Dir: Volker Koepp
110 min., 35mm, 1:1.37, b/w, WP
Produktion: Kruschke Film- und Videoproduktion. Buch: Volker Koepp. Kamera: Christian Lehmann. Kameraassistenz: Michael Loewenberg. Ton: Uve Haußig. Schnitt: Angelika Arnold. Herstellungsleitung: Herbert Kruschke. Produktionsleitung: Fritz Hartthaler. Redaktion: Hubert von Spreti, Oskar Holl (BR), Barbara Frankenstein (SFB), Birgit Maehler (ORB).
Uraufführung: 21.2.1997, Internationales Forum des Jungen Films.
Weltvertrieb: Progress Filmverleih GmbH, Burgstr. 27, D-10178 Berlin. Tel.: (49-30) 2805110, Fax: (49-39) 280 7492.
Fri 21.02. 11:00 Kino 7 im Zoo Palast Fri 21.02. 16:30 Delphi Sat 22.02. 12:30 Arsenal Sat 22.02. 19:00 Babylon Sun 23.02. 19:30 Akademie der Künste
Erika Richter: Volker, why did you go back to Wittstock after making Neues in Wittstock (1992)? Are you also fascinated by ,long term observations'?
Volker Koepp: I don't really like the term. Doesn't one usually like to return to places of the past and to people one has known? WITTSTOCK, WITTSTOCK is definitely the last film I made there. But I already said this in 1984 when we finished the first long feature film Leben in Wittstock with Edith, Elsbeth and Renate. My three protagonists in the film had achieved their hearts' desires: an apartment in a new building and marriage. They believed they would remain forever in Wittstock, working at the factory. There was no sense of anything ever changing again. It felt like a real sense of closure. Nothing would ever happen again. When the 1989/90 events occurred I was filming Märkische Trilogie in nearby Zehdenick. Renate phoned me from Wittstock and asked me in her Saxon accent: "Volker, why don't you come once more? So much is happening."
E.R.: So they were really interested in doing another film?
V.K.: Yes. As Renate would say, there are always a lot of ,ups and downs' during any long-term acquaintance. Enough time passed, however, therefore we were always able to make a fresh start. I never strived for completeness. I always waited until I felt like picking up the project again, or until something interesting happened. That's why I made Neues in Wittstock. In this film the women remain somewhat in the background. We recorded the events in Wittstock, the withdrawal of Soviet soldiers, we showed how people dealt with the continual changes. The story of the women workers in the large Wittstock textile company who had been our focus of attention over many years served now as a parallel story line. More and more workers, including Edith, were made redundant. There was no way of predicting what would happen. If you looked at the development in the textile industry in West Germany, it was obvious that the local industry would suffer a similar decline.
In 1993 the factory closed and the last manager, who hadn't allowed us access to the premises, auctioned off the machines. A predictable end. Christian Lehmann and I filmed the factory sheds when they were empty. We also filmed the three women. I guess this was the starting point for the new film: how would they cope without their work in the textile factory, the focus of their lives for such a long time? How would they recreate a normal life? Elsbeth tried to find work again by retraining, Renate has been employed as a hotel maid for the last five years, Edith works near Heilbronn. When we began in 1974 we were often asked: why did you pick Wittstock? Life in Wittstock was typical for all of the GDR. What made it different from other places was its relative isolation in the ,märkische' countryside. And now, life here is once again typical for the Eastern part of Germany. In the new film WITTSTOCK, WITTSTOCK we use only one quarter of the old footage, the rest is new material. But the old footage is important nevertheless. It's about telling the stories of life, the changes of life, about getting older. This is why documentaries appeal to me.
E.R.: Work in the company was and is the most important pillar in their lives. Furthermore, you can see how their faces have changed.
V.K: When I began the project I wondered who I should choose. Then I found Edith, Elsbeth and Renate. It was pure coincidence. It was also a coincidence that they stayed in their jobs considering the fluctuation between 1974 and 1982 in this company was enormous. (...)
E.R.: Did you make all the Wittstock films with Christian Lehmann?
E.R.: The camera contributes a lot to the beauty of this new film, to the cinematography. The film is quite light-hearted, it moves between sorrow and the comical, it features ,noble' images. The presentation of the women and the young people makes a lasting impression. The images lend weight, dignity to the protagonists without ever being artificial. The choice of black and white is also beautiful.
V.K.: Yes. All the Wittstock films are made in black and white. This was a natural choice at the beginning because the colour material ORWO was very insensitive. The black and white film stock (27 Din), on the other hand, was fine, it needed very little light. So it wasn't a question of an ,elitist aesthetic' but a practical reason. Later I didn't feel like switching to colour any longer. In this factory sweaters in very strange colours were produced, it would have been distracting. It would have distracted from the people. In the end, black and white was a lucky coincidence. Furthermore, Christian Lehmann is originally a photographer, he uses very ,soft' techniques, that's why the film is visually so special.
Assembling one's own footage from 22 or 23 years ago means that certain things will make you flinch. For example, we only had a zoom lens at the time. Sometimes we filmed with a camera which was very loud, one had to keep one's distance. We tried to compensate with the zoom lens.
E.R.: The film is not only a document of life but also a document of the history of filmmaking. You always film on 35mm. Why?
V.K.: In the old days at the DEFA we always wished we could film certain things on 16mm. But technology didn't allow it. Since my films were never broadcast on GDR television I worked for the cinema where 35mm was the norm. If we can we will continue to film on 35mm.
I think that the kind of work we do is the creation of documents in a literal sense. Documentaries as documents. Otherwise we could have stopped doing it already in GDR times. Sometimes a film was approved but then only one copy would be made. The film existed, it was possible to go around with it, screen it but audience figures made no difference whatsoever. There was no mass audience. We consoled ourselves by saying that, at least, we are filming, the images are preserved. We now know that people are interested in these documentaries which try to deal with reality. So it was all worth the effort. A document also signals durability. The storage capability of a film is a good precondition. And that's more difficult with colour films. Video durability is not yet a clear cut issue. Then there is something else. People wonder why we insist on film. But I think that documentary which is always subversive to some degree must also prove its ,staying power', if nothing else than to show that it is possible, that it exists. Especially when it is declared ,dead' it should be shown on the screen. It is a duty. It would be much too early to give up. Everybody says it is over but we're still at it. Each year there are new documentaries.
E.R.: Perhaps the creation of documents has to be the source of consolation more than even in GDR times.
V.K.: No. Because several broadcasting companies are involved my old struggle with GDR television has been fully vindicated. WITTSTOCK, WITTSTOCK would not have been produced if I hadn't received financial support from three different television companies. Kalte Heimat was broadcast five times since last summer, i.e. by the WDR and MDR. There were huge audience figures. At the WDR we had 7%, i.e. hundreds of thousands of viewers who watched the program, more than in all my films put together which have ever been screened in the cinema. I think television always offers new possibilities.
E.R.: What are you going to do next?
V.K.: A short film called Alle meine Frauen. I want to present all the women of my films in 15 minutes, I got a short film subsidy. Apart from my Wittstock films I have made many more films about women. I've calculated that if each woman gets one minute then I could use 15. I kept contact with some of the women from the different films. When you make documentaries you enter into rather intense relationships. That's because you get very interested in the life of the other. But it sometimes goes beyond one's strength. You promise each other to keep in touch, but it doesn't work emotionally in the long run. That's why I'm interested to see what happened to these women.
reality which is also my reality. I hope you will have the strength and also the money. (The conversation was held on January 27th, 1997 in Berlin.)
Volker Koepp was born in 1944 in Stettin. After highschool graduation in 1962 he trained as a machine fitter. Subsequently he was employed as a skilled worker. Between 1963 and 1965 he studied at the Polytechnic in Dresden, later enrolling at the film school in Babelsberg. From 1970 to 1990 Volker Koepp worked as a director at the DEFA studio for documentary film.
1971: Schuldner. 1972: Grüße aus Sarmatien. 1973: Gustav J.. 1974: Slatan Dudow. 1975: Mädchen in Wittstock. 1976: Das weite Feld; Wieder in Wittstock. 1977: Hütes-Film. 1978: Am Fluß; Wittstock III. 1979: Tag für Tag. 1980: Haus und Hof. 1981: Leben und Weben. 1982: In Rheinsberg. 1983: Alle Tiere sind schon da. 1983/85: Afghanistan 1362: Erinnerung an eine Reise. 1984: Leben in Wittstock. 1985: An der Unstrut. 1986: Die F96. 1987: Feuerland. 1988/89: Märkische Ziegel. 1989/90: Arkona-Rethra-Vineta. 1990: Märkischen Heide, Märkischer Sand. 1991: Märkische Gesellschaft; In Karlshorst, In Grüneberg. 1992: Neues in Wittstock; Sammelsurium - Ein Ostelbischer Kulturfilm.1993: Die Wismut. 1995: Kalte Heimat. 1996: Fremde Ufer. 1997: WITTSTOCK, WITTSTOCK.
© 1997 by International Forum of New Cinema. All rights reserved.