Interview with Hartmut Bitomsky

Q;In 1999, I asked Athenee Francais Cultural Center and made a program of projections of Mr.Bitomsky's "Reichsautbahn" and Haroun Farocki's "Bilder der Welt und inscrift des Krieges",cooperated with Goethe Institut in Tokyo.You and Farocki once co-directed films. I feel your films are more materialistic than Farocki's.

A;I mean...working with Farocki was thirty years ago.we were young men at that time,we didn't have clear parts.As you grow, you develop your roots like a tree. We were not twins.As a Brecht play says,if two things come together,you need the third thing.The third thing, back then, was political film making.

Q;But both of your films propose the critical view about images.

A;I think Farocki is coming from Eisenstein, and I'm coming from Rossellini. Farocki is very fond of montage,I'm more interested in life, as it is object as they are.

Q;For example in your "B52",an officer talks about the esthetics of the bomb airplane, and as he talks more and more seriously,we feel it looks ridiculous,like a comic.

A;Maybe that is a good bridge to this answer. I don't like films of which the director conducts the interview which is a kind of directing the person in front of the camera to make a certain statement. I let them talk,give them a chance to speak.I'm trusting and confident that of the contradictions. they're in place and will come up, will be presented and this turn to this moment when things become slightly ridiculous and funny.I'm asking questions but don't manipulate.

Q;I can also feel your criticism about images in your method of using found footages. Although the footages used in "Reichsautbahn"and"the VW Komplex",which had been shot seriously and functions for nazi-propaganda at that time,now they looks ridiculous and comical. I think, for example about the image of the explosion of the World Trade Center,it is tragic now,but later, it has a possibility that it can turns ridiculous in other context.

A;Of course there're many things to say about working with found footage.One thing is,even if you are the one who is directing and shooting, your footage will turn out into found footage at some point.Because then you have to deal with what the images say by themselves. The other thing is,that always let my working with found footage,was Roland Barthes'word,the authorship can moves, can show one extreme in the others. The author is complete inventor of a text,it's his creation.On the other hand,there're the authors just coping the text,like the Bible,for example.And they're only authors of their own mistakes when they were coping the Bible.That's the authorship. But in between,there're two other types of authors. One,the commentator,who takes a given text,and put his own thoughts.and the other one is quotater,somebody just quotes from works somebody has written.And put these quotes together.This is working with found you have to trust two things. The quotes you lifted from one text,and put it in new context,has enough life and strength and energy to still speak after maybe a hundred years.
There is always a chance for invisible and virtual authorship. But I want to continue the idea of quoting, You have to make sure that,when you quote,the quote you lifted from another text has enough strength and richness, and maybe is incapable of saying something that in original text didn't become visible. Even if you couldn't understand a text,but in new context,you can understand it. Texts from 1600s,still today,tell us something of the complete different world. They rode future meanings.And making documentary film is not different from working with found footage.Because you take quotes out of real life,you take minutes out of a person's life,or object's life,it's quotes.

Q;As far as three films about "autbahn","the VW Komplex","B52",you 're spotlighting the aspects of their ridiculous,funny,stupid civilization which come out later.

A;I'm not sure everything is funny or ridiculous, I mean,of course I look at all endeavors and efforts of humanity to do something very often to find out a lot of vanity,do a lot of thing in vain,a lot of waste.They make this big shoot-bomber. But in the end,they make a little scrap out of this.But this is not funny,it has a comic aspect,but it doesn't have funny alone,lots of tragic.All are resources.Resources of material things of labor and so far like that are disposable, are nothing.I can tell you in stead of B52 ,You could one hospital. it's like scraping a hospital.For example,B52 or VW manufacturing system ocuppied a lot of men. The building of manufacturing B52 ocuppied complete luminous million capacity of US's 10 years. For creating 770 aircrafts.So you can see what is important,what huge resources, when to this. So they couldn't make one can of coke at that time.whole of capacity of american economy was just working for the fleet of the B52s, which is enormous.So all that's wasted. It doesn't lead to anything except destruction. And of course military function of airplane is also to destruction. And you see it in Afghan.

Q;You appear more oftenly in "B52",more relaxing,also about commentary,by you and a lady.

A; It was,actually,this is not done by me. I have german version of this film and I speak the voice of narration just by myself.But this (english)version here I choose an american man and an american woman.because my english is of foreigner.
In"Reichsautobahn"and some other films, I appear much often.I actually didn't want to appear in "B52",but when I began to shoot, the Pentagon blew the comission to shoot the airforce spaces.And then I tried to invent a different film,that why I broad myself into it.

Q;That makes me remember the classic military comedy of Hollywood.

A;I've never thought of that(laugh). I didn't want to have only interview's talking heads. So we put the camera movable.When you move the camera during a interview,it becomes more obious situation like in a screenplay,between two people.And of course this might act more comical or funny notes.

Q; In that scene what I like very much is I could see the continuity which can be seen in classic films.

A; That' s correct impression. I want to make this documentary of narrative language of narrative feature film. that's true. And I wanted a kind of proof on myself for audience,that documentary films don't necessary mean badly shot films.I think some of the scenes about installation in Chicago artist,It's 8,9minutes long. and there we have tempt to make in the situation all l of it,and conversation involved from things there.But if you want to do that and cover 8,9 minutes,you have to do it in continuity, of argument and of visual ,which is something cut ,you don't achieve if you are not mastering film language.

Q;That's the continuity of for example Howard Hawks' films...

A;Yes, my main influence as a filmmaker is from Howard Hawks.As a beginning filmmaker,my attempt was a feature film director.And I made a couple of films,but quite unsuccessful.But I think you still can learn from studying feature films as you can learn from films of documentary filmmakers.Maybe at this point I shouldn't talk about this,but you've seen "The land of wandering souls"(Rithy Panh,2000)? He is capable to make a shot of a woman's face,and cut to make at a proper point.He knew what he was doing when he shot it. While we see a lot of documentaries here,when they show a face of somebody who is talking and as soon as he stop talking anymore they cut it.But he(Rithy Panh)directs that maybe 20 friends talking more, and the 2 seconds,which you can see the effect of the speaking all of the silent faces. There're reverberation of what's been sad.Most documentary filmmakers don't know that.But it's much more powerful if you can do it that way.Therefore I pity that documentary filmmakers don't study making of feature narrative films.

Q;I think, the directors of classic feature films,like Hawks and John Ford, seem to be also great documentary filmmakers.And I'm very happy that I can see their style in your films.

A;I'm happy you thought that.

Q;When you shot "B52",did you see for example Hawks' "Air Force"?

A;When I make movies I don't look at other films.Because it's so easy to reproduce.that's a simple way.Even if you study filmmaking from Ford and Hawks,you need to have your own way of making it.I don't like copying like Fassbinder very often did.He looked at video and made the same shots.

Q;Did you have any influence from directors who are shooting before you, whichever that is documentary or fiction, for example Godard or Straub?

A; Yes, of course back then when I was a student I was very much influenced by Straub. About Godard, for everybody studying films in 60's,there was vast body of works of classic films,when you made films, one way or another, you related to that.Godard tried to use things from that for himself. Straub is different. Straub is much more radical,like that you don't make any shot, don't make any cut that you don't need.Of course this is an exercise.Lessons of Straub is important to understand the materiality of films. Like that as soon as you put up your camera,you record sounds. There is documentary aspect given.It's a part of nature of filmmaking.So these were important lessons I got from Straub.

Q;For ordinary people who aren't creators, they have opportunities to see too much images outside of cinema. In this age,it's becoming more and more important to set and see an image from in one context to another,like your films.

A;We live in a dilemma that our perception is filled up with image and sounds.There're world and images of the world.and sounds from the world. Anyway,the task is to show what people haven't seen yet, or to show what is seen in different way,or to show what they want to show.they're to turn eye's way. Basically the task of cinematography is to show them for the second times.It 'll be much complicated, because over-using imagery filling up our perception and to get through is difficult, but it's important to do it... In the past we could trust almost physical relationship between the real object and its image because of its granted through photography.Of course now in visual age, the physical relationship isn't guaranteed any more.But I think it is a mistake to trust only on this physicality of the process of cinema and of photography.In fact,when you can make a documentary,you do two things,to look at the world and to create the image of it.These things are never the same,the image is the image,the world is the world. A couple of years ago,there was a fashion of fake documentary.But it's superficial ,and so far,because they are documentaries,like every film is a documentary. Every feature film in Hollywood is a documentary about Hollywood. So in a way,the task of the future documentary will be to create doubt. You could say, the more sophisticated literacy that could read not only images but also the method of working images.So I see the future challenge for the documentary filmmaking. That's why, I'm always saying that filmmaking process has to become a part of the documentary itself,or filmmaking process has to be reflected in the documentary.

(2001,October 8,Yamagata International documentary film festival)

©Akasaka Daisuke