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Interview, Films

"What is good, what is evil? Why do you turn evil? And what does evil mean?" - Interview with Katrin Gebbe about PELICAN BLOOD

Indiekino: Mrs Gebbe, your second film follows the first one close on its heels in a way. It again revolves around people that hurt others on purpose, and those who try to prevent them from doing so. Do you believe in good and evil?

Katrin Gebbe: It’s true, it started during my work on NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN (TORE TANZT) that I increasingly thought about questions like: What is good, what is evil? Why do you turn evil? And what does evil mean? Are we talking about psychopaths? And if so, how do you become a psychopath? Do you get born that way? Or could underlying trauma be the reason for this? And could they be healed? There is one documentary, Child of Rage, that I was really impressed by in relation to this. It’s about a young girl who was highly traumatised and could not feel any real emotions anymore, no fear, no empathy. And this leads her to abusing her little brother, for example. During one of the therapy sessions, she even goes as far as to say that she would like to kill her foster parents. And when I heard that I thought, wow, that’s harsh, also for the foster parents. During my research I found out that they did give away the girl in the end and it then went to a new, wonderful foster mother, Nancy Thomas, who really cared for the child, and she eventually adopted her as well. And this woman managed to change the girl that everyone thought of as being beyond recovery into a devoted, caring person. However, she also took on children that she could not help anymore. And I was interested in exploring this very specific conflict. In other words: How far can you go as a woman or mother? Is it worth it to risk your own family if you take on a child like this? When do you have to say, I can’t do this anymore? Or, what means would you use as a last resort to help the child?

You’re suggesting something here that Wiebke, the mother in the film not only gets to hear over and over again, but what she soon needs to experience physically herself, which is that love is just not enough for soe of these children.

Yes, because even if people in general say that you can get anywhere with love, patience and hope, this is not always true. In a case like this, we’re not only socially hitting a wall but also as human beings. And that’s why in the end the focus in the film shifts more and more away from the child and towards the mother. The child is only the catalyst for what the mother experiences, and for her journey.

Wiebke is an incredibly selfless, caring person, who does everything not only for her children but also for the animals that she works with. How did her work with the horses come into play?

To develop the character of Wiebke was an individual process. I came across a book about horse whisperers and thought it was exciting to hear what kind of life stories they had. Because often there would be a specific background story about trust, or better to say, broken trust. And if you work with horses that attack their owner it’s mostly likely also the case that they have experienced something in the past that leads them to permanently defend themselves. The horse whisperers then try to get the horses to gain new trust in humans by acknowledging their fear. They use their compassion and an incredible empathy to diminish mistrust in the animal. And to me, this was quite similar to how Wiebke would approach the world around her, how she deals with all living things, and what causes her to make the decisions she does, no matter how extreme they might be. Maybe part of the reason is also that she herself behaves like a broken animal to some extent. And that’s why it felt natural to me, that she could have that story, that occupation, that kind of life.

Her commitment and devotion are one thing but, at times, Wiebke is also incredibly tough and stubborn. Can you relate to those characteristics that perhaps are not too far off from your own doorstep?

Yeah. It’s me, actually. And if you’d ask me now how the film relates to me and my own experiences, then I’d say that I’d also go to absolute extremes in order to do or get something I really want, and to not let go of that dream. In the end, filmmaking is insanely hard as well. You try to create something, but along the way you run into all sorts of obstacles and sticking points. And you have to address them and look at what is waiting for you there. My background is art and there it’s all about the process that you go through as an artist and that makes you realise what is in there that is “you”. On the other hand, this was also important with regard to Wiebke. What I mean by this is that not only the child has to change but that she also goes on a journey to find her role as a mother. A role, that she hasn’t filled in this way, even if she had adopted a child before. But that development that she goes through with Raya deepens her sensitivity as a mother in a very special, a much more archaic way.

Looking at your previous films, it seems that you’re always driven to the dark sides of the human soul. Why do you think this is? Where does your strong interest in evil, and also in myths and religion come from?

I don’t know. I find it hard to analyse myself but it’s true that I have had this interest since I was a teenager. Back then, it slowly developed und, suddenly, it got quite extreme. I think it has to do with the fact that I had a very carefree, nonreflective life and a very happy childhood. But at some point, different things are happening. You start to question certain things and you realise that the answers are not that straight forward and that the things are much more complex than you first thought. I grew up in a village and, there, people watch each other, and they talk. People get judged very easily. But if you look behind the curtain, then you might find something completely different. That’s why, today, I’m specifically interested in what’s behind the surface. For example, I don’t really know if you can say this is all very dark and evil, because I think it always goes together. Good and evil, are both in our nature, if you want. They are strong powers working within us, and I find it fascinating and important to explore why there is such thing as Nazi Germany, for example, because it starts to become a political problem again. So, you can’t just say, the Nazis happened back then and now they are gone. That’s not true. But to say, on the other hand, that they are all bad people, that doesn’t work either. That would be too simple. And that’s why I like to ask questions, to find out what is it that makes people drift into one or the other direction. Because I believe this is the only way we get to progress in every respect, on a personal level and politically.

You had enormous success with your first film, Nothing Bad Can Happen, when you were in your early thirties. Do you think it is rather a blessing or a curve for a young director to be celebrated so much that early on in your career? How did you feel about that?

You can think about it this way and that way. First, it’s a blessing, because you get to do more films afterwards. Because it is not a given that everyone who studies film gets to shoot a debut feature right after. And if you’re a woman, we know that only too well, it is even more difficult. So, if you, like it happened to us with Nothing Bad Can Happen, are invited to show your film at a prestigious festival like Cannes, then that’s an amazing gift. And I enjoyed it enormously to get to know all those people, all the filmmakers, the different perspectives. On the other hand, the pressure is extremely high. And if you then make your second film, like many say, it’s even more difficult than the first one, because you have to manage to get it right again, but in a different way, so you don’t shoot the same film twice. At the same time, you have to try to figure out who you are, what kind of films you want to make and in which direction you would like to go. For me, it was definitely a longer journey. I did other stuff in between and, eventually, realised that I most likely wanted to be an auteur. And even if I’m back at a point now where I could see myself doing all sorts of things, I feel that I need to find my language as a filmmaker first, and that I need to figure out what I’m good at and what I really want.

Was the Tatort that you shot in between your two features a sort of dream come true?

Yes, sort of. Somehow, I really wanted to do it. Unfortunately, it soon emerged that the realities around the working relationship in this case turned out to be extremely difficult and I experienced a great unfreedom. It’s a real shame, because I realised that I couldn’t do, what I can do best. That’s also the reason why I didn’t take on any other TV projects after this for some time, because I was very sad that they first seem to have wanted me to do this but, then, they didn’t want to let me do what I wanted to do.

What would you, as a young female filmmaker, would like German cinema to be?

I think German cinema could be a bit more open and adventurous. Life is so rich, people are so multi-faceted. And I’m also always interested in other ways of storytelling, so that I hope those successes of single films recently can help other filmmakers on a national and international level to realise projects that contribute to a new wealth of great, compelling cinema experiences. Because that’s what we are still lacking right now.

Pamela Jahn