Nikolaus Geyrhalter • Director of Matter Out of Place
"Everything we produce or use ends up to be trash at some point"
by Teresa Vena
- The Austrian documentary maker gives a multi-perspective view of the global handling of trash
Matter Out of Place [+see also:
interview: Nikolaus Geyrhalter
film profile] is the new documentary by Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter. It is screened as part of the international competition of the Locarno Film Festival. We spoke to the director about his research for the film, his editing process and the importance to raise awareness for how we deal with our trash.
Cineuropa: The images in your film trigger contradictory feelings. On the one hand, one is overwhelmed and disgusted by the abundance of waste we see. On the other hand, there is something melancholic and fascinating about the plastic-covered branches on the shore, for example.
Nikolaus Geyrhalter: There is an aesthetic of the ugly. In all that is ugly lies beauty. The film plays with this. The places we see are fascinating. But we can't stop to look at just the surface. We have to go further. Everything we produce or use ends up to be trash at some point. Once we throw it away, it's not gone. The process starts just then. A big industry is behind it and a huge amount of people are concerned by it. In Europe we have a relatively good way to cope with trash by burning it and by gaining energy out of it. But still it doesn't disappear completely either.
How long was your research for the film?
All in all we worked on the film for five years. The pandemic came in between and prolonged the process. We did the shooting over six to seven weeks.
How did you choose the places you filmed?
Some of the locations were interchangeable, others not. For example, we wanted a waste dump in a less developed country and a processing unit in Austria. But it didn't have to be a specific one. As for the “Burning Man” festival, it was not possible to have alternatives and we were very lucky to shoot the edition that took place shortly before the pandemic. This wouldn't have been possible in the meantime. Despite that, the opening scene in Solothurn, Switzerland, was very important to us. It shows what we can find when we bury trash and dig into the ground decades later.
How quickly did you find the scenes you used?
It was very different from place to place. We spent around a week in each location, wandered around and tried to absorb it. I had precise wishes and expectations, but I always try to let the place and stories come to me. In Kathmandu, for example, we were very surprised at how difficult the journey of the trash trucks to the dump is during the rain season. These scenes were not planned, but it is important to be open to things that occur.
Do you think of editing already while shooting? Or do you collect the material first?
Of course, we shoot much more than we use in the end and we condense the material. But the rhythm is dictated by the shooting. Editing happens in parallel to the shooting. Shooting and editing form a circuit, since after the editing of some scenes or parts, we have to do more research for the next scenes we want to shoot.
In the film you avoid direct exchanges with the protagonist. But how is it behind the camera? How important is the personal exchange for you?
It's very important for me to have a good understanding with the protagonists. Often there are language barriers, so the interpreters we have with us communicate with them primarily. It is very important that everyone knows what will happen and why. We do not film animals and lie in wait, but shoot on eye level with the people. The Rischka driver in Nepal, for example, was prepared, we visited him several times and he was happy to be part of the film.
Did you have difficulties to get all the permissions you needed?
Well, what you see is where we were allowed to shoot. I have the impression the pandemic has become an ideal excuse to keep away film teams. During the years, and also during the shooting for my film Earth [+see also:
interview: Nikolaus Geyrhalter
film profile], I noticed that companies became more and more restrained. They keep you waiting for years, till it doesn't matter anymore. But it can also work the other way around. For this film we met a lot of people who were very supportive. They were happy that finally someone would look more closely. They were happy to be seen since they often are the unseen actors of the system.
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