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BERLINALE 2020 Panorama

Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel • Directors of Notes From the Underworld

“Black-and-white images have the advantage that the viewer is less distracted”


- BERLINALE 2020: We chatted to Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, directors of the documentary Notes From the Underworld, which premiered in the Panorama section

Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel  • Directors of Notes From the Underworld
(© Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel)

We talked to Austrian directors Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel at this year's Berlinale on the occasion of the premiere of their documentary Notes From the Underworld [+see also:
film review
interview: Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel
film profile
in the Panorama section. Shooting in black and white, the directors concentrate mainly on the stories of one of the most famous Wienerlied singers, Kurt Girk, and his best friend, Alois Schmutzer. They witnessed an alternative history of 1960s Vienna that has so far only been transmitted orally.

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Cineuropa: How much time did you spend researching the film?
Rainer Frimmel: We started more than ten years ago with the research and preparations. We spent a lot of time with the characters and needed a while to build up a trusting relationship with them. In the beginning, we took a certain interest in the topic. Only afterwards did the idea to make a film out of it, to record the stories of the characters, occur to us.

Was it clear from the beginning that the film would be shot in black and white?
RF: Yes, it was. We wanted to create a specific atmosphere, and we thought the best possible way to evoke it would be in black and white. Moreover, such images have the big advantage that the viewer is less distracted, as the essence of the film is more concentrated.

Did you have a lot more footage that you needed to cut out of the final version?
Tizza Covi:
Yes, we could have made a five-hour film with all the material we shot. We have a lot of material depicting in more detail the trial that the singer's friend went through in court. We will see how we can use it for a future project.

What were the biggest challenges you had to face?
TC: Since there were two of us present during the shoot, it was important that during the interviews, the protagonists would only be looking in one direction and not moving their heads from one side to the other trying to look at both of us. So often, one had to hide behind the other.

RF: We filmed on real celluloid, which meant that we always had to cut after 11 minutes exactly. It was important to bear the time in mind so that we didn't accidentally miss an important statement when we had to change the film.

Do you think that the tradition of the Wienerlied will die with the death of its main representative? Is it a tradition that was very present in your lives?
TC: Girk represents the old tradition, which encourages the audience to sing along when Wienerlied singers are playing. There is also a new tradition, which offers an experience that is more similar to a classical music concert. In this way, a new generation of singers have rediscovered the Wienerlied and are giving it a new life. I grew up in Vienna, and for me, it has always been a part of my life.

RF: I didn't personally grow up with the tradition of the Wienerlied, but I developed an interest in it quite quickly after moving to Vienna.

What did you personally learn from or cherish about the experience of making the film and the narration of the protagonists?
RF: From the example of Alois, you see how the media can prejudge a person without having any proof. An innocent man fell victim to the influence and the power of the media to manipulate public opinion, and all its consequences. This is a phenomenon that can happen to anyone, at any time. It is important to look deeper and to have a closer look at things before condemning someone.

TC: I was really impressed by the singer Kurt’s positive attitude towards life. He also retains his optimism when facing any difficulties.

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