Uli Decker • Director of Anima – My Father's Dresses
"The categorical distinction between fiction and documentary is artificial: like the boundary between male and female, there is so much in-between”
by Teresa Vena
- The director discusses her documentary, in which she blends elements from the documentary form, animation and fiction
After its world premiere at the Max Ophüls Prize, the documentary by German director Uli Decker has been traveling to festivals around Germany and internationally. In Anima – My Father's Dresses [+see also:
interview: Uli Decker
film profile], Decker tells the personal story of her father who led a double life, which the director wasn’t aware of. He liked to dress in women's clothing, but he kept this hidden from his daughters. We talked to the director about the struggles she experienced adapting her family history to the big screen and her relationship with documentary filmmaking.
Cineuropa: Your film has travelled to many festivals since its premiere and it will soon be released in German cinemas. Did you expect this success, and that the film would speak to so many people? How does this feel for you?
Uli Decker: I dreamed of having a large audience for the film. I didn't want to make a movie that only spoke to queer audiences, for example. I wanted my target audience to be as broad as possible, even though, at the beginning, it felt nigh-on impossible and I wasn’t sure that it would work. Now I’m seeing so many different people who are touched by the movie, and that makes me very happy. What obviously feels a bit strange is that our personal family history is being exposed to such a large audience. It’s difficult to digest at times, because we’re not exhibitionists in our family, we’re all quite private people. But I did make the movie so that it would be seen by people. And I enjoy sharing it with audiences and hearing their feedback. That’s why I love travelling with the movie.
Could you tell us more about the reactions you’ve had so far? Have the reactions varied between countries?
We’ve only travelled abroad to Thessaloniki and Austria so far. Screenings in Reykjavik and Buenos Aires will follow. I hope I can be there in person and that there will be more destinations to come. The film has been very well-received so far. The audience in Austria, for example, was really enthusiastic. I wasn’t sure whether the film would work with younger audiences because they’re a different generation and so many things have changed over time. But we just had a screening in Cologne with an audience aged 20 to 35 years, and it was great to see that they could totally connect with the movie and the way it’s made. My parents’ age-group also responded open-mindedly to the movie, because there’s a lot in it that they can relate to. I’m very happy that the film works on so many levels.
The film explores a very personal subject. And we can see in the film that not everyone was keen to take part in it. How did you convince them, in the end?
My mother wasn’t enthusiastic about being in the movie, but she always said that she would be there if I needed her. She also trusted me to find the right form. It wasn’t as difficult convincing her as it was convincing myself to make the movie. Conducting the interviews wasn’t easy because I was worried about putting my mum and my sister in uncomfortable situations. It felt like a huge responsibility.
How long was it before you could plan and actually make the film?
My father died over 20 years ago, and it has taken me this long to be able to make the film. But it’s taken our society just as long to be able to appreciate this kind of film. If I’d made it earlier, it would have been quite an angry movie and it might have ended up in a few small festivals at best. The funding conditions would have been different, too. Somehow, life made me wait so that it could become a movie seen by a wide audience.
How did you develop the film’s concept?
I’d always wanted to make a fiction movie, not a documentary. The documentary form scared me. I didn't want to be recognisable. But then, after a few detours, me and my co-author Rita Bakacs thought maybe we’d make an animated film like Persepolis [+see also:
interview: Marc-Antoine Robert
interview: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Pa…
film profile] by Marjane Satrapi, incorporating a few documentary elements into it. But funding restrictions eventually meant that I had to turn it into much more of a documentary than I wanted to. It was scary, but then I also thought it makes sense to be visible. Because if everybody who feels outside the norm hides, the world carries on looking uniform, without diversity. Personally, I wouldn’t call Anima a documentary because it’s made up of so many different elements - animation, fictional images, etc. My main intention was to guide the audience through an emotional experience and my inspiration mostly came from fiction movies. In fact, I believe the categorical distinction between fiction and documentary is artificial: like the boundary between male and female, there’s so much in-between.
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