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Michael Glawogger • Director

“If you think you can change the world with a movie, you're on the wrong track”


- Cineuropa spoke with Austrian director Michael Glawogger after the screening of his documentary Whores’ Glory, in competition at the Gijón Film Festival

Michael Glawogger • Director

Ever since he began his career as a director, screenwriter and cinematographer in the early 1980s, Austria’s Michael Glawogger has shown enormous versatility, continuously switching between documentary and fiction and, within the latter, between genres. The 49th Gijón International Film Festival honoured him with a retrospective and the screening of his latest documentary, Whores' Glory [+see also:
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(see news). This film, which won the Special Jury Prize in the Horizons section at Venice, completes his trilogy about the world of work, which opened with Megacities, in 1998, followed by Workingman's Death, in 2004. Cineuropa spoke with him about his approach to documentary filmmaking.

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The sensory aspect of his documentaries, even more than the content, is one of the most striking features of his work: “All filmmaking is creation. You create an atmosphere, you create something that represents the world that you have seen through your eyes”, explains the director. The music, which is completely unconnected to the time and place reflected in his documentaries (the soundtrack to Whores' Glory includes songs by PJ Harvey, Antony and the Johnsons and CocoRosie), plays an important role: “I use music to convey that feeling. Sometimes people say that music changes reality, but then I say that non-music also changes it. We are used to documentaries not having music, but reality has music. It's an issue of how you see or perceive reality”.

His trilogy about the world of work, possibly his most famous work, reflects that world in places that are very different from each other, completely redefining the concept of space. Places with a very distinctive character, which Glawogger admits is something he needs: “I don't use cinema as a political agenda, therefore the theme is not in the foreground in my films. If I don't have a place I can tell a story with, I wouldn't know why to shoot the film. If you have a visual art, you also need a visual espace”.

“For me there's a strong distinction between ideology and documentary. For instance, Dziga Vertov was a very ideological filmmaker, but that's not why he's important in film history. He's important because he was a warm-hearted, almost poetic filmmaker who showed how his times worked. If a documentary is made only as a political tool, if you strip it down to its filmmaking, there's only opinion left. There's no film left. I make the opposite: films about how I see the world”, says Glawogger, who adds “Who cares about my opinion? If you think you can change the world with a movie, then you're totally on the wrong track”.

This desire to convey an atmosphere is reflected in a cinematic language in which the camera goes completely unnoticed, except for a few moments of intimacy. There is only one way to blend in like this: “They know me. I've been there forever (laughter). The key is time and patience. Otherwise you just make interviews. You need to create a bond with the people. Filmmaking is so boring, after a while they don't care about you. You're the crazy guy with the camera (laughter). And that's when the normal stuff clicks in”.

His dream for the future is to make a documentary without a theme. However, it isn’t as simple as it appears: “I've found so many things that were really interesting to immediately work on, but I couldn't because I was making a film about something else. If you have no theme, you can film everything. That's a challenge that in one respect is very frightening, because you have nothing to hold on, but as an artist I always feel attracted to the challenge of the white screen”.

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