Europäischer Autorenkreis für Film und Video e. V.
European Film & Video Makers Circle

… for we are also literature

Every active filmmaker who has watched and edited his or her own scenes many times knows that at a certain point he or she is in danger of no longer seeing any shortcomings and becoming "operationally blind". Similarly, the viewer may develop a frustrating expectation with the main genres, but at the same time the question of whether the production was appropriate also automatically arises.

Even if we don't care about a comparison with literature, we use certain terms as a matter of course and give ourselves full "literary airs". But is that surprising? After all, we are regarded as "authors" without being asked – and after watching a film people often quote the rules of dramaturgy that actually refer to theatrical drama with its five acts. The film drama, on the other hand, has only three, namely (1) starting position, (2) leading to the high point and turning point (peripettia), (3) release of tension and ending.

Visually implemented, the result at competitions is a constantly testing arc of tension which, as a curve, marks the ascent and descent of the action. In principle, this tension curve also applies to the novella, which focuses particularly on realistic and generally valid themes.

“For what is a novella other than an unheard-of occurrence?" (Goethe, 1827) For us as film makers, it comes as little surprise after this definition that there should be exciting and slower moments and that it is also possible to include general, genuinely critical and contemporary themes:

1.) Reni

The basis of the "unheard-of incident" in this film is the thalidomide scandal, which was revealed in 1961/62, but is not the focus of attention here. The sedative and sleeping pill for pregnant women was distributed from 1957 to 1961, before it became available only on prescription, and it was responsible for 5,000 to 10,000 damaged children worldwide as well as several stillbirths. In 2016, the Bundesverband Contergan Geschädigter (Federal Association of Contergan Damaged Persons) reported that about 2,400 victims still live in Germany today. Reni is one of them.

The film initially leaves the viewer in the dark with several neutral scenes, before the protagonist is introduces with her technique for controlling the car. Through this woman as first-person narrator we learn in the exposition that she is on her way to join a "dream dancer ensemble", because Reni is to play the leading role with the Göppingen theatre company in the play "Mauern aus Glas" ("Walls of Glass"), whose theme is people who are different.

And so, the play, with the rehearsals at the beginning and the performance at the end as the dramatic climax, surrounds the film and at the same time makes it clear that for the protagonist creativity has the highest significance.

It follows, that she is also active as a painter, organises exhibitions and at schools teaches how to paint with her mouth. The basically linear narrative structure is interrupted in the middle by fading into everyday life or flashbacks, with a hard cut, to parents, childhood and youth.

(The concept of the "flashback" for time design in an epic and drama is, by the way, adopted from film!)

The narrative form changes in places to interview-like statements, supplemented by comments from her boyfriend. Through these comments and an unobtrusive camera, which keeps the necessary distance, the severe handicap of the 56-year-old woman becomes clear, as she masters her everyday life without complaints or snivelling, even if sometimes with care assistance, and thereby develops almost amazing abilities, e.g. opening a beer bottle, peeling a banana, using the phone and getting dressed.

This unsentimental and yet empathetic overall presentation manages to avoid feelings of pity and at best leaves the viewer with the silent question, why, as an unafflicted person, one is always getting riled up about trifles.

The jury of "Video of Generations" recognised those things too and awarded "Reni" the main prize in the category 50+ (EUR 1,000).

2nd) hopeless?

Those who were full of optimism at the turn of the millennium soon had to accept that others did not want a glorious future, but a return to the Middle Ages with the goal of an ungodly religious state. Explosive attacks and assassinations were the result - and even today followers of IS cheer when as many people as possible are killed. The mass death of people and the misery of the survivors is almost taken for granted in wars by those politically responsible. And thus, not only the war in Syria with all its consequences, but also the increasing dismantling of democracy in Europe is a bitter reality for us.

"hopeless?” as an anti-war film, note the question mark, because it contains two options, uses as counterpoint the motto of the peace movement and thus ultimately the Bible, which clings to the film with Isaiah (Prologue) and Matthew (Epilogue).

"Schwerter zu Pflugscharen" (Swords to Ploughshares) is visually transformed by means of symbols and shows the contrast between war and peace in different forms: when the blacksmith forges the plough with white eyes as a leitmotif, the vision of peace appears in a coloured pan (watercolour technique). If he forges swords and other war equipment he is shown with red eyes, weapons appear which are used in the following, action-packed part.  Anonymous black figures as figures of horror against a white background (pseudo silhouette) or a red colour gradient are used as design elements. (Those who are torn from their calm contemplation may consider that war is brutal).

The first and the second block appear as the contrast of war and peace, and are set in the Middle Ages. Accordingly, there is a third block in the course of the action to show on the one hand the endless return of irrationality, on the other hand by contrast between yesterday and today (double images) that only the killing technique (2.8. armour/tank) has improved, but not the talent for peace.

The last sequences of the real scenes included refer to the most recent present and are accordingly the climax of the final passage (in the sense of the arc of tension) before the epilogue appears. Of course, the drama is heightened by music, which is particularly important in a film without words, because in the course of the action it replaces a predictive, dramatising and linear narrative style in interplay with precise editing.

In contrast to most films that work with texts, linguistic elements cannot be inferred here, of course, because "hopeless?" is conceived as a kind of parable and the statement is compressed accordingly. For substantial animated films such a condensation is generally necessary, albeit perhaps without a conclusion by analogy, in order to save pictorial stages, work and time. On the other hand, the reduction of reality to a closed whole is one of the most difficult tasks of design.


These few examples have already led to some literary expressions, of which there is of course much more. But since no films are made with such concepts, they are only intended to make it clear that through script conception, narrative style, storyline, perspective etc. in interaction with the filmic style there is the possibility of offering the viewer more than "streamlined fiction".

But we all know that.

Dieter Prill