Diagonale 2014. Short Talk with Clarissa Thieme

Tara Karajica sat down with Clarissa Thieme at the Diagonale Film Festival in Graz, Austria, and talked to her about her new short, “Resort”, and her friendship with Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanić. 


Could you tell us a bit about your background?

Clarissa Thieme: I come from the North-West of Germany and I studied Cultural Studies. I worked for film festivals and in the film business, always having the idea to make my own films but I got a little bit lost in the film business and in doing a lot of production jobs. I decided very late to study Arts with the focus on film art. I studied Media Art at the University of the Arts in Berlin where I still live, teach and do my own films and media installation works. I have a connection to the Diagonale since 2010 when I started working with Austrians who produced my films and that’s more a coincidence – I have had three now at the Diagonale with this Austrian production connection –. But, they were all also produced by “Deblokada” in Sarajevo and they all have a link to the region of Ex-Yugoslavia.

How did you come with the idea for “Resort”?

C.T.: It’s very funny. I am friends with Jasmila Žbanić, the Bosnian film director who runs “Deblokada” with her husband and I did my first film as a kind of submarine project of a bigger project of hers. So, while they were shooting their big film, I could use a lot of their locations and some of their equipment when they were not working with it. I was also working on their big film. So, three years ago while she was planning her new film “Love Island”, she was on location tour for a resort and I was in Bosnia-Herzegovina for a script workshop she organized. And, she told me to come along with Christine Maier, her cinematographer and a very good of mine, on that location tour and maybe have an idea so we could maybe do that thing again, me doing my small experimental thing while they are doing their big thing. I was walking with them through a resort and they were looking for the perfect shot, but I had no idea whatsoever and I never wanted to shoot at a resort. I had no idea what to shoot there but what I did find really interesting was this absurd situation where you are doing this location tour and being in this post-socialist architecture, working with the architecture for your film. That’s how the idea came up to use this location scouting situation, to use this architecture of reinventing something that has already so much history in it. I very quickly had in mind to work with Kathrin Resetarits because she is also a very good friend – it’s a friend production thing – and I appreciated very much as well the fact that she is known in Austria as an actress. I also had Leon Lučev very early.

Did you already have a story beforehand or it just burgeoned then and there?

C.T.: At that point I only had an idea, more of a topic thing. I wanted to have this location scouting and this resort – and in the end a country – that reinvents itself. Also, on very different levels, we are so eager to be so self-secure about our identity, what we want and I think that’s something we are very used to in the society we live in, there’s no space for doubts, or at least you should not make it public. I mean, of course, everybody doubts, everybody is confused in so many ways, but you don’t put that out. All that is a fake performance we all do to get along and I find that interesting on different levels of an actress because I think actresses are very much confronted with this thing. They are very aware of this, and it is their job to be this blank thing for others but the question is “you are this blank person for others, but what are YOU?” and you also find that in the film business a lot. The topics were clear and then I really wrote a script.

What can you tell us about the editing decisions, as there is no clear chronology in the film?

C.T.: It was already written like that. I also wanted that we didn’t know the timeline, but it’s funny because the Diagonale wrote it’s one day, which I am totally fine with, but it can also be one week. I was really clear to me was that I am not telling a story chronologically, I am not even telling so much a story in the conventional way. I am more narrating a status of waiting for something to start and it never really does. It was written as these spotlights on certain moments that can be in this or that order, which also made it very difficult to edit because I was very free during the editing process. Actually, I edited it for a long time because I was so interested in a story that starts to be told without having even started. In the editing process, the project changed very much because from the start I constructed it as a very experimental approach but still with a conventional narration. A lot of things were shifted then.

Was there any room for improvisation?

C.T.: The scenes were written, the situation was set and I was not really interested in changing the situation. Maybe, I was also too insecure to do that. For improvisations, it’s always good to have a frame fixed. For instance, with Leon Lučev and Kathrin Resetarits, when he’s explaining her what he wants to build there, it was clear that he was explaining his vision of what he wants to do with the resort and I wrote it a little bit but Leon knows one owner of a big resort and he said he could tell all the resort stories he knew. I was interested in the Dalmatian village arc but I didn’t tell Kathrin so much about it. She only knew that he would tell her what he wanted to do with the hotel complex but she didn’t know what he would say and in the end I didn’t even know what exactly he would say. But, we shot it quite according to the script.

Did the environment create the story and the atmosphere?

C.T.: First of all I must say I am really inspired by locations and spaces and I think it’s my way of approaching my projects. Clearly, the space created that story and it comes from that architecture, from this identity question. For me it’s like psychology in architecture and the feelings generated by it.

Were you influenced by other authors and filmmakers while working on “Resort”?

C.T.: The echo of me being interested in spaces is very vivid and what that does with people. For instance, Hans Imichols was a German filmmaker who made a lot of architecture movies where you have a feeling of walking through the architecture with very few words. And, I wanted to have something that was really on the edge of fragmentation, of falling apart but still holding together. As a filmmaker, I very much like Claire Denis. Agnès Godard is here at the Diagonale and she brought the films she shot with Claire Denis that influenced me very much and that I love. It’s “Beau travail” – my love for disco scenes comes from there and does not make any narrative sense – and “L’Intrus”, which is a very courageous film.

What did Jasmila Žbanić think of the result of your joint location scouting?

C.T.: She knows the film and she was around during the preparation process. We clearly make different kinds of films but we like each other very much and I appreciate her work. What I like about her is that she is so open to other kinds of filmmaking and she encouraged me very much to do Resort in the way I did and to test the boundaries of how far I can go. She really liked “Resort”.

Note: This interview was originally published on www.nisimazine.com and on Yellow Bread’s sister publication, The Film Prospector, in March 2014.

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