Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Weeks 10 and 11

Just this year, I have started to become aware of the rising issue of Turkish-German identity in film. Most notably for me has been the work of director Fatih Akim. I was particularly looking forward to this week's film "Me Boss, You Sneaker" by Hussi Kutlucan, because it focused on such issues. To be honest, although I was interesting in seeing the film, I was a bit skeptical about it being a made-for-TV movie. Don't get me wrong. Some of my favorite films have been made-for-TV. But, there is a reason that those films have such a bad reputation. There are quite a few aweful ones too. Perhaps it's just a defense mechanism to protect myself from bad movies. Fortunately, in this case, that defense mechanism worked in my favor. Instead of being utterly disappointed, I was very much pleasently surprised. This was no normal made-for-TV movie. It was layered. Kutlucan not only made a film about the serious issue of multiculturalism in German, but he made it funny as well.

In Göktürk’s essays, she discusses such racial issues in film—how in entertainment, people have used comedy as a defense mechanism to racism. By making fun of one’s self and playing up the stereotypes, a filmmaker or performer may be able to make a serious point more effectively than that of a dramatic performance. In “Me Boss, You Sneaker,” Kutlucan focuses on the social and psychological games of asylum workers in Germany. Throughout his film, he portrays the multicultural characters in the most endearingly comical way. They all have certain stereotypical quirks for their race, but are also portrayed as good-hearted and charming. The most interesting part, I think, is the fact that Kutlucan, as a Turk and as a director, places himself as the Armenian protagonist. This creates even more tension, racially and artistically. Racially, he portrays a man, whose people were oppressed by his own people. I suppose, in a way, this was a smart move on Kutlucan’s part. He no longer has the pressure of misrepresenting his own people and he makes the point (if the viewer was unaware of his personal background) of how ethnically blind the world can be; that because he simply looks “ethnic,” or non-white, it is perfectly believable for him to play a race that may not be his own. Similar cinematic moves have been made in the past and caused quite a stir among that particular racial group. For example, in West Side Story, the Puerto Rican actress portraying Maria was of a Caucasian background. In Kutlucan’s film, his racial swapping works for him, I think. He puts the issue of multiculturalism at everyone’s level. No matter what background, Turkish, Armenian or another, he shows the struggle of all ethnicity groups in Germany. He even goes as far as to put himself in the situation where there is mutual rejection of between himself and his own Turkish background when there is the struggle at Hassir’s Restaurant. I loved this film for the very reason that it touched on such a current and interesting issue; an issue that I can related as a person from a mixed background and living and growing up in a predominately white-washed area. And, he created the film in such a way that is heart-warming and fun to watch.

Those are the types of movies I want to make—heart-warming. Let’s be honest right now. Every filmmaker wants to make that serious, deep and meaningful piece that makes the rest of the world take you seriously. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past year, it is that that is really not my style. I mean, I can be serious, of course. And I have made a serious film before for a class, and it was really fun. But, I have found that I enjoy comedies and more light-hearted material much more. Much like Göktürk’s point, some of the strongest films are ones that are cleverly written and go about discussing an issue in a funny way.

This week, I refined my new idea for my part of the film that I originally came up with a few weeks ago. Yes, this film keeps changing and it’s starting to get really confusing to try to explain to people what exactly it’s about. I won’t try to explain all of it now, but, essentially, this is how it’s going to go. We had an original script, which turned into a film about a film that we couldn’t make. That branched off into four parts that make up and deconstruct why the film didn’t work out. In my part, I’m talking about writing and memory, which I’m now conveying through a fairy tale. I know it sounds confusing. And, it kind of is. But, I think it will work. I worked on filming some scenes that fit into the story. The most surprising aspects of filming, I have found, was that most of the good shots I got were ones I hadn’t originally had in mind. They were places that I found on the way. Things are getting pretty hectic, though. I’m getting a little worried about getting all my shots in just because I feel pretty unorganized. I don’t really have a storyboard and I keep collecting all these extra shots that may work better. I feel like Werner Herzog a bit in that I’m almost just letting the film come together on it’s own. It’s scary.

Ah, the last week. This is really sad. But, we got to end it with one of my favorite films, Goodbye, Lenin! This weeks readings were pretty interesting and showed the problems between history and memory and the problematic views of West and East Berlin. Goodbye Lenin is a wonderful example of films that deal with these issues. I love it because it goes against the generally negative stereotype of East Germans. It show that the mother, although a member of the party, is smart and wants to move the state forward. And, it shows Alex, the youth in transition of his East German values to West, as a hard worker, and nostalgic to an East Germany that only existed in his ideals. It deals with issues with the conversion of East to West ideals from a relatively neutral perspective. And, I just love this film for the endearing and entertaining story of Alex running around and trying recreate a new GDR for his sick mother. He is a cosmonaut of his own kind, traveling into unmarked territory of fantastical memory, a GDR of his own imagination. This film is very much about awakenings and realizations and the juxtaposition of real and imagined world.

While I loved the film, I spent most of my time this week on finishing up my film. Still, we were collecting footage and running around getting last minute shots. I keep finding better and better places to shoot and getting better footage, which is good, but stressful, since we’re getting down to crunch time. A week ago, Sean and I were out shooting and I mentioned an idea that I wanted to put in my film that was very much a part of Berlin that I will forever associate with this city—Tagging. I wasn’t completely serious about the idea. But, this week, we made the last minute decision to just go ahead and do it. It was really fun, because it was all a secret. So much of our film was open to the group. And, this was also something that no one would expect. After getting the last shots, I dove right into editing. It was relatively easy, once I got started. I vaguely remembered how to from previous experience. It was good to get right back into it and relearn everything. Upon finishing, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, particularly about the music. Well, the sound in general is just crap. But, it was time for it to be done. Now, I don’t really want to change it at all. I am actually really happy with it. It’s a sort of snapshot of where I am right now at this point in my life.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Week Eight

This week has simply been the best. We watched Run Lola, Run and that is one of my most favorite movies. It’s one of those movies that doesn’t always come to mind when you’re listing off favorites. And, then, you remember it, and watch it again, and it’s still has that fresh feeling when you see it. I suppose I enjoyed it that much more this time because I have recently realized how good Moritz Bleibteu is. I saw Im Juli for the first time, earlier this quarter. Enough said. The great thing about Run Lola, Run is that it’s all about the editing. It’s the editing, matched with the techno music that makes it as good as it is. I love the rhythm that it gives it. And, the red motif. It really gives Lola this source of power and defiance and the red ties the whole film together. And, although, we discussed in class that the film has sort of a masculine fantasy to it, I think it’s quite powerful as a feminist piece as well. The girl is running across a whole city, in combat boots. That shows some strength. And, in this film, anything can happen. It’s “ a film of consequences.” It’s three stories, with three endings. And, it all ties together.

With our film, after so much evolution, is now four stories that will supposedly tie all together. And, I think I’m not the only one who is nervous as to how it will tie all together. I’ve changed my part even more, but in the direction to something more concrete. But, even still, I’m still not clear on everything. I know, for sure, I’m dealing with writing and memory. I realized that the other day, when I sat down after class and did a two-hour free write, trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. And, I found myself writing all of a sudden, “Writing, I suppose, is my way of remembering. And, whether fictional or not, there is always a piece of reality and of myself in the stories I tell." And, I think that is completely true for any writer. But, it made me realize, I just want to tell a story. And, I have no idea how else to convey my experience here other than telling a story. So, maybe, that’s what I need to do. I need to talk this out more.
Speaking of which, we also had quite the intense discussion in Friday’s workshop, which consisted of major miscommunication problems and dispute over equipment. I suppose it comes with the territory when the group completely changes the project and makes it more of many individual projects that will somehow be put together. Sometimes, I think of how much easier it would be if it stayed more of a group film. I guess it will feel more like that when editing starts.

Week Seven

In this week’s class we accomplished a lot. We watched Die Mauer, which I surprisingly enjoyed. I’m a girl that likes a film to have literary substance, some sort of story. But, this film didn’t need it. The images were quite loud enough. I think that time, still being so recent and controversially charged, is also still fresh and fascinating. To be able to pull together a film that documented the Wall being torn down is amazing. I just loved seeing the various ways that people reacted to the Wall, which, in-turn, conveyed what the wall meant to them. A place of work, security, obstacle to freedom, touristic-wonder, a piece of history to be bought, sold or destroyed. My favorite use and discussion point was the Wall as a canvas and a stage—as a place of expression. The most haunting image was of the woman performing a sort of dance up against the wall, crawling and clawing at it. There’s nothing like good, old-fashioned oppression to open a door to artistic creation, right?
So, oppression. Right. What do I have to work with as a writer? Well, there is, of course, being a woman in a male-driven society. And, then there’s me being in religious conflict for about five years now. Thank you, Catholicism and the Bay Area! And, mixing the all three is just plain cruel—Feminism AND Catholicism?! And, don’t even get me started on growing up in a whole family full of scientists, when I want to go into liberal arts. But, being fully serious, there is nothing like removing yourself from it all to realize what may have been holding you back. I feel very lucky to be able to do that. Here in Berlin, I feel like anything is possible. I have had endless things to write about. The creative energy is so incredible.
And, this week, we had Wolfgang Kohlhaase as a guest speaker! He’s a former GDR screenplaywriter, who has been working in the film industry since he was 20. And, he’s had a long and successful career since then. He’s living the dream! (Making it as a writer, that is). It was very cool meeting him. And, let me tell you, he’s a talker (which is a good thing for a storyteller). During the talk, he covered a lot of my questions about his career. But, after class, I decided to ask him a few questions. When is the next time I’m going to be able to? I ended up asking him for advise for someone who wanted to become a writer. And, he told me that above all, I should love people, no matter what. If I can love people and take interesting in everyday people, I will never have trouble finding an interesting story. And, then he went on for another 20 minutes and we just talked about writing in general. It was really cool.
Now, the only problem is, while I am having a very lucky time as a writer, I’m having a ridiculously hard time as a filmmaker. I’m admitting it now. I’m suffering from filmmaker’s block. Last week, it seemed that I had my film figured out. And, in theory, I do. But, I don’t know what to film. I know what it’s about, but I don’t know how to fill it. Something is missing, and I don’t know what it is.

Week Six

This week, we watched Wings of Desire. Being in Cinema Studies, I have watched and discussed this film a few times. And, every time I seem to have a similar reaction. There is no doubt that this is a great piece of cinema. But, there is also no doubting the pretentiousness it can have. When I watch it, there are parts where I get so lost in the “deeper cinematic elements” in all the wrong ways—in the falling asleep way. And, there are parts of it (such as one of the last scenes where the angel is swinging Marion around on the trapeze) that I just have to hold back from laughing because it gives off this sense that it needs to be taken really seriously. But, then, when it’s finished and I actually go to talk about it, I somehow walk away saying what a great film it is. And, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s all in the cinematic elements.
On the contrary, the readings seemed to have a lot of problems with it, especially Hooks. Personally, I think she had some pretty radical views. While I can see how the film could be problematic in regards to gender and race issues, I think that is not the film’s intention. In class, we had a debate over the reading, and I agree that the film had a more universal take on things, rather than excluding races and shuffling in stereotypical gender roles. I think that such analytical problems occur subconsciously in the film and occur because of the type of world Germany happens to be. It has not yet become a place that is sensitive to such things. Another thing that needed to be taken into account by an American critic is the title of the film. The American title, “Wings of Desire,” connoted a much different meaning than the original, German title, “Der Himmel über Berlin.” Wings of Desire, catering to a more Americanized way of thinking, encouraging an interpretation about lust and love. While, Der Himmel über Berlin (or the Heaven or Sky over Berlin) connects more with the universal way of the angels.
Wings of Desire is just one of the many films and many ways of interpreting and reacting to Berlin as a city. In my last post, I discussed my latest idea for my part of the film. After talking to Eric and Josh about it more, I feel like I have better direction for my part. Instead of using the interviews as the only outlet for what I could shoot, I’ll use it as a juxtaposition shoot. I wanted to use it as a way of contrasting what many people may think is the typical “German or Berlin experience” with what my actual experience is. And, as it turns out, it works pretty well with Josh’s idea too. I want to slant my experience with the creative energy I’ve found here and my evolving identity as a writer. And Josh wants to talk about his identity as a filmmaker. The only worry I have is how all of the parts will work together. Our group seems to continue to have scheduling and communication issues, and I’m not sure how to deal with them. I suppose, we have to just keep working at it.

Week Five

To prepare for the exciting guest speaker in a few weeks, we viewed the East German film A Berlin Romance. I loved this film simply because it was such a modest film. It didn’t try to be anything other than a romantic comedy. It wasn’t too over the top in its cheesiness. It was funny and sweet and incredibly politically loaded. For the time, it was probably subtle in its political slant. But, because hindsight is 20/20, and we’re sort of in a setting where we’re looking for it, its GDR politics are quite evident. There were, of course, the two representative characters of East and West, and the love story between the two of them. And, this would have been like any other romance film, perhaps even with a Romeo and Juliet hint to it. But, the story is specifically guided by the narrator. His very tone of voice, although not exactly like propaganda films, has a tone of authority. And, his comments also help to slant the viewer’s assessment of the characters. In this sense, this film as a kind of propaganda film (with specific ideas and beliefs trying to be expressed and proven to be right), I think it is far more successful. Just as fairytales, fables and myths, I feel that the use of story can be far more powerful in learning something or trying to convince someone of an idea.
In last week’s workshop, we ran our new documentary idea by Eric to see what suggestions he had. I was getting a little nervous because the idea seemed a little too one-dimensional. How interesting would filming us meeting people be? Discussing the new idea with him definitely helped make it even more interesting. The finalized idea is (to take from the original plan to show the relationship between us and the city) we will each define a certain goal for ourselves regarding what we want to get out of our time in Berlin. And, we’ll use talking head, confessional type interviews with ourselves throughout the rest of the term to document the exploration of those goals. Eric mentioned (and I agree) that this idea will also allow each of our personalities to come our on screen and each goal is pretty different, so it will hopefully be interesting. Dung’s goal is to learn enough German while he’s here to write a poem in German and to give a reading of it by the end of the quarter. Josh expressed interest in doing a city-scape type film, and include footage he shot back in Seattle. And, Sean wants to explore the food culture in Berlin. All of the ideas are really different, but I think we can make it work together.
For me, I had been struggling with defining exactly what I wanted to do. And, literally today, on my train ride to Torún, Poland, I realized what I wanted to do. I was thinking about how before my trip I had interviewed a few of my friends and my sister. I asked them for predictions as to what they think I would experience while in Berlin. It wasn’t really serious at all. I had planned on making a video blog while I was here. I had even started editing the Pre-Berlin blog, with the prediction interviews, but the blog never actually took off. But, I really like how the interviews turned out. They’re pretty funny and I had been talking about using it somehow in the film. So, as I was thinking about what I actually had to work with, I realized that I could use these interviews as a sort of jumping off point. I noticed that in all of the predictions, there was a general stereotype of what many people think is the “German or Berlin experience,” which of course include beer, diskotheks and sauerkraut. But, what really is the German experience? It can’t just be that. From there, I can show the stereotypical German experience, but from my perspective—my German experience. In my mini-plan so far, I figure I can also try to interview other people in the program, and, perhaps, even some Berliners too. It’s still a rough idea, but I feel like I at least have something to work with now.

Week Four

Over the weekend, we went on our first class excursion to Koldenhof. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the trip, whether I’d like the country over the city. But, I found it was incomparable. Both are such different worlds, and each have it’s own charm. Besides the canoeing, I was most looking forward to meeting the German students. Although only one was able to come, it was so cool to meet him and his teacher, and talk about film production. It’s really cool that in such a small town, they still have this opportunity to work with film and editing.
This week in class, to contrast with Kuhle Wampe, we watched Rosalini’s Germany Year Zero. Not to be confused with Italian Neo-Realism (although I did see some similarities), we learned that this film has been categorized as a Rubble Film, characteristic of the Post-World War II era because it focused on life after the war and on life that kept living in the rubble of war’s destruction.
I’ve seen several Rosalini films before, and perhaps that’s why there were some hints of neo-realism, but I’ve never seen a rubble film before. It’s such an interesting idea, to literally use the rubble left over from bombings as a backdrop for a film.
Again, this week, our film changed even more. So, from the previous week, we decided to instead of shooting a fiction film, it would be more of a making-of documentary so that we could still use some of our beloved scripted scenes. After getting back from Koldenhof, we decided to have another group meeting so we could get our ideas straightened out. At the meeting, we got a little side-tracked when Josh announced that he was giving up soda (more importantly, Pepsi) for the rest of the trip. We were having the meeting in me and Josh’s apartment, and Nate some other people were there using the internet and hanging out. When they heard this, it launched into a whole gambling idea. Could Josh really give up Pepsi? They started setting up the stakes and everything. If Josh gave into the urge to drink Pepsi, he had to drink a beer. No, if Josh gave in, he has to talk to a girl we pick out. Wait! What if we film that? That could work in our film—meeting people in Berlin! We could challenge him to meet people and film it. Oh, but wait! Epiphany! Epiphany! (Thanks to Sean). Why can’t we all meet people? We should all do it.
And, thus, ladies and gentlemen, we have the film project update up until now. The rough idea entails us getting to know the German people and by doing so, we get to know the city. All of us have a similar goal in wanting to meet people from the city and this project to help push us to achieve that goal. It really needs some developing, but I think it could work after we refine it a bit.

Week Three

This week, we watched Bertolt Brecht and Slatan Dudow’s Kuhle Wampe, or Who Owns the World? Now, I’m no drama major, but I do enjoy theater quite a bit. Back at UW, I would definitely choose a play over a football game any day. And, over the years of going to the theater and reading plays on my own time, I have encountered Brecht on many occasions, and from that I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s pretty nuts (but in a good way). His work is pretty interesting with his distancing methods. I’ve had so many fun discussions about him in classes and with my roommate, Laurie, and I was really excited for class discussion this week.
As far as the film goes, I found it a bit hard to digest right off the bat and at a somewhat early hour in the morning. I had never seen Brecht in film form before, so it was different. I felt like the distancing effect was even greater here, perhaps because film itself is has a distancing effect on the audience. In theater, the action is “real” in the sense that you could reach out and touch it; it is right in front of you. The emotions can be raw and powerful, and, if it’s done right, you can literally feel its heaviness in the very air you breathe. Film can also have similar effects on the senses, but it is still just an image projected on a screen. Brecht definitely uses this to his advantage here. I think growing up in a film society that so heavily relies on story and character, and being a writer myself, I found it hard to look at this film analytically in the first viewing. This is definitely the type of film I would need to see more than once in order to get a better handle on the meaning of it.
As far as the film project goes, things have changed a lot. The original idea to do a fiction film has almost completely gone out the window. After talking a lot about the project with each other and with Eric, we came to that sad and often had realization of many student filmmakers—our lack of time and money. We realized how much we had to get done in order to do our idea justice. We had to storyboard, find a German actress, rehearse, screen tests, film on location, compile footage and edit it all into a nice neat package. And, we wanted to include some of our own memory of the city in there, but, we haven’t really had enough experience in the city to have a lot of memories to work with. It was just getting too complicated and stressful. Then, Eric had the brilliant suggestion to create sort of a documentary of the failed making-of a film. It worked perfectly, because then we could still keep the scripted scenes that Josh and I had written. The opening scene in particular I am rather fond of. It was one of those scenes that you seem to already have worked out in your head. It has sort of a Buster Keaton feel to it, which I also have a soft spot for. I was really looking forward to directing it, and I’m really glad we can still use it.