Interview                                                                                 25/10/2014

12th Tegernsee International Mountain Film Festival, 22 – 26 October 2014

Bagging the Great Prize – Without Major Conflicts

Authenticity, honesty and extraordinary sensitivity characterise Benedikt Kuby’s Der Bauer bleibst Du (The Farmer, That’s Still You), an outstanding, deeply moving documentary and winner of the Great Prize of the City of Tegernsee. Protagonist Heinz has been running a farm all by himself for over forty years, a farm that’s been in the family for over 400 years. Now he is looking for a successor. He chooses 22-year-old Johannes, who is keen to learn from the old fogey. In this interview, the filmmaker describes what it means to make this kind of non-mainstream film today and how his audiences react to its very calm beat.

One gets the impression that you’ve known farmer Heinz for a long time. How long did your interaction with him and this documentary actually last?
Since, 1991, I have been shooting films for the series Der Letzte seines Standes (The Last of His Kind) produced by Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Public Broadcasting). It’s all about documenting the knowledge and skills of the last old masters and to prevent the complete loss of these cultural treasures. I met Heinz during such a shoot 16 years ago, when he only figured briefly in a film. I immediately realised I wanted to make a film about this unique individual at some stage. Back then, it was all a pie in the sky how the story would evolve.

You pretty much produced this film on your own, why?
Yes, it’s a one-man-production. Script, directing, camera, editing, it was all in my hands. And the funding of course. Only the sound was edited in a studio. That was the only way I could make this film happen. Its present format would never have been possible in cooperation with a TV station, because it does not match any established formula and I didn’t want to restrain myself. It was crucial to me to expose the utterly different beat of this farmer’s life. I wanted to show that there are people who refuse to join the race. This is not a conscious decision by Heinz Wanner, it just represents his innate sense of time. And that clearly meant I could not make a fast-paced film that would pander to the modern zeitgeist. This slowness and the prolonged takes are necessary. They are the doorway into the film, into this unique kind of atmosphere, they make it tangible.

How do you approach this kind of production?
At first I have a lot of conversations. I think about how I can possibly represent what I have learned. In this way a certain idea develops of what the film could look like and this is what I work through during the actual shoot. Then, all sorts of unpredictable things happen, which however propel the story onwards. Of course I react to these. I am basically already editing while I shoot, but over time, many elements change. During the final stages, you have to be rigorous. Anything that does not further the film gets the chop.

What changed during the making of this film?
The title to begin with. Its original version was ‘Time at Your Back’. But that is incorrect. This old farmer does not turn his back to today’s world, he consciously lives in it, in the now, he reads the newspaper and knows exactly what is going on. However, he does not need the Internet, no constant connection to the wider world. He runs his farm in the traditional way, just as he deems fit.

When you attend a screening, as you did here in Tegernsee, what does the audience usually desire to know?
I often get similar questions. In particular: was it really that harmonious? The answer is: yes, that’s what it was like. At a film festival in Zurich the jury criticised the film’s lack of conflict. But it’s not a feature film, it’s a documentary. And if no conflict takes place, I am not going to fake it. Then again, it’s true. This deep respect each displays for the other almost seems incredible, if not unnatural. That might indeed be something rare, such an unusually conflict-free atmosphere. And that gets to people.

How do people react to this slowness?
In different ways. Most viewers experience this as a kind of sanctuary for the soul, a wellness treatment, because for once they are given all the time in the wold to perceive. This leisure to ‘sit back and watch’ produces its own kind of benevolent mood. Audiences are deeply touched. Here, at the Tegernsee Festival, I got a lot more laughs than I’m used to from other places. Each screening venue comes with its own dynamics, that’s interesting to take in. I always get the impression that after the screening, people radiate more empathy, they have a softer, friendlier look about them.

Is that a reaction you hoped to produce while shooting the film?
No. While shooting I do not reflect at all upon whether a scene might be better this or that way in order to possibly resonate more with the audience. I am the kind of documentary film maker who does not care as much about reality as about truth. It matters to me to do my work honestly, not to go for cheap effects. I would never defeat or ridicule my protagonists. Today, the majority of documentary filmmakers face fewer and fewer screening slots as well as ever dwindling funds, which makes it hard to support ourselves and our families. In my case, it is only possible because my wife is earning. Whether this film is ever going to cover its costs remains to be seen. If people can be motivated to watch the film or buy the DVD, then it could become more than a ‘hobby’ as my tax consultant keeps calling it with commiseration. After a screening I often hear somebody say: ‘This film should be shown in schools.’ In fact, we already sold three copies to schools.

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