"Pina" on Best Foreign Language Film shortlist; here's Wim


The Academy just announced its short list of nine candidates for Best Foreign Language Film Oscars.

They are:

Belgium, "Bullhead," Michael R. Roskam, director;
Canada, "Monsieur Lazhar," Philippe Falardeau, director;
Denmark, "Superclásico," Ole Christian Madsen, director;
Germany, "Pina," Wim Wenders, director;
Iran, "A Separation," Asghar Farhadi, director;
Israel, "Footnote," Joseph Cedar, director;
Morocco, "Omar Killed Me," Roschdy Zem, director;
Poland, "In Darkness," Agnieszka Holland, director;
Taiwan, "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale," Wei Te-sheng, director.

The final list of five will be announced on January 24 along with all the other nominees. Meanwhile, here's a conversation I had last September during the Toronto International Film Festival with "Pina" director, the legendary auteur Wim Wenders.

PK: I walked by a screening yesterday  with hundreds of people in line and I asked somebody which movie it was and they said it was "Pina." Do you think you have a hit on your hands?

WW: People who have no clue about Pina Bausch nor about dance and respond to it. It speaks to people who are not dance aficiandoes who don't really know anything about it and frankly didn't care. But  I made it for people who don't know that this beauty exists.

PK: You were like that kind of person yourself when you first saw her perform?

WW: Exactly. I was one of these people with the attitude that it's not for me. Include me out.

PK: I was one of those people, too. They just seemed to be people stomping around on stage. I felt that way about Cuban music before I saw the "Buena Vista Social Club" (1999). Do you think this might also get an Oscar nomination?


WW: It is officially a German entry since yesterday, which came as a big surprise to me because they don't normally choose documentary films for this. I don't know what it means in terms of actual nominations. It's doesn't mean anything for the time being because it still has to be nominated. And I hope it has a chance because it is such an usual documentary. But some of it is almost not a documentary because choreography, as such, is fiction. And if you're filming fiction,  what does that make it? Filmed fiction?

PK: So Werner Herzog's 3D movie "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" got passed over?

WW: It can't be considered because it would have had to be considered last year. I spoke to Werner in Telluride and asked him about it and he said, no it can't be nominated because it was up last year.

PK: You've seen it?

WW: I've seen it. In Telluride

PK: And is your approach to 3D similar to his?

WW: I think it's very different. My approach to 3D was... that 3D was a solution to 20 years of desiring to make it [this movie] but not knowing how to possibly do it. 3D came as the perfect solution. Around 2007 the very first film I saw in 3D was a concert film  and that showed to me the possible potential of a 3D film. Until then it had never crossed my mind. 3D didn't exist anymore, it had disappeared 50 years or so. So I made it  in 3D  and we  really prepared for two years to shoot this film. We worked hard on solving  the initial flaws 3D has, and still has.  But Werner went very spontaneously into his adventures and had very little time to prepare and actually to do it.

PK: What were those flaws?

WW: They came as sort of a shock. When we did our first tests in  early 2008 or late 2007 we used our prototype equipment and we shot outdoors. It was a little bit like the Lumiére Brothers taking the camera out of the factory and filming for the first time. So I told  my assistant to run around in front of the camera. After all, we were going to shoot dance and wanted to see how it would look. True, he couldn't dance but he could move around, make arm movements and run around. A couple of hours later we saw it on the screen and it was a disaster.  The technology did in terms of depth and space all we were hoping for; beautiful. In terms of movement it was a freaking disaster. Movement was not recorded at all. No. My assistant when he was running, his arms and legs  were a full-on Indian goddess.

PK: It still that way in some 3D movies...

WW: It's a problem . But it's a problem much more of projection than of recording. The real solution to the inherent stroboscoping in 3D is to film it at a higher frame rate but that unfortunately is not an option. As James Cameron himself also found out, he also realized the same problem. There are projection systems  that would handle that increased frame rate but they are expensive. The solution would be to take the rubbish out that they're using now and put these new projectors in. Only they cost ten times as much. They would commit suicide.

PK: They probably think the audiences don't care anyway.

WW: Well, that is  another question. Anyway, we worked hard on the problem and we didn't quite solve it but we made it more pleasant and agreeable and learned how to deal with it and learned to avoid things that made it obvious and slowly 3D became what I was hoping for, became more natural. A little bit more elegant.

PK: Your documentaries tend to be about artistic figures who are significant in your life like Ozu and Nicholas Ray. Why do you make documentaries on this subject and how does Pina's art resonate with you

WW: Directors, designers, Cuban musician - I'm very interested in the  creative process in other crafts and arts. One of the last adventures left on our planet is creativity. I was flabbergasted when I first encountered Pina's art because I realized it was related in many ways to cinema. We also worked with actors and put them in front of the cameras and tell them what to do. I remember Nicholas Ray  when we were making that movie ["Lightning Over Water"(1980)]


and at the time he told me "I taught James Dean how to walk." It may be a tall tale but there is truth to it. As film directors we do deal with body language. Dance is all about that. So when I saw Pina's work for the first time and was  confronted with her way of working and seeing  I realized that in that field of body language  I as a filmmaker was a bloody beginner and almost illiterate in comparison to how she deciphered that language.  My entire profession's  understanding of that language was rudimentary. That interested me, to find out what enabled her to see so much more than we did.

Like Pina, we have sets and we have locations and we have stories, most of all. And the music is something we share one of our main links in the beginning was that we  loved music so much and similar music. But in filmmaking you have all these other things that can pull you through, the story more than anything. In dance that is all taken away; what's left over is the body and what you can tell with the body. And that is so much more than I ever thought possible.

When I saw my first piece, "Café Muller,"


25 years ago, I was shell-shocked that this woman who I didn't know yet showed me more about men and women in 38  minutes than, yeah, the entire history of cinema .  And she didn't use a single word. She had these six people and this fantastic music by Henry Purcell  and a blank set with some chairs in it, and what you get out of it is more than all of cinema's gigantic efforts and production values and storylines and casts. She was telling me more about life and love and separation and loss than any movie I ever saw.

PK: It was humbling?

W. It was humbling. It is - it's also enriching. It was a fantastic discovery because I realized there's a whole palette I don't even know and there's a whole range of expression that I'm not using. It was my body that told me this; it understood it.

PK: Do you dance, yourself, by the way?

WW: I love it!

PK: You do?

WW: Yeah. We do it at parties. Or sometimes even on my own at home listening to  music.

PK: There's one thing about Pina that everybody that talks about her shares - this ecstatic recollection of her effect on them. It's almost like a cult-like thing. Do you know if there's any negative aspect to that because I've read some comments that she was sometimes more tyrannical than was necessary.

WW: Pina was very hard on herself and very demanding. And extremely demanding of her dancers. And I mean you heard some of the stories. Some of these people worked for her for years and years and they never got a single criticism. They were only told, "keep searching."  And as Ruth Amarante says in the film, only once in 20 years did she speak to her she told her "you've got to get more crazy," and that was the only comment. You could consider  that sort of cruel to comment so little and to give so little advice but ithat was, in effect, what her whole work was about. It was about, a sense of identity and she didn't want to ask the dancers to do something that she would tell them that she wanted them to find out the truth about themselves.

PK: It's a process you can only do by yourself.

WW: Yeah. She never told anybody that things were fantastic. She never gave anybody a compliment, and I know because I   worked  with these people and if I said "that was fantastic"  they'd  look at me with big eyes and said nobody ever told us that.

PK: That's a little harsh.

I don't know... It was, it made a lot of sense. Pina loved these people very much but you gotta be cruel to be kind to get the best our of somebody and Pina really wanted to get the best out of everybody, out of all her dancers, and really wanted them to be at their best. And to force somebody to be at their best, sometimes kindness isn't the right way and I'm not saying that Pina was cruel but Pina was tough.

PK: Tougher than you?

WW: She was tough and she was tough on herself. She was more tough on herself than anybody else, but because she was so tough on herself she also had a right to be demanding of other people. Actually, I know that is true from filmmaking, from my crews. If you work on something, whatever craft you do, whether cameraman or makeup, whatever you do, it is exhilarating if you realize that that was the best you can do. At first it might be very tough, but afterwards there is no greater satisfaction when you realize I couldn't do better. There I was at my best.

PK: Are you working an a new film? Would it be in 3D?

WW: I'm preparing features. Insofar as I'm writing it I'm thinking about it I'm trying to write for some actors that I know .. I always think it's nice to  know who you're writing for.  I'm trying  to write  a story that wants to be told in 3D and should be told in 3D and I was lucky that with Pina. dance and 3D were made for each other. I'm trying to write a story where that would work as work equally well.  I think a lot of people, not everyone, but a lot of people are trying to write a film that deserves and needs and should be shot in 3D. Because most of the stuff out there doesn't need it at all.

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