I am not interested in any kind of genre. I am interested in cinema

In co-operation with DOX European Documentary Magazine, DAFilms.com brings you a unique interview with worldwide known experimental filmmaker and artist Peter Liechti. Enjoy the text by journalist Sevara Pan while watching the the online retrospective of Liechti´s films from February 10 until February 16 for free!

In co-operation with DOX European Documentary Magazine, DAFilms.com brings you a unique interview with worldwide known experimental filmmaker and artist Peter Liechti. Enjoy the text by journalist Sevara Pan while watching the online retrospective of Liechti´s films from February 10 until February 16 for free! Enter the world of unlimited artistic imagination, where; for this moment and in the latest movie Father´s Garden; puppets play an important role...

The interview is a part of In Focus: Peter Liechti article, DOX European Documentary Magazine, Spring 2014. The text has been published with kind permission of DOX magazine.

SP: Like in your other films, in Father’s Garden you transgress the boundaries of the documentary genre.

PL: Well, principally, I am not interested in any kind of genre. I am interested in cinema. I try to find the most fitting form for the thematical content of a film. At the beginning, it is often not yet clear what the best means would be. Generally, I don’t care whether there are more fictional, documentary or experimental elements in my films – I just have to find the most suitable formalistic media to express myself.

SP: In one of your interviews, you mention that when it comes to your film work, you like to think in musical structures...

PL: Music is the language itself that expresses my feelings, my state of mind. It expresses whatever I cannot express in another way. Especially in this film, music is my voice, my humour. Formalistically, it is very important in my films. I think music is interwoven with picture, it is not just supporting the image – sometimes the image is supporting the music. Among other things, working with music is just so enjoyable to me.

SP: Since Father’s Garden is a film about your parents, what would you say about the distance between you as the director and your parents as the subjects of the film?

PL: Yes, it was sort of difficult because I had a double role: on the one hand, I was the son, on the other hand, I was the director. At first it was an obstacle to remain sovereign and partial because sometimes it was embarrassing, but then I discovered that it was a big advantage, so I was forced to step back as the son – not to intervene in the discussions and dialogues, not to be the son who is still rebelling and interrupting my father, for example. I was forced as the professional director just to listen, to listen, to listen . . . and to watch. After some time, I realized that it was the first time in my life that I really listened to my parents, that I watched them without any anger, just out of professional curiosity, which was very fruitful for the film.

SP: Give us a comment on the title of your film. What does garden symbolize here?

PL: Garden symbolizes the cosmos of petite bourgeoisie. It is also the cosmos of my parents. My mother’s “garden” is in paradise. My father’s “garden” is there where you can see it. So both of them have their “gardens” where they can escape the reality, the reality of their marriage, of their everyday conflicts. Hence, garden is a symbol to me. It is also a small reference to another film that I made some years ago. It is a film of fiction that is called Martha’s Garden which was also shot in St. Gall. Therefore, Father’s Garden was a small reference to mark 15 years since making Martha’s Garden.

SP: In one of your interviews, you mention that you always try not to view art in isolation but in a context, by injecting layers of meanings into images, sounds, music, and text. In this film, you use the very innovative approach of a puppet theatre. How did you come up with the idea of a puppet theatre?

PL: The idea of a puppet theatre was there from the beginning, from scratch. I wanted to dig deep, but I was absolutely sure that there shouldn’t be any interviews or interrogation in front of the camera. Hence, from scratch it was very clear that we would have this situation. On the one hand, a puppet theatre represents childhood to me. On the other hand, it is kind of a neutral space where one could encounter another and tell them everything out in the open. I call it the stage of the “family tribunal” where one is allowed to say horrible and sad things which one often cannot do face-to-face. Besides, having a puppet theatre also helped me structure the film. They were like islands that I could always go back to. Whenever it gets too deep, I can go back to the puppets, I can relax with the puppets, the puppets are funny, in a way. Hence, dramaturgically, a puppet theatre was very helpful to structure the film. The everyday life of my parents, the life of the old people in their apartment, is rather boring. Every day looks the same. Therefore, these puppets were like an adventure and a signifier of something happening.

SP: Tell us about the puppets. Was there a reason behind choosing hares as the representative figures?

PL: Yes, there was a symbolic meaning, but it was not the main reason. In Switzerland, we have a word “Angsthase” which we use to describe a very shy and anxious, but at the same time a very attentive person. That is the symbolic meaning. Another reason was a practical thing. The traditional puppets, the simplest ones that are just a one-hand play, allow very little possibility for expression. They are normally made out of wood and have heads with no expressions. Therefore, I was looking for a puppet, an animal, with the widest range of possible expressions. That brought me to the rabbit. With the rabbit, you can move the ears, you can move the nose – all with one hand. Those two very little expressions can give the whole cosmos of possibilities. You can give them emotions, using just one hand.

SP: The film broadly explores the notion of normalcy in different spheres of one’s life, the role of a woman in marriage and society, the issue of the generational gap, etc. Would you say that the portrait of your family is a microcosm of society and its past?

PL: That is what I told my parents: “It is not a film about you – it is a film about your generation, the time you lived in, the values of your time.” I guess that is very universal. Everybody has parents. Everybody has some problems with parents, which have often to do with conflicts about values, changing values. This generation is very old now, vanishing silently and inconspicuously. I wanted to pay tribute to people like my parents who have never been in the public eye and capture their values and way of thinking before they are gone. This film is their statement even if it is terribly conservative sometimes. It is important for us to hear and remember it.

SP: And the last question for today. In one of your interviews, you say that you understand filmmaking as a process through which you make your personal discoveries. In what ways do you think this film has changed your views?

PT: I wouldn’t say that now I understand everything about marriage, husband and wife, but I understood a lot about myself. I had to delve deep into my own values in order to understand their values. That was the most interesting thing. I had to be very honest with myself, and it was a long process to get there. This film was a like a step for me. I guess if you are still in a conflict with your parents, you don’t really feel comfortable even when you are 60 years old. You want to reconcile and have peace. This film was the way to find this peace for me. You know, my parents actually surprised me. The trust they had in me struck me. After they agreed to this film, there were no more limits. It stunned me immensely because I thought that my parents were much more distant and careful, but they were totally open.


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