Get­ting in­ti­mate with strangers is a skill doc­u­men­tary film­maker Reiner Holze­mer has per­fected. In an exclusive in­ter­view, he speaks to Im­ran Jalal about the art of be­ing in­vis­i­ble and bring­ing out the hu­man in ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing the reclu­sive Dries Van

Female (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

Doc­u­men­tary film­maker Reiner Holze­mer on the art of bring­ing out the hu­man in ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing the reclu­sive Dries Van Noten.

“The most chal­leng­ing thing (in doc­u­men­tary film mak­ing) is to win peo­ple’s trust and to make them feel com­fort­able in front of your cam­era. If you don’t achieve this, peo­ple will fall into an act­ing mode – this is not what you are in­ter­ested in as a doc­u­men­tary film­maker,” says Reiner Holze­mer.

Born in the south­ern Ger­man town of Ge­mu­nden in 1958, Holze­mer be­came hooked on mak­ing doc­u­men­taries af­ter as­sist­ing a friend who was a film­maker, and edit­ing his work in the ’80s. To­day, the Ger­man direc­tor’s name may not be on top-of-mind re­call, but his work ( Juer­gen Teller, Imag­ine, An­ton Cor­bijn: Most Wanted) has given us deep in­sights into the fash­ion world’s big­gest talents. His “por­traits”, as he de­scribes them, are char­ac­ter­is­tic for their slow and steady ap­proach, delv­ing in­ti­mately into each pro­tag­o­nist with­out the need for di­a­logue.

It’s a mo­tif that runs through­out his oeu­vre of 30 films. Holze­mer’s pro­files – of fash­ion, film and mu­sic pho­tog­ra­phers (Juer­gen Teller, Wil­liam Eg­gle­ston, An­ton Cor­bijn etc…), hard-hit­ting sub­jects such as the Nurem­berg tri­als (he made a film about Ray D’Addario, the Amer­i­can sol­dier who pho­tographed the tri­als), and off-kil­ter char­ac­ter groups like New York City’s cab driv­ers – have es­tab­lished his abil­ity to in­ti­mately trans­pose what’s cap­tured by the lens into the au­di­ence’s mind.

He chuck­les when you point out the irony of a lensman doc­u­ment­ing a fel­low artist. “I’m in­vis­i­ble in front of them. That’s why I usu­ally shoot alone; two peo­ple at max. I want to be very close to re­al­ity. You should never have more peo­ple be­hind the cam­era than in front of it,” he says.

That fly-on-the-wall phi­los­o­phy has paid off. He shares an anec­dote from his 2011 shoot with Juer­gen Teller. The Ger­man pho­tog­ra­pher, best known for his provoca­tive im­ages and long-time col­lab­o­ra­tion with Marc Ja­cobs and Vivi­enne West­wood, con­fessed to a dark mo­ment in his life, in re­la­tion to his al­co­holic fa­ther who com­mit­ted sui­cide at the age of 47.

“All of a sud­den, Juer­gen said, ‘Fol­low me, I will show you some­thing.’ Then he went into the for­est be­hind the house. We walked for more than 15 min­utes un­til we reached a hid­den sand hole. There, he sat down and told me that this was the place where he would hide from his fa­ther who treated him badly. It was a very sad mo­ment, and it hap­pened out of the blue,” says Holze­mer.

His lat­est work Dries, which makes its Sin­ga­pore de­but at A De­sign Film Fes­ti­val in Septem­ber, delves into one of fash­ion’s most ro­man­tic minds, Dries Van Noten. It’s the first time that Holze­mer has worked on a doc­u­men­tary strictly cen­tred on fash­ion, and the mys­tique of the dis­creet Van Noten was a cat­a­lyst for Holze­mer to pur­sue the film (and its sub­ject) for a num­ber of years.

As fate would have it, Holze­mer first met the An­twerp Six de­signer on the set of the Juer­gen Teller doc­u­men­tary. Teller was pho­tograph­ing Dakota Fan­ning in the gar­den of the de­signer’s An­twerp home for the De­cem­ber ’10 is­sue of Amer­i­can Vogue.

Get­ting Van Noten to agree, how­ever, was less straight­for­ward. Holze­mer started pen­ning let­ters to the de­signer as early as 2011 to con­vince him to be filmed. Van Noten didn’t say yes im­me­di­ately. In­stead, he in­vited the direc­tor sev­eral times to Paris to view his run­way shows. “He replied mostly say­ing that it would not be the per­fect mo­ment for him right now to do a doc­u­men­tary, but maybe later.” In all, it took three years, and even that coup (this would be the first Van Noten doc­u­men­tary) was no guar­an­tee that ev­ery­thing would be smooth sail­ing. “He’s a perfectionist,” Holze­mer says flatly.

For starters, the de­signer did not like too many cam­eras around. “He’s afraid that (cam­eras) might dis­turb or dis­tract his team at work.” Holze­mer’s strat­egy was to spend be­tween six and eight hours a day record­ing in the ini­tial stages of the project in or­der to warm Van Noten up to the idea of hav­ing a cam­era per­pet­u­ally around him. “If you switch your cam­era on and off , or if you leave it and come back again, you will never be­come the fly on the wall,” he ex­plains.

And rather than do­ing a bi­o­graph­i­cal piece based on a sin­gle col­lec­tion, Van Noten sug­gested that Holze­mer tag him for four full col­lec­tions to delve into his per­son­al­ity and work fully. At one point, Holze­mer felt he had enough ma­te­rial for a 90-minute fea­ture, un­til he found out the location of the Dries Van Noten Spring/Sum­mer ’16 col­lec­tion – the Palais Garnier in Paris. It was a set too beau­ti­ful too re­sist. In all, Holze­mer spent a full year gath­er­ing footage for his project, which in­cludes in­ter­views with other in­dus­try heav yweights such as Iris Apfel, Pamela Gol­bin and Suzy Menkes.

Ask him what the most in­ti­mate mo­ment in Dries was and he quickly points out to the mo­ment he cap­tured the de­signer cut­ting flow­ers in his gar­den. It was the same place where he first met Van Noten seven years ear­lier dur­ing that Dakota Fan­ning-Juer­gen Teller photo shoot.

“Dries would never call him­self an artist, but I think he is one. He is cre­ative in ev­ery as­pect of his life, no mat­ter if he is de­sign­ing clothes or if he is ar­rang­ing a flower bou­quet in his house,” he says. “He can spend hours do­ing this, and it is fas­ci­nat­ing to watch him in these cre­ative mo­ments. He re­minds me of Wil­liam Eg­gle­ston, who is able to stare at a cup of tea or at a cof­fee ta­ble for hours – only to find out how to make the best pho­to­graph of it. Only artists have this kind of sen­si­bil­ity for the beauty they see in ev­ery lit­tle de­tail… He was just so fo­cused and happy to make a bou­quet. You see that this is a per­son who loves the cre­ative process. That’s the true essence of his per­son­al­ity.”

In a way, the Holze­mer school of thought is a ri­poste to the brand of “hur­rah” plot that is ped­dled in most fash­ion doc­u­men­tary films. In Dries, there are no big melt­downs, no diva mo­ments, no lav­ish par­ties in the finale. In short, he does not fuss over a hap­pily ever af­ter end­ing – it’s a hu­man touch to film-mak­ing that he seeks.

“I want the au­di­ence to par­tic­i­pate in my ex­pe­ri­ence with the pro­tag­o­nist. I don’t want to teach them, I don’t have a ped­a­gogic ap­proach. Rather, I want to touch them with emo­tions, no mat­ter if it is joy or pain. In the end, I want to give the au­di­ence the feel­ing that they have met these peo­ple per­son­ally,” he says.

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