In the last 15 years you created more than 100 films examining human desire and "the portrayability of diverse sexual practices." In this time, what have you learned about this portrayability? How have your films and how you approach them changed over time?
That is a very big question. And difficult to answer on the basis of my more than 100 short films. Of course, it could be discussed using individual films as examples, but even that is difficult to formulate in the context of this interview since the readers have most likely not seen my films.
Probably, I have become much more open about what a film can be over the last 15 years. I used to be much stricter and more elitist in my thinking about what is right and what is wrong. And what defines a better film.
Looking back, I think that was a quite fearful, cowardly, and also discriminatory attitude. To a large extent I think I was able to free myself from this mindset.
I would also say that I am much more open to what is allowed to happen in front of my camera. Here too, I used to be stricter and had specific ideas and expectations. Accordingly, I was disappointed more often; and less open to surprises.
What I have learned about the portrayability of sexual practices is that my documentary method does not work equally well with every person. Hence, I don't find a “language” with every person. My way of creating is not productive for every place nor for every space. There is a fine line between the documentary observation of a sexual process and the production of images that are akin to pornography.
Your films are defined by a naturalism and clarity, as your camera captures intimate sexual encounters in a straight-forward and raw way. What drew you to this subject matter and how did you go about developing a style with which to shoot and edit your films?
I would most likely describe the basic attraction to this subject as a "desire to see" or "desire to get to know". Some call this voyeuristic, In a certain way, I find this term to be negatively connoted, and when linked with sexual themes, there is the implication that my act of watching creates arousal. But it does not do that.
I have always been interested in images that are not shown or are not allowed to be shown, often for moral reasons. That is a social dynamic: who determines what is shown and what can be seen. This brings into existence automatic representations and additionally under-representations, almost like image authorities. Often, I reacted to this with a lack of understanding and have therefore made films in order to make visible something that tends not to be shown.
How do you win the trust of the people you film? Many of your films focus on the gay scene, and on older men in particular. Is there a specific reason you focus on this demographic?
I do not try to generate calculated trust for a film. If you get closer on various levels, then it is good, if not, that is okay too. If people want to meet before the shoot, I am happy to do that. Otherwise, the majority of my films mark our first encounter. Without any prior knowledge or any research.
Of course, I make it transparent that I am a filmmaker and would like to show the film we are creating later on. I never put anything online, and the people involved decide in which cities and countries the films are allowed to be shown, in case they are selected by a festival there.
The fact that the majority of my films focus on bisexual and gay men has come about over the years. I always seek people from all age groups and genders for my films. With younger people, the reason they give for not wanting to be filmed, is that they are afraid their family or work might find out about certain sexual proclivities i.e. the participation in my film project could be connected to a certain loss or a fear of loss.
Why individual as well as older women do not appear in front of my camera, is something I can only assume. I cannot answer for others, they would have to give an answer themselves. Therefore, I always look for people who have a desire and their own motivation to show themselves in front of my camera. This is what I have tried to use as a starting point for our collaborative work.
With your focus on alternative sexual practices and fetishes like S&M bondage, prison-play, diaper fetishes and zoophilia, you present a counterpoint to conventional sexual practices. What do you hope your audiences will take away from your films?
That is completely open. Each person watching takes with them what they are willing and able to do. Some react with resistance. Some are grateful. That has to do with one's own social conditioning, personal experience, and practiced film perception. Every film functions as a mirror or source of friction or something like that. My films are no exception to other films.
Basically, I would claim that simply through the existence of my films, a certain expansion takes place. It is simply an awareness of what is out there. Some see that as a choice. Some pathologize it. Others see it as an expression of sexual self-determination. Of course I am happy, when an audience engages with my films and the characters and their stories. But I also have no problem if someone does not want to see my films because the images shown go beyond their boundaries. Just as my protagonists should be free to decide whether they want to be part of the film, the audience can do so as well.
And since I am not interested in propaganda films, it is also not natural to me to expect an audience leaving the cinema to feel positive about what what they just saw. However, I construct my films in such a way that there is the possibility to get close to what is depicted and to open up to the people and themes depicted.
Your films depict different power relationships and a negotiation of who gets to exert control and who is controlled. How do you in turn control the gaze of the camera, the way the viewers will watch the film?
As already answered in the previous question, I have only limited control over how my films are perceived. I try to create a basis so the images and narratives can be perceived openly and voluntarily. No emotions should be forced. For the audience the possibility should still exist that everyone is allowed to choose freely and emotionally.
At this point, I also give the responsibility to the audience, insofar it wants to adjudicate , to do so themselves. My films do not do that. And I trust the audience to navigate its own emotions and thoughts. Anything else would be patronizing and pedagogical.
Regarding the pictures, I try to approximate a neutral view over the years, which is actually utopian. But it is a good vantage point from which to observe without prejudice. The technical apparatus of the camera helps me with this. Especially with my focus and the choice of my image settings, the camera puts everything into perspective and neutralizes the value and the impact of some topics and images, with the goal of making them accessible. In the editing process and the dramaturgy, I attempt something similar: I actively try not to show a causality. Instead, I try to present the imagery on an equal footing. But of course, in my linear form of filmmaking, references automatically arise between the individual images and their narrative. I cannot escape that on a single screen.
But the films are, as I said, clear constructs. I build image settings and dramaturgy so that the film can be watched openly and voluntarily. And I control that.
In terms of content, however, it is always the people in front of the camera who decide what they want to do and say and what they do not want. Sometimes it is negotiated beforehand. If not, both sides suggest something and sometimes that matches, sometimes not. But most of the time what is shown in the film happens very spontaneously and in reaction to one another.
Now that you are filmmakers-in-residence at Deutsches Haus at NYU, how are you planning to spend your time in New York City? How will you continue working on current projects and what kind of new inspiration do you think you might seek in this city?
The way I understood the residency as a prize awarded at the Viennale Film Festival, it is a four-week stay in New York, without the pressure of having to have created a project by the end. So, I will use the stay in New York City together with my partner, to get to know the city and the people. It is my first time in New York and I would like to visit all the neighborhoods and of course the prominent sights as well. We will probably go to the movies a lot. See the parks. Eat a lot. Ride the ferry. And again, eating a lot and again going to the movies and again looking at all the different parts of the city.
I also have my camera with me. If a film is made, I will be happy. If not, that is okay too.
To what extent this stay in New York will influence my further cinematic work, I can only answer with time and hindsight.