From the Vault: 10 Tips For Becoming an Acclaimed Arthouse Film Director

I admit to being something of a narcissist in that I enjoy reading through old things I wrote. But sometimes that is a good thing, because I come across stuff that might actually be worth revisiting. Like this: A snarky list I wrote almost seven years ago in February 2006, on my old, personal blog – back when the Internet was still somewhat less “sharing” than it is now.

I thought I’d repost the list here. I seem to remember it was written following a viewing of, amongst other things, Dogville and the Bill Douglas Trilogy. But nothing much has changed in the last seven years, really. What are your thoughts?

10 Tips for Becoming an Acclaimed Arthouse Film Director

1. When you set out to make art films, the first thing you need is a Manifesto. Try to make it as crazy as possible, treat it as if it was a completely revolutionary new way of making films. Then, make exactly one film that adheres to the Manifesto.

2. When your first film is finished, claim that the Manifesto is bullshit and make all your other films in a completely different way.

3. As soon as you have made three films, claim that they form a trilogy. No art film director is complete without a trilogy. The three films don’t actually have to do anything with each other. Proclaim that you will continue making trilogies and let the critics figure out how your films connect. They will find somethng.

4. Bribe a critic you know and let him attribute you to some kind of stylistic movement. The name doesn’t really matter, but make sure the word ‘Realism’ is in there somewhere.

5. If Hollywood offers you to make a film for them for which you will get paid shitloads of money, decline. Renounce Hollywood and all its capitalist methods and say that you will never work for The Man. Then, a few years later, do it anyway.

6. Insist on casting one specific actor in every film you make. Insist on him (or her) playing parts that absolutely don’t fit him but claim that you have absolute faith in him pulling off the performance. For bonus points, cast a male actor to play a female part or vice versa. At some point, start a liaison with that actor. You get extra credit if he or she is (a) in some way related to you (b) of the same gender as you (c) a lot older or younger than you. When everybody has lost interest in the liaison, break it up big time and marry a childhood friend.

7. After you have made a few films, insist on shooting your next film with some kind of very crazy technique. This can range from simple black and white to digital cameras, original silver nitrate film, continous takes, split screens, silent films, DVD-Versions with multiple endings, whatever. Make up any crazy shiit and claim that you’re doing it because it helps you understand the essence of cinema.

8. Take on a new and interesting Identity after some films. Change your name, grow a long beard, let no one take pictures of you, move to a country in some remote part of the globe. Alternatively, announce your retirement from the world of filmmaking and instantly start working on a new film.

9. Before every film, announce that it is your most personal film yet.

10. Make a film about your childhood. Claim that this is the zenith of your work, that you always wanted to make that film and that only now you feel you are mature enough to make it. Better yet, make a trilogy about your childhood (see point 3). Don’t actually make it about your childhood though but about a kind of childhood the most important critics can identify with.

Bild: JJ Georges, CC-BY-SA

In semi-eigener Sache: “Close up”

Screenshot: ZDF

Seit nun ziemlich genau einem Jahr bin ich, neben meiner Superhelden-Identität als Blogger, im bürgerlichen Leben Mitglied der Filmredaktion ZDFkultur/3sat. Dort gehöre ich unter anderem auch zu dem Team, dass das monatliche Kinomagazin “Close up” produziert – für das ich nun, da die Sendung ein gutes halbes Jahr existiert, an dieser Stelle einmal Werbung machen möchte.

“Close up” läuft einmal monatlich auf ZDFkultur, samstags (zum Beispiel morgen) um 22:15 Uhr, und mit gleichem Inhalt aber anderem Layout danach dienstags auf 3sat – und steht anschließend zum Abruf in der Mediathek. Die Sendung hat drei Teile – zwei aktuelle Filmkritiken und eine “Gastkritik”, in der deutsche Filmemacher von ihren Lieblingsfilmen erzählen dürfen.

Dass vielleicht der ein oder andere meinen könnte, die Filmkritiken seien eben der Standard, den man aus EPK-Schnipseln und Interviews im Fernsehen ständig zu sehen bekommt; dass vielleicht manche meinen möchten, andere hätten das sogar schon besser/zeitgemäßer gemacht – geschenkt. Wir geben unser Bestes und versuchen uns stetig weiterzuentwickeln!

Das allerbeste an “Close up” aber, sind wahrscheinlich die Gastkritiken. Hier lassen wir Regisseure, Schauspieler und andere Filmschaffende Filme vorstellen, die ihnen persönlich am Herzen liegen. Und das geht, so finde ich zumindest, oft genug ziemlich unter die Haut und ich kann jedem nur empfehlen, sich diese Fünf-Minuten-Segmente einmal genauer anzugucken, denn so viel Raum wird “alten” Filmen im Fernsehen heute nur noch sehr selten gegeben.

Da erzählt zum Beispiel der Schauspieler Lars Eidiniger, wie für ihn Lars von Triers Antichrist mit der Geburt seines Sohnes zusammenhängt. Christian Petzold referiert beeindruckend über die Verfolgungsjagd in French Connection. Der Doku-Kameramann Thomas Plenert schwärmt über die Plansequenzen in den Filmen von Sergej Urussewski. Und Anna Brüggemann gibt zu, wie neidisch sie ist, wenn sie Sandra Hüller in Über uns das All spielen sieht.

Zusätzlich zu den Segmenten in der Sendung gibt es als Bonus online immer noch ein “7 Fragen an …” Video-Interview mit den Filmemachern, das sich immer ebenfalls lohnt. Und wann immer wir können: zusätzlichen Content, wie Interviews, die wir nicht in der Sendung unterbringen konnten oder sogar eine zusätzliche Gastkritik. Ich hoffe, wir werden noch lange die Gelegenheit dazu bekommen, dieses Prinzip immer weiter zu verbessern.

In der August-Sendung sagen wir unsere Meinung zu Magic Mike (mein erster eigener Beitrag, ich hatte mich bisher auf die Online-Aufbereitung konzentriert) und This Ain’t California. Und der Regisseur Matthias Luthardt spricht über Sidney Lumets Dog Day Afternoon. Schaut doch mal rein – und gebt mir ruhig auch Feedback hier im Blog.

Something Big is about to Happen: Zeitgeist and Imminent Threat in July, Von Trier and Cahill

“Another Earth”

It is never easy to analyse the time you live in at the moment. It’s much easier to look back in time to see cultural and societal threads developing and culminating. But sometimes that elusive contemporary sensibility that German thinkers once named the “zeitgeist” can be felt, especially in the cultural artifacts a society produces. The current zeitgeist seems to be that while technological progress is moving ever faster, cultural progress has come to a standstill, which in turn creates high expectations for the times to come. This is not my idea, of course. It has been written and talked about a lot recently. Someone who summarised it, about two months ago, in a way I could relate to a lot, was “Generation X” author Douglas Coupland. In an interview with a Swiss radio station, he said:

What I find exciting about the zeitgeist right now is that something big is about to happen. We all know that. We grew up with the idea that the future was something that was still down the road and we still just live in the present. But today we live in the future. Every day feels futuristic. (This is mostly a re-translation of the German translation of Coupland, so these are not exactly his words.)

Part of the zeitgeist being that “We live in the future now” felt familiar to me. I had even blogged about it before with respect to SF-films like Tron: Legacy and The Book of Eli. I had heard it before from authors like William Gibson, who have stopped setting their novels in the future because the present has caught up with them, and it ties right in with the discussion about “Retromania” in popular culture.

“Something big is about to happen”, however, is something that I heard for the first time in Coupland’s interview. It rang very true for me and I noticed that I had also encountered it in other films this year. Films that don’t necessarily count as science fiction, even though they might have some fantastic elements in them.

(The following paragraphs contain inevitable spoilers for all three movies discussed)

“The Future”

Miranda July’s second feature film is even called The Future, but it’s a long way from being science fiction. Instead, it tells the story of two thirtysomethings who exist in a relationship that has reached its peak after only four years. The protagonists, played by July and Hamish Linklater, have nothing to say to each other, because they don’t progress. All high hopes for their own development have failed to come to fruition and so they spend their days in a sort of melancholy hipster stupor (a fact that made both characters extremly annoying to me). When they decide to adopt a cat a month from now, they suddenly realize that they should use the remaining days to follow their impulses. Both quit their jobs and decide to do something meaningful. July’s character Sophie wants to express herself through dancing and Jason (Linklater) joins a climate-saving iniative that sells reforestation door-to-door.

But their efforts fail yet again. Sophie begins an affair and Jason starts spending time with an old man who has been married for 60 years. Even though there is some hope for reconciliation at the end of the film, the general feeling that remains is: There is no future for Sophie and Jason. They have already used it up and have only the eternal present left to them. This manifests itself in the second half of the film, where Jason literally tries to stop time. However, while he feels that time has stopped, the moon in the sky outside his window (who has the voice of the old man), constantly informs him that time is actually still creeping forward and that Jason can’t stay in his cocoon forever.

The last time people felt they were living in the future, in the 80s, “We live in the future” quickly turned into “No Future”. The only way out, it seemed, was through the self-destruction of mankind. And indeed, Jason says something to the same effect in July’s film: “The wrecking ball has already struck”, he tells a potential reforestation customer. “This is just the moment before it all falls down.”

That big thing that is about to happen, then, is it an apocalypse?


If you believe Lars von Trier, it is. While his latest film Melancholia is mostly a reflection on depression, it also confronts humanity with a doomsday scenario that can easily keep up with Armageddon and similar films whose plot centers around the imminent destruction of earth. In Melancholia, the titular planet is about to come close to earth and most scientists believe that it will safely pass by. Only conspiracy theorists and the main character Justine (Kirsten Dunst), who suffers from depression, are convinced that Melancholia will destroy earth instead. Which, as even the opening scenes promise, it will by the end of the movie.

Von Trier spends a good two thirds of his film setting up and the last third portraying their reactions to the impending doom. Justine is content with this notion, even literally bathes in Melancholia’s light. As a depressive, she “knows” things will always turn out for the worst. Her sister Claire is filled with fear but eventually gives in to her inevitable fate. And Claire’s husband John, a capitalist conservative and a believer in science and mankind’s ability to prevail, commits suicide as soon as he learns he was wrong.

It’s easy to read those reactions as – or compare them to – interpretations of the zeitgeist mentioned earlier. We can accept it, we can fear it or we can try to hide from it. What von Trier makes clear, though, is that the Big Thing, which in his movie is a threat, will happen, no matter what. So it might be best to side with the depressives.

“Another Earth”

One other movie was released this year, which shares the feeling of anticipation I have described in Melancholia and The Future. It also shares Melancholia‘s key image of an uncanny new heavenly body in the sky above us. But Mike Cahill’s Another Earth also offers a more hopeful prospect of the time after the metaphorical wrecking ball has struck.

Cahill’s main character Rhoda is in a “no future” situation as well, although her reasons are quite different. As a teenager, she was responsible for a car crash that took the lives of a young woman and her child. The child’s father John, who was also in the car, has survived. When Rhoda is released from prison after a number of years, she has lost all ambition and instead starts a cleaning job at her old high school. Then, she seeks out John and without revealing her identity to him, offers to regularly clean his house. He agrees and she slowly brings both the house and him back to life. He eventually falls in love with her but casts her out when she tells him why she came to him in the first place.

The catalyst for the car crash, which leads to all the events that follow it, is the appearance of a second earth in the sky. Rhoda gazes at this other earth when the crash happens and she later wins a spot on the first flight to what turns out to be an exact mirror image of our planet, people and all. Because the parallel timelines have started diverging when the two mirror planets became visible to each other, there is hope that John’s family might be alive on the other earth. Rhoda eventually gives her space on the flight to John.

In Cahill’s thought experiment, the big change that society faces is not a destructive wrecking ball at all, it might even offer a chance to begin again. This general sentiment has been a trope of post-apocalyptic scenarios for ages, but in Another Earth there is no major scale apocalypse, only a personal one. A Big Thing wakes mankind from its futureless existence and offers new perspectives on how to continue.

Personal postscript: I was too young in the 80s to understand any societal notions of Future or No Future. The very fact that I spent my earliest childhood in exactly those days (without older siblings) has made it hard for me to understand or appreciate 80s pop culture at all, while I find everything that came before or after much more accessible. But as far as I am concerned, there was a Big Change at the end of the decade. While the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reunification of the country I live in might have robbed the western world of a clear antagonist (at least until 9/11) and lead the world at large into the global economic meltdown it is facing right now, culture and society in general, at least the way I see it, have benefitted from that change. If only to prove to us now that the world, and thus: the future and the zeitgeist, very probably will continue to exist.