Filmmaker Pepe Danquart Recovery from the "Tragedy" of Winning an Oscar

Filmmaker Pepe Danquart
© Nadja Klier

Pepe Danquart already achieved what many of his colleagues can only wish for: in 1994, the German filmmaker received an Oscar for his short film „Schwarzfahrer“ (Black Rider). By that time, he was already a household name in Germany, yet receiving an Oscar instantly catapulted him into international spotlight.

Still, Pepe Danquart can’t be pigeonholed: he is also an award-winning documentary as well as feature filmmaker, and he directs music videos, commercials and even theater plays. He is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, of the European Film Academy and co-founder of the German Film Academy in which he is in the board since 2011.

In April 2008, Pepe Danquart received a professorship for film at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg. In this context, he was invited by the Goethe-Institut to travel to Indonesia to kick off a new project called “5 Islands/ 5 Villages”, a collaboration between the Goethe-Institut, the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg and Universitas Indonesia. For this project, five German students majoring in film will spend some time on different Indonesian islands and shoot a film about their experiences, and in return, five selected Indonesian students will travel to German villages in the second phase of the project.

During Pepe Danquart’s visit to Indonesia, three of his films were screened at the Goethe-Institut’s Arthouse Cinema series: “Schwarzfahrer”, which deals with daily racism a young black man in Berlin experiences while riding the tram; “Lauf, Junge lauf!”, the moving story of a 8-year-old Jewish boy who escapes from the Warsaw ghetto during World War II and has to survive on his own; and “Höllentour”, which captures the lives of professional cyclists, their suffering and interaction during the Tour de France.
After the screenings, Pepe Danquart engaged in a lively Q&A session with the audience where he talked about his work, the tragedy of winning an Oscar and what drives him as a filmmaker.
 
Have you been to Indonesia before?
 
This is my first time in Indonesia. I really wish I could stay longer; my days here were amazingly good.
 
How do you remember the night when you won the Oscar?

 
It was a big surprise when I won. It wasn’t an expensive film; we only had a small budget, and it was already a great honor to be nominated. As a political filmmaker though, I didn’t really know what to do in Hollywood. My film was screened during the same time in the US, and everyone told me, you’d better prepare a speech. In the end, it was an amazing moment (when I won), and I only said “a short film needs a short speech. Thank you.”
 
What kind of impact did the Oscar have on your career?
 
From one day to the next, I was suddenly a famous person. So I simply escaped by committing myself to my next project, a documentary about the former Yugoslavia, for two years. Of course, after winning an Oscar, expectations are really high. Everybody expected extraordinary things from me, so there was some pressure on my shoulders. But after a while, you get used to it. So in the end, I recovered from the “tragedy” of winning an Oscar.
 
“Schwarzfahrer” is from 1993, but if we re-watch it today, it is still relevant, especially regarding the refugee crisis in Germany. How do you feel about the film today?
 
On Facebook, in just 10 days of time, a short clip of this film had 2 million views because of its current topic, and you realize twenty years later that nothing has actually changed. The current situation in Europe – and the whole world – doesn’t make me very optimistic, but luckily, there are also a lot of positive movements.
 
You are a very political filmmaker. What is it that drives you?
 
I simply believe in films that can change people; films that make you become another person, or that make you continue to think about them after having watched them. Entertainment is one thing, sustainability another. There are so many films in the cinemas today that you see once and then forget about immediately; after a while it is just repetitive. I am more interested in conveying real and existential situations of real people and it doesn’t matter if it is a feature film, a documentary or a short film.