YIDFF 2007 Facing the Past—German Documentaries
The Wall
An Interview with Jürgen Böttcher (Director)

What Is Historic Takes on New Meanings

Q: What was your intention in that shot of quietly showing just the Wall?

JB: I wanted to give the viewers a sensation of being present at where it was happening. That was why I made it a long shot. I also wanted them to feel the sound that was really there, so I didn’t add any music to it. The protagonist of the film is the Wall. You only see the Wall partially, only a part of it. As if it was a tombstone.

Q: The East Germans apparently thought of the Wall as a monument, didn’t they?

JB: It was an enormous presence in the life of the East Germans. In East Germany, they called it the Defense Wall. Those who were actually separated by the Wall probably wanted to keep it as a monument, I guess. However, for West Germany, it was an obstacle in their urban planning, so they wanted to remove the entire Wall for re-development. There was this kind of discrepancy in thinking between East and West.

Q: People connected with the Wall were very comical. Did you originally plan to depict them this way?

JB: Not at all, as it is purely a documentary film. I was there for months between 1989 and the spring of 1990, and I just filmed whatever caught my interest. Anything that struck me as interesting or beautiful made me want to film it. I never gave them any directions as to what they should do. Image is not something that explains, it appeals to senses. While I worked as a director and gained experience in film production in East Germany, I probably developed an attitude of not explaining by image. In the past images were used as tools to communicate ideologies. To avoid this, I shun interviews with people. I’ve learned that if you are careful about that, then you can get down to the essence of our existence. People may be used to television, but television explains all too quickly, and uses short shots. To me it’s an inflation of information vis-à-vis the human spirit, and I don’t want to do that sort of thing myself.

Q: It has been almost twenty years since it was made. What do you think is the significance of showing it now?

JB: I think a documentary that tells the truth is extremely valuable. I couldn’t say the same about documentaries that only capture the surface of things. The ones that tell the truth may be forgotten temporarily, but if you see them, or show them, ten years, or a hundred years later, they can make even greater impressions, I think. When you see your late grandfather’s photograph years after his demise, a new meaning is added to it. The collapse of the Wall was a big historic event. Those who had tried to escape from East to West had been killed there, and it had the Nazis and war in its past. Because it has such great historic importance, it appeals a lot, speaks a lot to people, even twenty years later. What is historic never loses its value, but becomes more and more valuable, I think.

(Compiled by Shimizu Kai)

Interviewers: Shimizu Kai, Mineo Kazunori / Interpreter: Tanno Mihoko / Translator: Ann Yamamoto
Photography: Nishioka Hiroko / Video: Nishioka Hiroko / 2007-10-07