An Interview with Lutz Dammbeck “You’ve got to be a little crazy”

Scene from “Overgames”: An absolutely experimental film
Scene from Overgames: An absolutely experimental film | Copyright: Lutz Dammbeck

Game shows, from Joachim Fuchsberger to Dschungelcamp, have always been a central element of German television. In his film Overgames, Lutz Dammbeck went out in search of the roots of the game show. It garnered him the Goethe-Institut’s documentary film prize.

Mr Dammbeck, what is your film Overgames about?

Dammbeck: I would like to attempt to respond in English. “It’s a film about the healing of the insane by the insane, made by crazy people.” You’ve got to be a little crazy to start a project like this and sail off into the unknown at such expense in terms of time and money. In that respect, it’s an absolutely experimental film.

In your film, the Germans are called an insane nation, a patient in need of healing. What’s your personal diagnosis? How do you see the Germans?

I do believe that the “identity problem” that American psychiatrists diagnosed in the 1950s and 1960s is still manifested in my generation and among my west German age group and artist colleagues when it comes to specific topics; topics that address our national identity and the questions “What is German?” or “What are we when we say we’re Germans?” Of course, the present situation is not the most favourable for thinking about our national identity – that’s a further difficulty. So the material that this film refers to from 1930 until 1950 at least provides a platform upon which one could attempt to discuss these issues.

Your film contains collages of historical archival material in such abundance that the viewer can hardly come to terms with it all. How long did you work on the film?

The time frame from the first version of the screenplay to completion seems very long: almost eight years. But we took any number of breaks in the work, of course. You have to wait for funding, there are shooting breaks, breaks while you are searching for archival material. And you need time for the intensity of the material and the effort required to make a selection out of 80 hours of archives. I had to have it all in my mind before I could start editing.

The Goethe-Institut’s Documentary Film Prize means that your film will be made accessible worldwide. The jury is convinced that the film will encourage diverse intercultural discussions. What questions were you left with after completion of the film?

This question remained: How can we conduct a discussion about national identity even in difficult times in which we are focused on “denationalization” and “removing borders? I’m not convinced that this problem will be solved by us procuring a multicultural, global social order.

Filmmaker Dammbeck: “I didn’t know anything about game shows” Filmmaker Dammbeck: “I didn’t know anything about game shows” | Photo: DOK Leipzig 2015 Your film was made for the big screen. What direction do you think the development of documentary film is going in the age of YouTube and laptop streaming?

We need to ensure and fight for the preservation of these screens. That’s a lot of work. I don’t really like the new technologies, because I think they “cut off” something, namely our thoughts, our feelings, when we hand them over to technical equipment and processes that we don’t understand. As a result something comes out of the black box that in a certain way has lost its creatureliness, its organics, because it’s been filtered out.

What game shows do you like to watch?

I didn’t know anything about game shows because it’s not my field of interest. But then I had to involve myself with them. It reminded me of my childhood. My father was a trainer at the racecourse in Leipzig. At noon people met in the café: bank officials, floozies, gamers and gamblers. It was this strange mixture of circus, professional sport and variety show, and I always liked that as a child. I found a bit of all of that in the game shows. I also have great respect for it, just as one respects artistes and circus people, because they know which buttons to push far more than Skinner and Pavlov experts do. In the same way, good emcees also know exactly how to generate a certain reaction: sadness, joy, happiness, laughter. But of course, these professionals do not deal with the “superstructure,” which interested me. This is also reflected in my film. The emcees talk about their own profession, which they understand, and they’re not talking humbug. In documentary film, it’s important that people don’t lie too much.

Christiane Schulte conducted the interview.