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Helena Wittmann and Theresa George • Director and actress

“The ocean has been the reason behind many stories”


- We talked to German director Helena Wittmann and her co-writer/actress Theresa George, as they presented their Venice-premiered Drift at the Filmfest Hamburg

Helena Wittmann and Theresa George  • Director and actress
Helena Wittmann (left) and Theresa George (© Birgit Heidsiek)

Up-and-coming German filmmaker Helena Wittmann is presenting the German premiere of her feature debut, Drift [+see also:
interview: Helena Wittmann and Theresa…
film profile
, at the Filmfest Hamburg, which kicks off today. Cineuropa talked to the director and her co-writer/actress Theresa George about the development of the project, shooting on a sailing boat and the meaning of the ocean. In the wake of its world premiere in Venice’s International Critics’ Week, Drift was also presented at the Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival and the Festival de Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal.

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Cineuropa: What inspired you to shoot a film in which the ocean plays the main part?
Helena Wittmann:
 Spaces are often the starting point for my films. In this case, the ocean is the space.  I had already worked with Theresa on my last short film, and she is an ethnologist. Therefore, I asked her to help me with the research on this project. 
Theresa George: When we started to discuss the theme, we decided to go to the sea so that we could see it and feel it.

What kind of research did you do?
HW: It became clear for us quite quickly that we had to shoot on the ocean because we were interested in the perception that you develop there. We devoted ourselves to ethnology and sociology. The ocean has been the reason behind many stories.
TG: There are millions of stories about creation, and many of them deal with the land and the ocean. One of them that I tell on camera to my film partner is a myth from Papua New Guinea.

How did you approach the sound design?
I collaborated with musician and artist Nika Breithaupt, who had already done the sound design for my last film. On this project, she also did the sound recording, which was crucial for the movie. She ascertained that it was not possible to record the sound of the ocean while on the water, because there were always people around. The recordings are a mixture of field recording and synthesiser. 

How did you finance this project?
We didn’t get any film support, because we didn’t have a traditional script. But I wanted to shoot this film and was able to afford it because I teach film at an arts school. I received a scholarship for this project, so that meant that the basic equipment was financed. Furthermore, a friend helped us to get in touch with a captain, so we got a free ride on the boat.

What was it like to shoot on a sailing boat?
As a camerawoman, I would have preferred to shoot on film stock because it is a chemical process – like the ocean that surrounded us. But we could not afford to shoot on 35 mm or 70 mm, and after all, we had decided to use as little equipment as possible because we were crossing the ocean. The boat was swaying a lot.
 You always had one hand on the cord. We had to hold on so that we wouldn’t fall overboard. There were only three team members and six huge trolley cases. The ship’s crew did all the cooking.

What makes the ocean so fascinating?
 The sea is a very old subject matter that has always been of huge interest. I think that we are developing an awareness that enables us to look at our planet as a whole, and the oceans are part of it. In terms of ecological movements, we are coming closer together and putting a stronger focus on the ocean.
There is not much uncharted territory left, but the ocean has not been entirely explored, which is also an issue in terms of artistic involvement. It serves to inspire our fantasy world in a similar way to science fiction.

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