3. In your film you focused on individual aspects of island life: a soccer team, a radio station, the plight of the local fishermen, and of course the mayor. Why did you choose this approach, and were there themes or threads that you would have liked to include, but that didn’t pan out?
I was asking myself: “what is very specific about Lampedusa?” There are a lot of stories that one could have told that are typical of a lot of islands, but I tried to combine both the aspects that are typical for Lampedusa, and those that make it possible for us, as outsiders, to connect to that life. I was asking myself who are the people, and what are the realities that can describe them. So there is for example the coming and going of reporters, and those different personalities that you can find only on Lampedusa. We as a team decided very early on that we didn’t want to go into the most private aspects of the lives of the people. It could have been an approach as well, and there are other filmmakers that decided to go that way, but we didn’t want to go inside the families or inside the private relationships, but to be in the semi-public, and public places where this very small society of just 5000 people is negotiating their approach, and their way of dealing with those problems.
On the one hand 90 minutes is a long period of time, on the other hand it’s so limited, so there are a lot of small details and big stories from the history of Lampedusa that I couldn’t include in the film. Especially because we made a conscious decision not to do interviews in a place where the inhabitants are probably one of the most interviewed in the world. I realized that interviews often lead to a kind of repetitive formula. In an interview people always tell their versions of the story, and project how they want themselves to be seen in the context. But accompanying and observing with the camera, the viewers will come to their own conclusions about the people they see in the film, and it requires more of the audience. With interviews, the audience is being told how to react; everything is prepared in small emotional messages; while in observational filmmaking, the viewers are confronted with the ambiguity, and the non-linearity, of life, and its contradictions.
4. Could you speak a bit about the filmmaking process? With such an extremely diverse “cast” of characters, how did you go about communicating with each other, and conveying the message you wanted to instill in the film? How were you able to establish the kind of mutual trust that is important in a project such as Lampedusa in Winter?
We worked very closely as a team with Stefania Schenk Vitale, who is an interpreter specializing in film, and who is in New York with me at the Erste Bank MehrWERT Prize Residency at Deutsches Haus at NYU. We worked in several set-ups, with livewires and so on, and Stefania became a kind of director’s assistant, and a close co-developer of the stories. Basically we learned that a balance of understanding and not understanding each other could help in getting to know the protagonists on a different level. There are scenes I decided to shoot without an interpreter, and scenes that couldn’t have been possible without her. It’s a fundamental question in observational documentary filmmaking, how to interact, and how the interaction continues while shooting. We became very close with almost all of our protagonists, and tried to go through a process where they also understood what it is that we’re doing. So it’s not so much a question of language, but also of trust. And in terms of trust, the discourse in documentary filmmaking is mostly how you can win over the trust of your protagonists, but I believe that the trust that you, as the filmmaker, have in your protagonists is much more important. Because if you don’t trust someone to be of importance, that the story of someone is interesting and worth being told, you will never develop a relationship that can conclude in a story.