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BArch Bild 183-85946-0003 / Christa Hochneder

One of the major aims of ‘Who’s Watching Who?’ is to make a documentary film about the process of creating a new play, using research on East German theatre censorship. While Peter has been writing his play, Susan Kemp has been filming his progress and editing the footage for her film. On a Sunday afternoon in June, she met up with Laura to discuss her creative process and to offer some insights into how the film is progressing.


I Introducing Susan Kemp

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Susan filming in the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof, the cemetery where Brecht and his wife Helene Weigel are buried in Berlin. Photo: LB.


Laura: Could you perhaps just introduce yourself and explain what your role at the University is?

Susan: I’m Susan Kemp. I am joint Programme Director on the MSc Film Exhibition and Curation, and part of my role in addition to that is to work with researchers on engaging with the public beyond academia.

So this isn’t the first project like that which you’ve worked on at the University, is it?

No, the first project I did was very much a pilot project because there were very many unknowables about what could be achieved with a small budget, with one person actually making the film. And the first film was great. I really enjoyed the process, so was more than willing to jump in again and use what I’d learnt from that to try and plan more effectively for this one.


Scene from Nort Atlantik Drift: A Portrait of Robert Alan Jamieson, dir. Susan Kemp.


What was that first film about?

The first film was a portrait of the poet Robert Alan Jamieson. He is a colleague in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh and he’d written a book called Nort Atlantik Drift, which I’d thought did something quite remarkable. It really invited people into a dialect that’s based around a very remote part of Shetland, and the way he communicated his ideas through that language and through the book really expressed how important it is to understand and know Scotland in all its extremities, I suppose.


Robert Alan Jamieson. Still from Nort Atlantik Drift, dir. Susan Kemp.


It sounds quite a world away from Shetland to East Germany… Why did you think this might make a good subject for a film when the idea first came up?

Well, I suppose I’ll have to confess to a personal East German addiction, which is: as soon as the words ‘Hmm, a project involving East Germany’ comes up, I’m immediately going ‘Yes, please! I’ll make it work!’

Why’s that?

I think it’s utterly fascinating in terms of recent history that very much mattered to me philosophically at a distance growing up, where my understanding was very limited, but it was very much present in the world I operated in and it felt like something I wanted to understand. And I suppose since then I’ve been in pursuit of trying to understand that. Not to the same degree that you are as an academic, but on a sort of personal level.

And we worked together on an East German project at the Glasgow Film Festival a few years ago…

‘The Stasi are Among Us’. We’d come across a curator called Claus Löser, who was travelling with a range of films that had been made in the former East Germany in what could be viewed an underground creative environment, a bit like samizdat in Russia, which was a community exchanging creative ideas and work and below the radar of the authorities. I thought it was quite remarkable that somebody had kept the material – the key thing for all curatorial practices is to understand the potential future value of material. And so I thought that was really interesting and wondered what had motivated him to keep that material, and that was the start.

So now we’ve gone from underground filmmaking to state-sponsored theatre in the GDR and to an art form you can’t curate in the same way because there’s no fixed product. What sorts of challenges does that pose for you then, making a film?

Well, what I enjoy about documentary is finding the story. In the days when I used to work for the BBC, you used to have to find the story before you started really, which limited the possibilities. And if you look at the history of the production of documentaries, the ones that I would deem most successful of all are the ones that didn’t necessarily know the story when they started, the ones in which the filmmaker went on a journey with the people they were filming. And I saw that the basic ingredients for something to appear, for a narrative to appear, were there: there was the former East Germany, there was the contemporary playwright wrestling with that material, and there was the researcher who had written a very successful but complicated book, and that desire to engage wider audiences with that research. And in some ways that difficulty, that layer of complexity is exciting as well as difficult, because what it’s revealing is a number of layers of narrative. And then the challenge for me creatively is how to tell them.

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Georg Büchner, Leonce und Lena, dir. Jürgen Gosch, at the Volksbühne in East Berlin, 1978. Photo: Adelheid Beyer, AdK 323a.


II First steps towards the film

So how did you find your way into this specific subject matter then? When we found out we’d got the money, what did you do first, apart from book the kit?

So it’s interesting, because what struck me about the book is that there is an assumption of knowledge, an assumption that the wider context where this world of theatre and censorship was in operation was known and understood by its readers. The key thing for me is: I want to make this film accessible to a wide audience, I want to tell a good story that’s going to engage a wide audience, and that means it’s not a film of the book, it’s not a film of the play, it’s about communicating ideas in all of those things that help people understand the former GDR and how people operated within it. And so for me, looking for that wider context and how to place it is key. I don’t have all the answers to that yet. I’m finding it as I go.

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The former Stasi prison at Hohenschönhausen, Berlin. Photo: LB.

One thing I suggested we film, which would help do that, would be the Stasi prison, because I felt that all the players in your book had an understanding they didn’t necessarily admit to. It wasn’t necessarily vocalised, it wasn’t necessarily even consciously present, but there was a threat; there was a greater threat than we understand in our society today. So for me, context is establishing not just the actual threat that those theatre practitioners in the book were faced with, but the broader threat that influenced society, the thing that kept society operating in a certain way when perhaps that society probably knew it shouldn’t.

What do you make of the fact that the theatre practitioners downplayed that threat when we were talking to them?

It was really interesting. I think that, to a degree it’s because, as Manfred Karge says in his interview, theatre was really important to the GDR, hugely important. I think that this is what gave them that freedom, to a degree, to put that threat and risk to one side on the whole or to not consciously feel it.

There are some ‘ordinary’ people from the GDR who say pretty much the same thing: we lived ordinary lives…

Yeah, and we would do the same thing. We’re talking here in your flat in Edinburgh. If there was a grey area on the map, two streets down, you would still get up in the morning, you would still eat your breakfast, you would still do your shopping – that doesn’t stop the threat existing and you being aware of it, you know.

I think that what Maik Hamburger said was really interesting, about how people have a thick skin towards different things, depending on what their society is like.

I think that’s true. And it’s not just a thick skin, I would say. It’s also blinkers you choose to put on because you have to. There’s no way, if you know certain things – nobody’s going to know unless they’ve been to prison or they know somebody who’s been to prison. Nobody’s going to know in the same way we know. We’re very privileged from the future looking into the past, because we know much more than the people who lived in that time knew and there’s no way they could have known to the degree that we know. They could only have suspicions and be feeling a threat. They wouldn’t know absolutely what that threat was necessarily.

Unless the Stasi chose to make them aware of it, which it sometimes did…


III The film and the play

One of the things I find really interesting about this project is: we’ve got Peter on one hand and you on the other. You’re interacting with each other, of course, but you’re also engaging in your own ways with the same set of materials. How does that look from your perspective? Do you find you’re interested in the same sort of stories as he is? Or different ones?

Well it’s interesting because normally what I do as a documentary filmmaker is stand back and shut up and just ask questions where I feel it’s necessary. This isn’t that project. For this one I’ve been invited to give my opinion on numerous occasions, and I have given my opinion on numerous occasions. So there’s the filmmaker part of me who’s on one side and there’s the person full of opinion on the other side. And I really enjoy both sides. But for the first time, the two are working together, which is quite strange, because normally when you’re making films, you are the confessor who says nothing, the non-member of the family, the non-close friend who they can say things to they can’t say to people closer to them. So this time I’m not in that role, and so the opinionated side of me is slightly frustrated, because it thinks: ‘Oh, this should happen, it should be like this!’ But then I’ll realise I can’t do that because the film can’t take that line, you know.

Another thing that strikes me is that circumstances also played a quite significant factor in this project as well: as Peter was ill and wasn’t able to come with us to Berlin, that meant that we were following our own noses, as it were. So I feel that some of the stories and narratives we were following there haven’t struck Peter in the same way that they struck us. Do you share that sense?

Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting thing. It’s a novel thing in so many ways and I’m learning so much from it and this is what makes it really interesting. It doesn’t necessarily make the film any better, but it’s just really interesting in the sense that in Berlin the intention was – or I think your intention was – that to give Peter a sense of the lived experience, to meet people. So there’s the book and the information is presented in the book that you’ve written to an academic audience. And it’s very well written and very well expressed, but it can’t tell it on that human level.

I think there are human stories in there, but I’d have written it in a different way if I’d been aiming it at a wide, non-academic audience.

Yes. And sometimes meeting a person absolutely changes your understanding of that story or that information.

The interviews were also meant to give Peter a chance to talk as a playwright to other theatre practitioners, with that sort of professional rapport. So the interviews would have worked very differently if he’d been there.

And I was quite nervous about that because it would mean filming – just with one camera – the interviewees, you, and Peter, and I just didn’t know how I’d manage that. And so there was a bit of me where I was just taking a leap into the unknown which, again, is something that you have to do and sometimes it fails, you know.

Well, I would have been taking that leap too in a sense, because I would have been providing the simultaneous translation. I can do that, but it reduces by half the amount that you can actually get through in a conversation.

Yes, it does, and actually I now know Peter much better, so I know that he loves to discuss philosophical questions, points of interest, politics. And actually, you know, it wouldn’t have been possible to capture all of that because it just would’ve been really difficult. He would’ve had a great time, the theatre practitioners would have had a great time, but managing the material on your part and managing the material on mine would just have been crazy.


IV Low budget filming

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Filming at the Deutsches Theater. Photo: LB.


Let’s think back to that trip to Germany. So we were in Berlin, Dresden, and Bautzen, and obviously you’ve made lots and lots of films and TV programmes for the BBC, but then you would have had a huge crew working with you.

Not necessarily huge, but a crew!

And your crew this time consisted of Rebecca, who was wonderful, but was one person. How did all of that feel from your perspective?

Well, you know, sometimes it feels great because it means you’ve got that freedom to think on your feet. The thing about having a crew with you is they want to know what they’re doing and they want you to tell them what they’re doing and they all want to know where they need to be and so really, I think Richard Attenborough said it really well: with the bigger things, it just becomes a set of decisions that you have to make and articulate. That’s what directing is. And, actually, without all that, directing becomes much more about what’s in front of you: it means you can really pay attention to what’s being said, although quite often it was in German or quite often I misunderstood what was said completely. On the whole, I could get the gist of it, but in between I could get the intonation and I could see… And also, what’s wonderful for me is being able to just go and film Berlin and go and capture things that will set a mood for the film, that will illustrate the place and the feel for it. So there’s that. And because it’s the nature of the University project, it’s up to me to make that work in the end. It’s not like I’ve got a producer breathing down my neck saying: ‘why didn’t you get this?’, ‘why didn’t you get that shot?’, or ‘why is this out of focus?’ and all the rest of it, you know. So I take risks in that way, but I know I have to manage it, and I trust myself on that level. So for me it works much better than having a crew. And also some of the spaces we were in, imagine if there had been four or five of us: it just would’ve been really difficult!

For example, we were in Evi Günther’s office there, that’s a small office, a nice small office, but still pretty packed.

Yes, pretty packed and lots of people saying: ‘what do you want me to do? where do you want me to go? how shall I do this?’ I mean…


Dramaturge Eveline Günther (right), in her office with her husband, the actor Michael Lorenz. Film still: SK.


You were talking about capturing Berlin and, obviously the interviews in a way were quite a small part of what we were trying to do there. You introduced me to the abbreviation GV, for example…

General Views. And you can never have enough of them. I took lots of shots of Brecht’s statue outside the Berliner Ensemble, because I feel that Brecht is an underlying – he’s not necessarily conscious, but he’s always present in the discussion in some way or other. So things like having that imagery, having the Berliner Ensemble, and I’ve just been editing Manfred Karge, who’s describing being in Helene Weigel’s office and just having that sense of ‘here we are now’ makes you feel how recent the history was. And so that and having shots to cover all that and then just that sense of Berlin is really important, I think, because pictures can tell us, rather than me having to explain something in voiceover or you having to explain it in interview or the rest of it, I can put up a shot of that picture on the wall in Bernauer Strasse. I can put up a picture from there, they’ve got a big picture saying 1961 and the wall’s being built – that does the job for me. So that’s what you need that imagery for.

And I think it’s really important that we also left Berlin and went to Dresden and Bautzen to get a sense of the GDR being more than just East Berlin, and to get a sense of the theatre cultures in different places.

I think that’s really important. I have no idea how we’re going to make that work in the film at the moment! I’m already 45 minutes in and I only feel like I’m five minutes into the story, so, you know, it’s going to be tough!

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Brecht’s statue outside the Berliner Ensemble. The Brecht quotation on the banner reads: ‘Apart from this star, I thought, / There’s nothing. And it’s so ruined. / It’s our sole refuge, and that’s / How it looks.’ Photo: LB.


V Searching for the story

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Susan and Rebecca in a field outside Bautzen… Photo: LB.

We had to traipse across a frosty field to get a particular shot of Bautzen when the sun was setting. Is it difficult to get a shot that you’ve worked really hard for and to leave it on the cutting-room floor?

It’s not difficult because what I love about the edit – what I really love – is the telling of the story, and finding the way the story comes together. So what really matters is what tells the story and what matters is that you have the shots you need. So that’s why you shoot from dawn till dusk, that’s why you shoot everything you possibly can, because it gives you that possibility in the edit, when the story takes you in an unexpected direction to think: ‘ooh, I’ve got that shot’, or ‘ooh, I can use this’, which is the joy of it.

But how do you get from masses of material – and you have got masses of material – to the final edit? How much have you got so far, do you reckon?

It would be too scary, it would be too bloody scary.

But you’re on your third hard drive, aren’t you…

I’m on my third 6TB hard drive, yes.

How do you get from that mass of material to the story arc that you want for the documentary?

Well, I suppose it’s probably not dissimilar to the processes you go through. Say, for example, if you’re doing your research and you’re reading lots and lots of material, there’ll be things that stick out in your mind, so you take notes about those as little reminders. It’s not dissimilar to that. And then, from those I’ll pull those threads and see what comes of it. And then there’s a certain amount where you think ‘if it hasn’t stuck with me, it’s not worth it’, but then sometimes the story, when you’re putting things down that you’ve planned, you think: ‘ooh, vaguely in my memory, I remember something that might be useful here.’ So what I do to refresh my memory on the whole is: I go through all the material and log it, which means I just do one line descriptions about what was discussed in this section, what was discussed in that section. Which is harder when they’re in German, but at least I’ve got a script!

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Bautzen at sunset, December 2014. Photo: LB.

VI The filmmaker’s moral compass

You shot a range of documentaries when you were at the BBC. I know you did a six-part series about life in a hospital, for instance. So you’ve dealt with some quite sensitive material before, and you’re used to navigating ethical issues. What do you think the key things are for you on this film?

It’s really interesting because my general rule of thumb is that common sense is much the best tool in terms of considering these things. Having a moral compass that you trust of your own and then using common sense within that, which is, you know, it’s about telling the truth, basically, but it’s not about misdirecting or misinforming or taking things in a direction that wasn’t intended. And I think in documentary what that means is that I will edit and change what people say, but I will not change the meaning of what they say.

Also, people will allow you to film and then change their mind, and I won’t let that happen. If people change their mind about filming, it’s usually because they’ve agreed to filming thinking everything’s going to be great, everything’s going to look fantastic, I’m going to look like such a good person, I’m going to come across really well, and then something happens that makes them go ‘oh, wait a minute, it would be better if that maybe didn’t happen, because that doesn’t show me in a good light.’ I’m still going to use that material, because the point with a documentary is not just to create hagiographies about people or the world we live in. It’s about telling truths. But I’ll do it fairly and I won’t misrepresent a situation, and I won’t over-dramatise it in the scheme of things.

You said you might change what people said, but you wouldn’t change the meaning. So I guess an example of that might be shortening a sentence, just as you might put ellipses in if you were quoting from a book?

Exactly, yeah. Absolutely. Or if I feel somebody was struggling to say something that they didn’t quite articulate, I’ll sort of make it work in a way that I think they meant. And usually that’s right. People never guess that you’ve edited them.

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The Kleines Haus of the Staatsschauspiel Dresden, where we interviewed the director Klaus Dieter Kirst. Photo: LB.


What about the juxtapositions of the Stasi material with the interviews? This is something that proved controversial in the reading at Òran Mór.

One of the things that I thought might be useful for the film was when Peter suggested that he was going to work verbatim with the transcripts. Why that was exciting for me was because I felt that the original suggestion of a fictionalised account was good, but it was fairly standard. There was nothing really exciting or innovative in a way. It was good and it would have been engaging and entertaining, but then when he started to talk about verbatim theatre, I was thinking: ‘oh my gosh, that’s a really interesting take on it’. And because he had experience in verbatim and because we had Nicola McCartney as a dramaturge, who had experience of verbatim I just thought this is really interesting. Not necessarily that the end product would be a verbatim play – I never once thought that – but what this would reveal about the creative process. Then I starting thinking, ‘oh, for the film, that’ll work too!’ But what was really interesting about when it came together and when I saw the first draft, my first thought was that I could see where he was going: what he was wanting to do was place material together in a way that makes people take a deep breath and go ‘ooh, what was that?’, and that’s a really dramatic thing to do and I could see that was the intention. And then when we went to the rehearsed reading and heard it read out, I didn’t really feel that. I didn’t really expect to because it was a first reading, and there were lots of people there and they were seeing it for the first time. I felt a bit disappointed, but I knew it was a first draft that needed lots of work, and Peter had been very clear that he was using Brechtian rehearsal techniques where the cast do the read-through for the first audience and Brecht would ask them to say what surprises them. So I’m really glad he left a lot of editing till then. So I wasn’t really worried about it. And I know that subsequently we’ve discussed lots the ethical considerations of juxtaposing moments from the interviews with the Stasi prison tour, and I’ll come back to that. But I just want to finish this thought in the first instance:

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Peter directing the cast at Òran Mór. Photo: LB.


What happened next was that the actors wanted to find characters, because on the page, the characters weren’t there so they wanted to find characters. And I said at one point, when one of them was doing a fake German accent: ‘oh, that’s quite interesting because he spoke with a cut-glass English accent’, and so I just thought, ‘oh well’. I hadn’t realised that they latched on to that as it was a bit of information about characters.

They were looking for a way of differentiating the Havel character that that actor played from the dramaturge character he was playing. You know: searching for something that would be able to differentiate between those two voices.

And then what happened was that they found something else in that, they found a bit of luvviedom in the theatre practitioners. And all theatre practitioners have a bit of essence of luvviedom in them, of course they do. But then it became amplified and we were all quite enjoying it, but it never felt like it was something – it just felt like it was part of the development, part of a search for characters. So when it was performed, I was filming the performance of the reading and I remember at one point looking around going, ‘what are they laughing at?’  So I thought something odd was going on in that audience and I remember thinking that at the time and I remember not thinking any more of it. And then it came to the question and answer session afterwards and I remember the first questioner put their hand up and said, ‘I’ll start. I don’t think you’re going to like what I’m going to say, but,’ and I’m paraphrasing: the first questioner said that you weren’t taking this seriously, the real people’s experiences you weren’t taking seriously. And of course that really offended Peter, I think. And I think, at the heart of what she was saying, she had a good point, because also my friend was there and she said there was something not quite right. But this became quite a difficult moment, because it seemed: you haven’t taken them seriously; or you can’t have humour or… But actually, when I was watching the reading of his material, a couple of juxtapositions did make me go ‘woah!’, which I hadn’t felt previously. I felt that’s really effective. I’ve read it, I’ve seen the first reading, and still, I’m going ‘woah, that’s a really strong thing, that’s a really strong statement to make!’ And I think, ultimately, that’s what drama has to do: it has to shock you into making these realisations and so therefore if it were to go forward as verbatim, past the development stage, then that would be the stage where I would then engage more with my contributors, because we are using a juxtaposition which could be – I mean, you would have to do it carefully. There was no indication in the first draft of what we’ve just talked about: that the [prison guide] knew the detail about some of the things that the [theatre practitioners] could not have known the detail about. So if there was to be another draft, I would have thought it needed to be carefully managed and then the draft would have to be shown to them – not necessarily to seek their permission, but to throw up any issues they may have with it, to see if we agree with them, if anything was unexpected, or just to take their point of view on board and see what the effect would be. But it didn’t come to that, because the verbatim, I think, reached its end because of that, you know.

And it was intended initially to be just a stage in the development towards a fictional script…

I’m interested in what you said about the function of those contrasts and juxtapositions in the play, and the way they were used to create moments of drama. Is that going to be the case in the film?

A film doesn’t have to do drama. It has to tell a story, which is a different kettle of fish.

I think another difference is that you have the people there actually speaking themselves, and their own voices not being mediated by an actor who has never met them. I think that was probably another issue with the verbatim script, that Peter hadn’t met these people. He’d had the audio recordings and he’d had the transcripts, but he hadn’t actually met them.

And I still don’t disagree with the fact that, you know, if you’re going to do this sort of verbatim theatre, perhaps you shouldn’t, because in some ways you’ve got to create a response to it. And actually if the response – you know, the response of that audience member is actually quite right: suddenly, half of these people, she understands them, you know, she’s with them, and that’s a really good response, which, if you had done it differently, maybe you wouldn’t get that sense of ‘wait a minute, I know these people, what they do…’

So how do you see the types of material sitting alongside each other?

Well I’m looking at it completely differently, obviously in the film. And I’m still developing it. And I do a little bit further down, where Peter discovers the potential of verbatim. I happen to be filming at that moment where he really discovered the potential of verbatim, and he placed a few things together and he got really excited and so then I intercut between what he’s doing and the people. But in the film, we’ve already seen them, most of them, and heard them, so it doesn’t have the same shock.


Prison cell at Hohenschönhausen. Film still by SK.


And what about the prison testimony being juxtaposed alongside the theatre testimony?

Well it’s quite interesting you know, because there’s an early stage in the film – and it could change – where Peter’s looking at your book and he goes: ‘you know, it’s interesting, nobody goes to prison in here.’ And I think it’s this – it comes in as part of his verbatim and it comes in as part of our experience in Berlin. At the moment, I’m testing those different things out so I don’t know quite yet how it will appear. I mean, it will definitely appear, because Jessica took us around the Stasi prison – and she was brilliant! – and, in terms of engaging a wider audience, it’s the same. You can see it in terms of performance when Janette Foggo, the actress who was reading the part of the prison guide in the script, she delivered without any real pantomime or performance or anything, she didn’t really make any particular distinction; she just read it very quietly, and the power of that in that theatre space was amazing. When the Stasi prison scenes were being read, you could hear a pin drop. So I do know that sort of context really engages a wider audience. The question is for me, you know, how to place it in balance.

Because that’s the challenge, isn’t it? What a couple of the theatre practitioners talked about, and what was really important for me in writing the book, was this sense of nuance, and getting away from the idea that the story of GDR theatre was just a story of conflicts – showing that negotiation was just as important, that there were people in the authorities who were trying to help theatre practitioners create certain productions, and that roles weren’t fixed: people changed sides, they played different roles in different disputes. And obviously nuances aren’t very dramatic, are they? How do you go about trying to capture nuances?

Well, that’s all there in the film. That’s all done.

How have you done it? Without giving too much away…

That’s all there in the first twenty minutes, so then I’m free to go.

I see what you mean. You use it to set up the parameters.

I might. I don’t know how I’ll do it yet, but the only way I’ll do it is having established that, so I don’t misrepresent events. I’ve no interest in that. It’d be pointless for me to engage people with a film that misrepresented their experiences. They didn’t experience the prison. But it didn’t mean it didn’t exist. It did exist too, so, you know, it’s not about telling the story differently because it might be more interesting. It’s hard to explain, but at the moment anyway, all that stuff that you’re concerned about is in the first block, which frees me up.

I think it’s interesting to see how these challenges play out in one medium and how they play out in another. That’s another advantage of the project: having those two pieces of work at the end as the end result.


VII Taking the film to audiences

Who do you think would be interested in your film? Who are you aiming it at?

That’s a really interesting part of the edit, because I have two people who are my testers and they’re very good. It’s tempting for me to make something that’s going to engage an – I talk about it in circles. There’s the academic sphere, then there’s the first circle around that sphere, and they’re more or less the same, they’re more or less academic. And there’s a lot of academics engaging with that first film [Nort Atlantik Drift] constantly. It’s been at the Filmhouse, discussions, and all that. That’s not who I want to get. There’s the second sphere around that, where there’s people who’ve been to tertiary education, who are engaged with wider reading and broad subjects and, you know, those people. I want to get them and I want to see if I can push it a bit beyond that and get people who wouldn’t normally engage with anything to do with this sort of thing, even if it was a play or researching the former GDR or that kind of stuff. And, you see, this is the challenge that I’ve got, because Jessica, who took us around the Stasi prison, she’s somebody who would pull people in, you know. And so I need to find a way of doing a little teaser at the start where there’s Jessica, you know, and then come back to her later, I think. We’ll see.


Jessica Alcazar, who showed us round the former Stasi prison at Hohenschönhausen. Film still: SK.


And what are your ambitions for the film?

Erm, I want to finish it!

When do you think it’s going to be ready?

Well, the thing is with these projects, somebody said, I can’t remember who it was: ‘films are never finished, they’re just abandoned’. And it’s probably the same with most work. There’s a point you have to get to, where you go ‘right, I have to put this down and move on’. I mean, I think it’s going to be one of those. but I have to finish it for the post-production because we don’t have the luxury of a huge amount of money for post-production, which means I have to do it when it suits them. So I’ve got those dates, so I have to get it finished for then.

And I guess that’s another example of circumstance affecting things, because we had to move our tour of readings, didn’t we, from June to September because Peter’s illness set him back just by a month or so with the script, so the film’s going to end with the Fringe in August and then go into production in September.

Yeah. So, given the amount of material I’ve got, it would be silly of me to try and tell more of the story anyway than that, because if I want to take people with us I’ve got to try and keep this narrative fairly clean and straightforward. I mean, it’s not; it’s never going to be clean and straightforward. But, you know, it can’t go to a tour as well as the Fringe; it just wouldn’t function in terms of the narrative. Sense has to prevail.

But you were talking about entering it at festivals?

Ideally. I don’t like to pre-empt that because you just don’t know. It’s either going to be very niche or people are going to be interested. It’s going to be very niche. So I’ll definitely submit it to film festivals and see what the uptake is.

And we definitely want to show it in Scotland and we would love to take it back to Berlin to the people whose story it is.

That would just be brilliant.

And not just Berlin!


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Dresden and the River Elbe as dusk falls in December. Photo: LB.

VIII Post-production

And could you just tell us a little bit about what’s involved in post-production? What happens when the film leaves your hands?

In the old days, you would work with an offline editor; you would sit next to them, as director, and have all your paper edit and tell them what you want and test things out, try it out and it would normally take about eight weeks.

So does a paper edit basically set out on paper exactly what’s in the film?

Yes, you’d have transcripts of all your interviews and you’d have descriptions of all your trips that you’d made and you’d do a paper edit of all those things before you go in to edit. And the reason for that is that the offline edit costs a huge amount of money. I mean, it would cost you about £1500 a week for an offline edit, at least. We, however, are doing away with that because we don’t have the money, so I’m doing that myself. And so I’m getting it to the stage where the story’s all told and we get to the point where it’s in picture lock, which means I won’t make any more edits to the material in terms of cutting the narrative and picture. That’s picture lock. Then we go to an online edit, which is where somebody much more technically capable than I will make the colours all match and make sure all the cuts are working fine and we’ll also take it to a sound dub. I’ve recorded lots of different sound in lots of different locations and the sound dubber is a bit of a genius, and he’ll make it all sound even with no little glitches, no little bits and bobs, and all the rest of it. That’s that. And then that means the viewer is not taken away from the narrative by a sort of moment of technical disturbance.

And when do Peter and I get to see it?

I’ll show it to you, Peter, and Nicola, I think before it goes to post-production, so before it goes to picture lock. And it’ll be as complete as it can be, because people are not used to watching a rough film. They find it very difficult to actually see it. They say they can, but they can’t…

Well, I don’t see why we would be able to, because we have no knowledge of what happens during that post-production process.

Exactly. So no matter how much they explain to you it’s a rough, and it’s not quite finished yet and this and this, people say: ‘ooh, the sound was a bit odd in that bit’, or they’ll say something that you know is a consequence of the sound being a bit off.

And I think the documentary would lose its naturalness if Peter and I were to see any of the footage before you reached that stage.

Well, I wouldn’t do it, because it doesn’t make any visual sense until it’s edited. And, actually, what it can do is set up lots of concerns that are, you know, unnecessary.

I think it’s also important in terms of the process of being filmed. You’re so good at interviewing; you make it feel very natural and very conversational. And I think, for that to work, it’s important for you to maintain the fiction that you’re not pointing a camera in my face.

Definitely. And I think for everybody who’s on screen, it’s really difficult, you know, and you will find it difficult. And also being the author of the source material adds another level of difficulty. but you’re not its audience and that’s the thing you have to remember: it’s not for you or the likes of you.

No, I’d imagine it would be a case of correcting factual inaccuracies. So, for example, if the wrong date was given, or…

Yeah, there’s a degree where, you know, some things maybe could be expressed differently on the page, say, but the sense is there and it’s fine. So some things can’t be changed. If somebody’s said something incorrectly, it can’t be changed if you want the sense of the general point, you know. I’ve noticed one of those, but for me, it’s fine, because it’s not inaccurate, it’s just: if you were writing it down, you’d express it slightly differently.

But you don’t want us to be speaking as if we’re reading words from a page anyway.

Exactly. And when people are passionate and all the rest of it, they might say something slightly wrong or correct themselves or all the rest of it. So it’s not about pinpoint accuracy, but you definitely don’t want things to be wrong. The other thing that’s going to be really useful is once I’ve done the subtitling, to make sure I’ve put the right English words to the right German ones!

So what’s your next project going to be? I’m assuming that this experience hasn’t put you off…

Well the next one starts – they’re like buses, they all come at once, and, sadly, you’ve got to take them when you can. It’s interesting because these last two ones have been motivated by starting with the research and what I’m trying with this one is starting with the opportunity where external partners like the British Film Institute and the BBC and Creative Scotland are all really engaged and thinking the subject matter, which is Antonia Bird – a filmmaker who died in 2013 – is of great value. You know, we do not have enough women who are filmmakers in this world to throw any of them away and she has been thrown away at the moment, wrongly. And so there’s a chance to correct that and so I’m going to be making a documentary that will be shown on the BBC at the same time as the British Film Institute. But I also want to start broader scholarly engagement with her work on lots of levels. She’s a deeply interesting filmmaker for scholarship to consider and to do that, there needs to be more information about her available, more access to materials. So that’s really important to me. So I’d like to come at it from another way, which is not necessarily that the research doesn’t exist, but to get things going. Because I think it will be a really rich seam.

That sounds fantastic! Good luck with it!

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Susan and Rebecca in Helene Weigel’s former office at the Berliner Ensemble, where we interviewed the actor, director and playwright Manfred Karge. Photo: LB.