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Marcus Vetter • Director of The Forum

"This film is the beginning of a journey both for us and for the audience"


- We talked to German filmmaker Marcus Vetter, whose latest documentary, The Forum, opened the DOK Leipzig International Documentary and Animated Film Festival

Marcus Vetter • Director of The Forum

We talked to German filmmaker Marcus Vetter, whose latest documentary, The Forum [+see also:
film review
interview: Marcus Vetter
film profile
, opened the DOK Leipzig International Documentary and Animated Film Festival.

Cineuropa: How did you gain such incredible access?
Marcus Vetter: It was actually the producer, Christian Beetz, who managed to get the access. He met with professor Klaus Schwab, and they were the first to talk about a possible film. It was a very difficult and complex project to get a director attached to it, and Christian came to me two years ago and said that Schwab was OK with it, but only if it was not a film about him.

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I, on the other hand, wanted to first meet Schwab and see if he had a vision. That was crucial for me: why did he start the World Economic Forum in the first place, who is he, and why is he doing it? When I met him, I saw he had a very interesting personality. He does not speak as eloquently as you'd expect from these elite people; he has a way of talking which is a bit old-fashioned. I told him that the audience wanted to know who he was and why he was doing this, and if he felt like he failed along the way. He said he understood that and accepted it.

How did the filming work, practically? Did you have a big crew, and how did you differ from other TV and media teams covering the event, with the special access you got?
For the first Forum in Davos in 2018, I was alone with a sound recordist. That's when I tested out how far I could go, what Schwab would allow, and that's what I told him in our first conversation: I have a contract with my audience, they want to see behind closed doors, they need to see his diplomacy and understand what he says to the leaders – and how. I was able to get some great scenes with Theresa May, Macron and Trump, but in these bilateral meetings behind closed doors, I had to leave after they had talked about the weather.

I told Schwab that I couldn’t make the film like this, because the audience would feel betrayed. He said that state leaders feel awkward with a camera present, but that he would try. The next thing was the ASEAN Summit in Hanoi: he invited me there and opened up a lot. I was able to be in the meeting with Indonesian officials and with Aung San Suu Kyi, and that's when I realised I could make the film the way I had imagined it. I trusted him and he trusted me, and that's why we got these insider moments.

Then, in Davos in 2019, we went with a smaller camera, and I was doing the sound. I went up to Jair Bolsonaro and asked if I could get the sound from him with my boom, and he said yes. So I was hovering over his head for 15-20 minutes, and Al Gore saw this and approached to talk to Bolsonaro, and this ended up being one of the film's key scenes. We were a small crew, we looked less professional, and we could get the best scenes. That's what documentary filmmaking is all about: being small. We were so small that nobody saw us, and that’s what made a difference.

How honest do you think the state leaders and big company CEOs are when they say they want to change the world? It feels really hard to trust them with everything that's going on.
That was the big question, and I don't think I ever got the right answer. While talking with these elite people about ethics, I realised that some of them perhaps want to do something good, but in the longer term. I talked to Marco Lambertini from WWF, and he told me that the CEOs of big companies are starting to feel sorry for the things they've done in the past and that they are changing.

We have many preconceptions about the world economy, both from the left and the right. But things are never black and white, and Schwab gets criticised a lot for inviting Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Trump, Monsanto, Nestle and so on. I can accept his reply that we have to work with them. But how far do you go? These are questions that the audience must answer themselves when watching the film.

You must have a lot of other interesting material that didn't end up in the film. Are you intending to maybe make a longer version or a TV series?
Of course, we needed to cut it down to 120 minutes for a theatrical release. I didn't want to lose the WEF projects, and I didn't want it to be too political, because these projects they are working on are so important. In the end, the film should provide a possibility for the audience to take a look at the organisation and maybe say, "I'm going to dig deeper into it." So it's an opener of sorts, and maybe we’ll do a mini-series, and perhaps even two more afterwards. This film is the beginning of a journey, for us and for the audience.

We are now working on a behind-the-scenes piece for the VoD release, so that the audience will have access to this amazing material with heads of states, with Sebastian Kurz, with the heads of Costa Rica, Chile, you name it… Some very interesting conversations.

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