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IFFR 2020 Deep Focus

Marion Hänsel • Director of There Was a Little Ship

“Five years ago, when I had this heart surgery, all these memories came flooding back to me”


- We spoke to Belgian filmmaker Marion Hänsel at IFFR, where she was the subject of a Deep Focus and presented her new film, There Was a Little Ship

Marion Hänsel  • Director of There Was a Little Ship

This year's International Film Festival Rotterdam celebrated the considerable body of work of Marion Hänsel with a Deep Focus retrospective. They showed her films and some documentaries about her, and she also introduced the international premiere of her new personal essay film, There Was a Little Ship [+see also:
film review
interview: Marion Hänsel
film profile

Cineuropa: Why did you want to tell this personal story?
Marion Hänsel:
Probably because I'm ageing, and it was at a time when I had a heart operation where I had to stay in hospital for two months, which meant I had time. I usually never have time because I still work – I produce, direct, co-produce; I do all kinds of things. Then I am invited to festivals. Five years ago, when I had this heart surgery, all these memories came flooding back to me – memories about my youth. When the hospital discharged me, I thought, “I'm going to make a personal, political essay on my life.”

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You don't deal with the specifics of your film career very much in There Was a Little Ship.
That’s because I think other people do that. Journalists write about me. And now there is Caroline D'Hondt's documentary, Par-delà les nuages – Le cinéma de Marion Hänsel, which screened at Rotterdam as part of the focus on my work. The documentary is 60 minutes long, and Caroline was very focused and said I could not talk about Marion producing, Marion acting or Marion adapting books. So she focused on two angles: Marion and the sea, and Marion and the deserts. I thought it was a lovely idea. She concentrated on those movies that I shot in South Africa or Djibouti, and those on the ocean or boats. From the start of my career until now, there have been boats, and even in this one there are boats. So then I thought, “Why should I talk about my career in my film? Other people do it.” It isn't straightforward to talk about your own career. I don't want to say I was successful and went to Cannes or something, you know? Come on!

It is not the first time you have made a personal film, either.
I made a more personal and more autobiographical work once before, many years ago, with another poetic essay, which was Clouds: Letters to My Son. I filmed clouds all over the world, but at the same time, the narration we hear are letters to my son that I wrote, starting from when I was pregnant until he was 18, when he left home.

A lot of the memories in the film are about people who are no longer with us, or whom you no longer know.
Well, that's true because I'm now 70 years old. So of course, a lot of people around me have died already or have disappeared, and of course, I lost my father and my mother, but she was old when she died. She was 94, and it was time for her to go. Okay, bye-bye. I sadly lost my sister and one of my brothers, and so I've been confronted several times with people dying, some far too young. I came out of an operation where the doctors and everybody else were sure I would die – but then I got the best surgeon in the world for that kind of operation, and okay, I survived. But then it makes you think back about the loss of other people. Then, there are other moments of fun and craziness, I hope, in Paris and New York, when I was trying to be an actress and doing all kinds of mad things.

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