Philip Scheffner & Merle Kröger
The inspiring Masterclass that Philip Scheffner and Merle Kröger gave at Visions du réel in Nyon gave Filmexplorer the opportunity to discuss with them at length, the importance of the working process in their filmmaking, their treatment of the formal aspects of cinema, and their political commitment to denouncing the structural violence of our society amongst other topics.
Philip Scheffner’s filmic works bear witness to an original approach to documentary, as they are based on a long process of research that is partially shown in the end result of the work. His documentaries always contain a form of auto-documentary, which has to be sharply distinguished from the self-documentary, for it is not directly Philip Scheffner as a person and author to be involved in the films, but the film process and the film dispositive, therefore several persons – and several authors. In this respect, the opportunity for the Masterclass given at Visions du réel in Nyon was particularly inspiring because we could discover his collective beginnings with video making, in Berlin in the Nineties, when his close collaboration with Merle Kröger got underway.
This collective practice in the process of creation has probably got them used to working with an irreducible plurality of elements, which seems to relate particularly well to the specific way that they process the sounds, images and texts in their films. Here, all the elements of cinema are composed without aiming at a synaesthetic fusion, for we can always perceive them as distinct and relatively autonomous elements – sometimes as genuine “characters” in the films. The distances that remain between these elements create a formal openness of the filmic discourse that is essential to reinforcing the open treatment of their documentary topics. Questioning, discussing, and negotiating are clearly the flexible cornerstones of Scheffner & Kröger’s filmic language.
It is exactly through this combination of formal and open content that we find the source of the originality of their works. As spectators we are pushed far in our questioning, that is in our intellectual work, only insofar as the way we do it concerns nothing but the increase of our perceptual attention. In their films, what we do is “only” to better see (an image), better hear (a sound), better read (a text): the analysis is an intellectual journey as well as a physical one – an adventure that cannot but remain open to the plurality of experiences that each person is creating through the films.
Therefore, our filmic journey is often starting from a single fact or news article (typically taken from the banal world of the newspaper, Google, or YouTube) and then expanded upon in order to embrace global phenomena such as war or migration. The “local” fact becomes a paradigm of the global one, but at the same time – and this is a fundamental aspect of the journey – it shows how the global phenomena are effectively expressed and embodied through concrete facts and situations that concern us in a direct way. The filmic journeys following the path from the local to the global and all the way back again incite the urgency of (our) self-implication as political actors in the reality of our surroundings –because that path incessantly describes the many forms of that same structural violence that governs our society.
First published: April 26, 2018