Christian Krönes and Florian Weigensamer • Directors of A Jewish Life
“We made this film because there is a new type of political leader taking over”
- The Austrian directors unpick their latest Docaviv-screened documentary and the process behind making it together with two other helmers
We caught up with Austrian directors Christian Krönes and Florian Weigensamer, whose new documentary A Jewish Life [+see also:
interview: Christian Krönes and Floria…
film profile], co-directed with Roland Schrotthofer and Christian Kermer, has just world-premiered at Docaviv.
Cineuropa: What is your goal with films like A German Life and A Jewish Life, and where does the impulse to make them come from?
Florian Weigensamer: I don’t know if we had a goal in making this film, or if filmmaking in general should have a goal. We made A German Life because it was suddenly there. The moment we met Brunhilde Pomsel, it was clear that we had to make a film with her. Not only because she had been working at the very heart of the Nazi regime and had been closer to the evil incarnate than anyone else alive, but also because this woman was intelligent and self-reflective, and had a great sense of humour. And she was honest! She had no false, late regrets. That made her story very interesting.
After A German Life, and working through 800 hours of archive footage, which truly is a deeply depressing process, we actually decided never to make a film about the Nazi era again. And then Marko Feingold – one of the last survivors, one of the last witnesses – came along. We just had to seize the chance to preserve his story for future generations, for all time.
Christian Krönes: We somehow had to make these films because we had the feeling that there was a certain opinion spreading: that we have heard all of this so many times, and that now people have had enough of all these Holocaust stories. We had to make it because 40% of the teenagers in Austria – and probably in many other countries, too – do not know that more than six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. The majority don’t know who Eichmann or Goebbels were any more. We had to make it because the number of antisemitic and racially motivated violent acts is increasing year on year, worldwide.
We made this film because there is a new type of political leader taking over. And these new leaders are slowly undermining our democracy. So-called solid democracies are tilting and sliding slowly in a dangerous direction. Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once defined fascism as a “meaningless aspiration for power”, which in its first stage is completely lacking any ideology, and that's where we are now.
What are the most important takeaways from Marko Feingold's story for you?
FW: Personally, his incredibly positive character, his humour and his energy. I think what makes him unusual is that he has always been a fighter. He never wanted to play the role of the victim. He never took anything from anyone, especially in the time after 1945 in Austria.
CK: Definitely his outstanding character. On the other hand, the fact that he received defamatory letters and threatening notes – for years! That shows the ugly side of our society, which is alarming. It is also scary how timely his story is. In a heroic act of humanity, he helped tens of thousands of refugees after the war. Today, he probably would go to prison for that, arrested by Frontex. This is where our European democracies stand today!
How did you select and decide where to place the various pieces of archive footage?
FW: Working with footage from that time is a very delicate act, and it’s very dangerous because all of this footage is propaganda. It is well-orchestrated and carries a cleverly implemented and sophisticated message. And it still works. For TV, it is often re-coloured, reworked and edited – and misused as neutral information, like news material. It is not.
CK: This is why we did not edit or re-work any of the archives. We just labelled it as what it is – who made it, when it was made and for what purpose – so the audience can draw its own conclusions. If you have the information on the background of these films, they sometimes suddenly take on a completely different meaning and have a different effect. We also did not want to use the well-known archives. We spent a lot of time and made a great deal of effort looking for unknown material and tried to embed it in an associative way.
How do you work together as four co-directors?
FW: It was an interesting experiment, even for us. But contrary to the saying “Too many cooks spoil the broth”, it really worked out very well. Everyone found their part in the process. We believe in democratic filmmaking.
CK: Especially with the archive footage, but also with the selection of the interview parts, it was really very efficient and helped the creative process to have four directors. We always had three other people correcting us whenever we lost track or whenever we were tempted to follow well-trodden paths.
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