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BERLINALE 2021 Forum

Chris Wright and Stefan Kolbe • Directors of Anamnesis

“The story will never be finished”

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- BERLINALE 2021: The new documentary from the two German directors questions the nature of documentary filmmaking itself

Chris Wright and Stefan Kolbe  • Directors of Anamnesis
Chris Wright (left) and Stefan Kolbe (right) (© Harry Schnitger)

In their new documentary, Anamnesis [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Chris Wright and Stefan Kolbe
film profile
]
, German directors Stefan Kolbe and Chris Wright focus on the nature of documentary filmmaking itself. In this social study and portrait of a murderer, which premiered in the Forum section of this year's Berlinale, they reflect on their own approach to their protagonists and on how their own perception might differ from that of the viewer and from that of the protagonists themselves. We talked to the directors about professional distance and their commitment to filmmaking.

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Cineuropa: How did the project start?
Chris Wright: We always drag questions with us from one film to the next. The last one was about the documentary work itself. So far, we've been very close to the protagonists and wanted to tell about our encounters with them. But we felt people didn't always understand what a documentary was exactly. We were accused of not being objective, for example. What does it mean to us, to deal so intensively with our protagonists? Can we even follow the concept of professional distance? This question had to become the subject of the new film. To this end, we met with therapists who, we believe, suffer from the same problem.

Stefan Kolbe: But none really wanted to talk about this separation between the professional and the private, as this is necessary for their own protection. So we took a detour and ended up in a therapy group in a prison. There were murderers and sex offenders who will most probably return to a life outside prison after therapy.

How did you choose Stefan S.?
SK: Stefan S. was the only one who, in our perception, after the eight sessions we attended, was openly empathic and actually dealing with the issue of guilt.

CW: He fascinated us early on, by the contradiction between our impression of him from our first encounters with him, in which he showed himself to be very shy and very polite, even making harmless jokes; and the guards’ opinion about him. The unimpressive person that we saw in him did not match the words of the guards, who simply referred to him as a “brutal killer”.

You decided not to disclose the court records describing his behavior and the crime until the end. Until that point, the viewer could definitely feel sympathy for him; after that, it becomes more difficult. Was that your plan from the beginning?
CW: Life and film are very close to each other. We ourselves received and read the verdict relatively late. Actually, we didn't want to know the whole truth because it was hard to cope with. You just can't imagine that he killed someone when you're in the same room with him. It's hard to bear. But that's exactly the process that the film was supposed to reflect. You should look at this character differently over the course of the film.

SK: When I spent time with Stefan S., in Berlin for example, the murder was completely absent for me. At some point, everything was banal. I find it extremely difficult to believe that he killed anyone, despite the lines from the court records.

Does his story still disturb you?
SK: The story will never be finished. We feel the same way about all our protagonists. That is exactly the dilemma and the actual starting point of the film.

CW: An important open question remains: How will he react to the film? We haven't shown it to him yet. A date was already set for it, but then Stefan S. cancelled it. His reaction is important because he will be confronted with our idea of him, and we could trigger something in him through that.

Another interesting aspect is the cost of the murder. Should one think that Stefan S. got off lightly, or not?
CW: This summary fits Stefan S.'s way of thinking. He is very tight-fisted. He had saved for his dream house, that was his goal in life. And now the murder has cost him exactly the money he wanted to use for the dream house. It's hair-raising when you think about it.

You use both a static camera and a handheld camera. How did you define the film’s aesthetic concept? Was it clear from the beginning or did it emerge gradually?
CW: It emerged very quickly. It was important for us to show what our relationship with him was like at every moment. Since we couldn't show his face, it was necessary to convey the relationship with him and an image of him through these interactions between us. The question was: How do we find the representation of Stefan?

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