Monday, April 06, 2009

Photographer and filmmaker Telemach Wiesinger queries his Wisconsin Film Festival audience

Wisconsin Film Festival: Telemach Wiesinger, German Photographer and Filmmaker
I loved the way German still photographer and filmmaker Telemach Wiesinger leaned forward like an attentive crane at the UW Cinematheque Saturday, while answering questions about his experimental short film -- and asking a few of his own.

"Passage" is a black and white film that Wiesinger calls a "film poem." It's a stark visual meditation on movable metal bridges and other forms of marine engineering shot on waterfronts and rivers in France, Germany, England, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States. It's a haunting, hypnotic work filmed with the eye of an accomplished still photographer. If the still on the right looks familiar, maybe it is -- it was shot in Chicago, according to this article (in German) from the Badische Zeitung.

Wiesinger filmed various old pivot and lift bridges, gigantic dockyard ship hoists as well as the last remaining air cushion boats. The title refers not only to his own journey to these sites, but the water and land traffic with which the bridges are associated. He photographs them moving with slow, ponderous grace, to the accompaniment of an electronic musical score by composer Tobias Schwab that to my ear perfectly evoked both the busy hum of mechanical activity in harbors and ports, but also a sense of underlying melancholy.

There's a heaviness and stillness to the film that seems to owe something to Wiesinger's background as a still photographer. The motion in the film is slow, not because it was shot in slow-motion, but because the massive objects being filmed move so slowly in real time. It almost feels like a film about the physics of inertia. I really liked the effect and "Passage" was one of my favorite films of the festival.

Wiesinger's dialogue with the audience was also interesting. He explained how he got the dark skies of many of the shots. "When photographing with black and white film, one can use filters to darken the blue of the sky," he noted. Indeed -- it looked as if he often shot with a deep red or orange filter. Someone else asked about images that were superimposed -- ghostly images of people or other bridges. He said it wasn't done electronically, but by running a roll of film through the camera two, or even three, times to create multiple exposures -- a process that adds a chance component to the filming process, at least when shooting things you can't control.

Wiesinger also had a question for the audience: Did they like the sound track? Turns out that he originally conceived of the film as totally silent and first showed it as an installation along with still photos of the structures in the film. He only added the soundtrack recently, giving it more of a filmic qualty. It seemed as if he seemed to still think of it as a silent work and wasn't quite sure about the version with music. Perhaps he still sees it as more of a photographic than cinematic project. But most members of the audience liked the soundtrack, and some wanted to buy it (he said it would be on Schwab's next CD). And in a perfect small-world demonstration, one woman said she had seen the original silent version in Freiburg last year and liked this version more.

Incidentally, this isn't Wiesinger's first time in Madison, which is a sister city of Freiburg. In 2005 his "Faces of Freiburg" exhibit showed in several Madison locations as part of the sister city program. And in 2007 he was a Brittingham Visiting Scholar in the UW Department of German and had another show in the Madison Municipal Building, "Jazz Traveler." Some photos from both shows are on his website.

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