February 27th, 2014 | Comments Off on Director Claus Drexel on his latest documentary Au Bord du Monde
Ahead of a screening of his latest film on homeless people in the streets of Paris, Au Bord du Monde, at the Glasgow International Film Festival, DocGeeks journalist Martin Parsons sat down with filmmaker Claus Drexel to discuss his foray into documentary making.
This is your first documentary film; before you made fiction films. Why did you change genres?
You never choose what film you want to make, and I don’t have a precise career plan. I just make the films that I want to make at this point in my life, and this idea of making a film about the homeless people in Paris has been in my mind for a long time. Because there are so many homeless people in Paris, all over the place – we see them everywhere but never hear them.
In order to get in touch with these people, you need a lot of time. My idea was to make a film where we give them the opportunity to speak out and listen to them. I didn’t really consider the question ‘documentary’ or ‘not a documentary’; it was just that I wanted to make this film.
After your initial idea, how did you know where to start?
My first idea was to take a camera and a mic and do this on my own. I had this in mind for several years and never, in fact, thought about really doing it, I just had it in my mind. Then one time I had lunch with a friend of mine, a producer, and I pitched him the idea and he said “ahh, it’s great, let’s do it!” But when I asked him when he thought we should do this he said: “Right away, let’s start today!”
At that time, however, I was staging St Matthew’s Passion in Paris so I told him that I needed a couple of months to finish it, and he said “okay, but the day after you finish that, we start the film” and I did.
How exactly did you find your subjects?
In the first place, I really want to start the film without any specific knowledge about life on the street. I read one book, but I didn’t want to read too many books about the subject, or watch documentaries. I didn’t want to be influenced too much by other people’s experiences.
The first two months we met many people, we walked through the city, and we did what they call ‘maraude’ with organisations that look after homeless people. They travel round Paris with their little truck and they go and meet people. So we did that and filmed inside shelters – we just wanted to discover this new world.
Then, after two months, I noticed that we should definitely not film with, or show, such institutions, because as soon as you start to show something other than the homeless people, this becomes the subject, not the people using them.
It was also at this time that I had been touched by many people, but especially by the people who were very lonely and who have a problem that goes beyond homelessness. You could give them a job, you could give them a nice apartment, but they will always come back because there is a deeper rooted issue at the heart of the problem. I then decided to make the film about these people, and we focused on them for ten months, shooting four to five nights a week.
How did you decide who you wanted as part of your crew?
I had the idea of making a very beautiful film, visually, and with great sound, it was impossible to do it alone. Even though I have worked a bit as a DP, I never wanted to do this professionally – I purely did it to learn the craft. But when you make a film like this one on your own, you need to take care of the camera, you have to focus on the focussing, so your mind is taken by the technical aspect of the filmmaking and not the human relationship which is the centre of this film. That’s why you could not have made this film by yourself.
We had this team which was a small as possible but as large as necessary. There were three of us, one person for the sound, the photographer Sylvain Leser, and me.
You said that you wanted to make this a beautiful film, and there is a lot of visual poetry in the film with beautiful midnight shots of Paris and the use of ‘Nessun Dorma’ at the end. Why did you think this important while covering such a bleak subject?
Well, there are many reasons. The first, most obvious reason, of course, was to show the incredible contrast between the beauty of Paris and the situation of these people and I want to strike the audience with that.
Every way to make a film is a choice. It’s always the responsibility of the filmmaker to decide how to make a film look, and over the years now it has become that when you make a film about poor people you have a poor image, and I don’t think that’s right. I mean, if someone were to make a film about my parents, I would like the film to be beautiful.
Do you think you will stay with documentary for your next film?
I definitely, probably, before I die would like to make another one, but my next projects are fiction films. I have three projects I want to make, one in the USA and Canada, one in Germany and one in France. But this year I spent with the homeless people has definitely changed me a lot, more than I expected. So even if future projects are not about homeless people, this experience changed my view on life in our civilisation and will be part of my entire life and my films in the future, definitely.
Au Bord du Monde (On the Edge of the World) will be screening at the Glasgow International Film Festival (GIFF) on Friday 28 February and Saturday 1 March. For more information and tickets, please visit the GIFF website.
Written by Martin Parsons
Martin is from Sheffield and lives in Paris, where he teaches at Paris Dauphine University and watches lots of films. Raised on BBC documentaries, he is a big fan of 'Les Nouvelles Égotistes'.
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