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BERLINALE 2020 Panorama

Lisa Weber • Director of Running on Empty

"It was difficult for me to watch how they were missing every opportunity to get things done, but I learned to accept it"


- BERLINALE 2020: We sat down with Lisa Weber, the director of the documentary Running on Empty, which has premiered in the Panorama section

Lisa Weber  • Director of Running on Empty
(© Marisa Vranješ)

We met up with director Lisa Weber on the occasion of the premiere of her documentary Running on Empty [+see also:
film review
interview: Lisa Weber
film profile
in the Panorama section of this year's Berlinale. In it, she offers an unusual glimpse of the lives of an Austrian family dependent on social welfare. Weber is able to capture a state of standstill through her images, but still manages to broach important issues while approaching her characters with respect and sensitivity.

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Cineuropa: How did the idea for the film come about, and how did you meet the family?
Lisa Weber:
I met the family by chance. Since I like to stroll through the city and discover places I don't know and to speak to people I meet, I struck up a friendship with Claudia. This was ten years ago, and around three years ago, the idea of the film started to become more and more real. The content changed, however, since originally, Claudia, the young mother, told us she wanted to apply for the Austrian Armed Forces. The film was meant to follow her preparations and her starting there, but after a while, she dropped the plan. We were already filming by then, and so we just kept going, even though on several occasions I really had a hard time keeping up my motivation. Also because nothing seemed to happen – until we realised that the film would be about this very state of standstill.

Did you feel the urge to intervene in this situation, where nothing seems to be happening? Did you try to initiate anything in order to provoke any reactions?
I definitely had the urge to do so, and actually, I did suggest some different activities. Then we filmed a few scenes outside the apartment, but it just didn't feel right. I sensed that I was forcing something that the family members were not very comfortable with. It was difficult for me to just watch how they were missing every opportunity to get things done, but I learned to accept it.

Was it part of the concept to show mostly scenes shot inside the flat?
Actually, I would have liked to film outside the apartment as well – for example, to be able to follow the family to one of its official appointments at the social welfare office. But they didn't want me to do so. They were very clear about what and when we were allowed to shoot. Besides them not giving us their permission for it, it would have been very difficult to manage. None of the members of the family is able to stick to deadlines. That means that, often, two hours before an appointment, they might still not be sure about whether or not they will really show up there, however important it may be.

Was this one of the main challenges you were confronted with during the making of the film?
Yes, communication with the family was very difficult in general. In much the same way as they didn't adhere to official appointments, they also ignored our agreements and postponed meetings. Sometimes, we had to wait weeks to get hold of them. I got the feeling that they didn't care, but when we finally met and started working, they acted as if nothing had happened and welcomed us very warmly. This also meant that it was them who partly dictated the progress of the film. The editing process was a real challenge, too, since we had over 144 hours of footage.

Did the family see the film, and what was their reaction like?
When they saw the movie, they recognised themselves. I was a bit anxious about their reaction, but they accepted the film as a kind of time capsule. They often say that I should come over now and see the big changes that are happing to them. But they’ve been saying that for years now.

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