Les États généraux du film documentaire 2013 Fragment of a filmmaker's work: Barbara Meter

Fragment of a filmmaker's work: Barbara Meter

Your work is not identifiable in a cage of simplistic criticism: you have always worked with a personal formal freedom. How do you work?
Educated within a traditional film school, I started out making slight absurd short narratives. I admired and loved all the giants that started out making films then like Fellini, Antonioni, Godard, Resnais... Renewers of film language. But when I was confronted with experimental film, my whole conception of filmmaking shifted to that. I broke free from burdens in production like producers, film crews, storytelling. For years, that seemed to be the only way, but ultimately I did not want to be dictated by any absolutisms, even not of experimental film and I never lost my love for other kinds of filmmaking like narratives and documentaries. In fact, it’s very simple: I just do what I like. (That is, when circumstances — like finances — allow me.) I hope that one day, I can find a form where everything merges.

Memory and familiar past are recurring themes in your films: what is the creative urge that has led you to work in depth on this subject?
It’s not that I carry the past as a heavy load with me, at the same time it’s there and I realise most of who I am has a link with it, as the past is always contained in the present. The past of my family is also a rich source, there is so much music in there, so many great lines, so many interesting people and so much of Europe’s cruel and splendid history. I only scratched on the surface of that.

You have made some documentaries too: what is the main difference for you between a pure formal research and a politically engaged work?
In the seventies I made some pamphlet-like films, involved as I was in action-groups and later in the women’s movement. As important as the issues were for me, I always felt somehow restricted, especially since I did not succeed, for my feeling, to find a form that matched the content.

In most of your films you make us aware of the material of the volatile medium, the film itself. But at the same time, your films are very personal and poetic, and not cold structural work.
The structuralists, like Paul Sharits, Malcolm le Grice, Hollis Frampton, made me very aware of the materialistic qualities of film and how you could bring those forward, as in paintings the brush stroke. And also, how important the composition of the shots is. I did not perceive them as cold, I enjoyed the rhythms, the musicality, what happened between the frames, the other realms of life, like science, the nature of perception. They touched me. But my mind does not work like that. I think nevertheless somehow they wormed their way into my romantic nature and what comes out, you can see.

In many of your films there’s such a melancholic mood: some of them are like dreams of a lost country, of a lost family, of a love. Can cinema help us to have a new relationship with the deepest part of ourselves?
I guess any art form can when one is open to it, but when one is, that would have happened anyway. I only know that art, any art, has strengthened me and that it has enabled me to go a little beyond the limitations of myself.

Unlike experimental filmmakers contemporary to you — in the sixties and seventies – you are still making films now. What is your approach to the video medium now?
Except for working on 8 mm sometimes, which then I have to digitalize as well, I do work with video now. It took me years to find any form at all where I felt at home in. The last film-on-film I made in 2008 (A Touch), is also when I had to quit using the optical printer (because of eye troubles) and start with video. It is only now, with the film I am working on, that I have the feeling I might get near to where I want to be, in video. I still mourn over the loss of the medium film though. But it has just become too expensive and too unpractical to work in it.

Interview with Barbara Meter by Federico Rossin.

Presentation and debates by Federico Rossin.