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Johan Grimonprez, Foto: Jean Pierre Stoop

You became known through your film essay Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y and other films like Looking for Alfred and Double take which all explore questions surrounding identity and doubling, fear and anxiety and draw on political incidents and the history of filmmaking. Would you consider this to be the main aspect of your art, what interests you most?

First of all, maybe what’s interesting to explain is that indeed in those films I always try to make a position between a polictical backdrop and an intimate story.  What´s important in dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y is a dialogue between a terrorist and a novelist and the novelist contends: “the terrorist has taken over my role within society because he’s able to play the media much better. But the film itself goes further where even the terrorist or the hijacker has been hijacked by the media, so the mainstream media is a third factor in this film. In Double Take it´s a conversation of Hitchcock vs. Hitchcock, Hitchcock is having a conversation with himself, with his double, and it´s set against the political backdrop of the Cold War. And you see Hitchcock on the verge of meeting another Hitchcock, while Nikita Khrushchev is already sending missiles to Cuba. And by the moment this conversation is actually finished, the whole Cuban missile crisis breaks in the open, practically the first nuclear standoff between two superpowers. But I like how the intimate conversation of one Hitchcock vs. the other Hitchcock where one says: “If you meet your double, you have to kill him”, becomes a murder plot that comes to stand as a metaphor for the first televised summit between two superpowers represented by Khrushchev vs. Nixon and Khrushchev vs. Kennedy. And it goes back and forth between them and they sustain each other. It´s very much Hitchcock´s strategy where there is a political story like in North by Northwest and there is a love interest and they are prevented from getting close to each other because of the political backdrop, so there is a stand-off between the two story lines and I like that sort of clash. But also I like when things are told in a very contradictory way, for example, it was François Truffaut who pointed at the fact that Hitchcock portrays his embraces as a murder and his murders were portrayed as sort of an embrace, as a love act. I like how you can get to a subject through it´s complete opposite and that´s sometimes more revealing and more painful, it´s what we call a subtext. If a man and a woman share a kiss on screen and you zoom out and you see the woman has a knife behind her back, that´s the subtext and suddenly you read into the act in a different way and so the stories and the themes, even in political documentaries, they´re structured in a way where something else slips in, where something else is revealed.

I feel like my most recent film, Shadow World, shows that the industry of fear has a huge hold on our imagination and the examination in Shadow World is very much an exploration in the global arms trade which of course is being fueled by the fear industry itself, it shows how the culture has come to dominate us. But then again, the theme of love or community slipped in through the backdoor.

KINO DER KUNST shows fiction, new forms of narration –storytelling is also an important aspect of your work. Can you point out how you deal with this?

The film Shadow World opens with a quote from Eduardo Galeano: We´re not made of atoms, we´re actually made of storytelling. And in a sense, in politics and in the way we construct our own identity, storytelling is always involved. Even if political storytelling sometimes involves manipulation – such as the famous weapons of mass destruction -, stories are a way we stand in the world.“What I like about stories is that they implicate the other, the sense of otherness or community, you dialogue with the other and it sort of creates a reality, in essence, that the poetry of storytelling is trying to make sense of a world we share. Of course, as a filmmaker, you deal with storytelling. In dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y it´s the storyteller vs. the terrorist who is embodying the political role, it´s the poet vs. the politician caught in a double bind, and in that film my role as the filmmaker was embodying both. 

You often refer to Walter Benjamin, Jorge Luis Borges, or Don DeLillo. Do you consider them as an exeptional inspiration for you?

Almost every film I made so far is a collaboration with a writer, so it´s a bouncing back and forth between those writers and me, it´s a dialogue. Reading philosophy and books, but not only that, even commercial breaks for example, those are all inspirations, my tool box is pretty wide, but is precisely exploring the boundaries of what storytelling could mean. My tool box contains as much philosophy as politics as literature, it´s trying to make sense of the world and the political story we take on. And of course, if a big part of your tool box is storytelling, you don´t have to reinvent, storytelling is like a forest that we all roam and wander in. Jorge Luis Borges says literature is a forest where we can get lost, with a density of trees, with many books, with many writers and it´s a way of getting lost in literature. And for me, every time I start working on a film, it´s similar, getting lost to find yourself. 

What's the state of the medium „film“ in the world of art according to you? Where do you think it is heading?

Well it´s true that sometimes distributors are a bit afraid because they want to make their returns. They are afraid of stories that might not sell hugely and in the film and TV world that is being embraced. In contrast, certain filmmakers have been able to fund a different kind of storytelling through the art world not bound by the same constraints, so there is a kind of change that has happened. But with Shadow World, it´s a bit different, it suddenly has a bigger budget and a bigger audience. There is a bit of a crossover from the mainstream media to the art world and vice versa. 

dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y was funded by Centre Pompidou and documenta X in Kassel and it was only afterwards that it crossed over to the TV world and was acquired by the channel ARTE. So, I wouldn’t categorize my films and say they either belong in the art world OR the film world, I very much question what those boundaries are. For example, regarding dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y: It was shown at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival and they said: “This is not a documentary, this is art.” And in the same week, curator Jan Hoet was watching it for an exhibition and he said: “This is not art, this is a documentary.” People read into things in a different way. dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Yand Double Take question what documentary and fiction is all about and the crossing between it. This clash opens the genres and the places where films are shown. 

In 2017 KINO DER KUNST will focus on the present. As an artist working on film and socially relevant subjects, how do you perceive the rapidly changing present?

As a matter of fact, for Shadow World we focused on Iran, and then we were surpassed (we started working on the film 2011/2012) by the conflict in Syria. So by mid 2013 we had to change the direction of our story towards Syria. We were trying to run behind reality. As a joke, one could say that media has to catch up with reality  but you could state today that reality now has to catch up with media because our image culture has become so big that our reality collapses, so that we have to catch up with those pictures. 



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