film director Jan Schütte, who was born in 1957, has been the Director of the German Film and Television Academy Berlin (DFFB). He enjoys his interesting and enjoyable work with the students. He has had to put his own film projects on hold for the time being, Schütte said in the Interview with Goethe.de.

Mr Schütte, in what direction are you guiding the DFFB’s fate?

Can I guide its fate? I think that would be overestimating what a director can do. The DFFB is an institution with a tradition, with its own path and its own views. First, you get to know a school of this kind, and then you try to take things from there and to improve them. Step by step.

Let’s put it another way – what challenges do you face as the Director of the academy?

We as an academy are not in living in a cocoon, but are preparing young film-makers for the market. So we address questions such as “How do you deal with the subject of digitalisation?” We have to prepare the students for a new digital world, from which new, different narrative forms are emerging. We also deal with the question of how we can involve the screenwriting department more in the academy. And internationalisation is another important task that has been given to me. We have achieved a great deal in this area already in a year and a half. We cooperate with institutions including La Fémis in Paris, the London Film School and FAMU in Prague, as well as engaging in a lively exchange with Columbia University’s School of the Arts in New York and Cal Arts in Los Angeles. We are also the German film academy with the most international students. That makes for a lively atmosphere that is inspiring and fruitful for everyone.

The DFFB is Germany’s smallest, but one of its most renowned academies. What gives it its special profile?

We greatly value two things here. Firstly, the film directors make very personal films. And secondly, we make narrative cinema. Our aim is to tell stories, regardless of whether they are documentary, fictional or experimental. Because of course, all films should be seen, whether by a very specific or a large audience. Linus de Paoli, for example, made a very experimental feature film, Dr. Ketel, but it tells an exciting story and is being screened at all the world’s film festivals.

Since it was set up in 1966, the DFFB has had the reputation of seeing itself as a political academy. How important is that to you?

Films need to be and ought to be political, however you define that. But behind that is the idea of critical film-making, of addressing certain issues. That is something that I would like to push further. At the same time, there is a discussion at the DFFB that is very much about aesthetics. An academy has to leave space for everyone, for all possibilities.

When you took up your post in September 2010, there were some protests from students against your nomination. What is the situation like now?

After a long interim phase, things were very turbulent in the academy. There were misunderstandings, of course, as well as wishes and a desire for certain perspectives and people. I never took it personally. Now, I feel that there is very good cooperation with the DFFB team and the students. We are trying to put the academy in a good position and to attract very good people as lecturers. And the students see that, of course. We had Claire Denis here, Bela Tarr comes regularly, Wayne Wang, Christine Vachon – all these colleagues are important for the students and contribute to the profile of the academy and its training.

You yourself read literature, philosophy and art history. What advantages does a film academy have for today’s students?

The great advantages of a film academy are the contacts, and the opportunities for networking and critical exchange with colleagues. That is what everyone benefits from the most. In my case, everything developed from my work, one thing led to another. I made several short films when I was a student and did a lot of television work. My first feature film, Drachenfutter, was premiered when I was 30. The fact that I did not study film perhaps made many things somewhat easier and more relaxed.

You had already produced “Drachenfutter” as a documentary film two years previously.

Yes, I had made a short documentary film about a Pakistani rose seller in Hamburg. But then I had the feeling that I had come up against my limits as far as documentary films were concerned, and that I had to tell the story again in a new way as fiction. That was a very important step.

Your own films, “Drachenfutter”, “Auf Wiedersehen Amerika” and “Love Comes Lately”, are often about people who are marginalised, excluded, or obsessed. What is it that you find attractive about these subjects?

I am fascinated by such stories and people. It started with asylum-seekers and immigrants in Drachenfutter, a film that unfortunately has lost none of its topicality for me. In Auf Wiedersehen Amerika, European emigrants want to return from New York to Poland shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain but get stranded in Germany. Even as an old man, Max, the Jewish writer in Love Comes Lately, is still on a journey, sitting on a train. Being in transit, looking for one’s home, these are evidently my themes.

“Love Comes Lately” was made in 2007 and is currently your latest work as a director. Do you miss film-making?

At the moment, I have to concentrate on the DFFB and I have no time for film projects of my own. Also, it was often very hard to obtain financing. But I have made television productions since then, which I very much enjoyed. Perhaps I will try my hand at other forms. At the moment, I can work with students, which enables you to learn and develop many other skills. That is also something that is very interesting and satisfying and I enjoy it very much.

The Goethe-Institut will publish a DVD edition of four films and bonus material by Jan Schütte in July 2012: Drachenfutter (1987), Auf Wiedersehen Amerika (1994), Abschied. Brechts letzter Sommer (2000), Love Comes Lately (2007).