TIFF13 Interview: Edgar Reitz and Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision
Where is a filmmaker to go after completing a sweeping, 32 episode (a combined 52 plus hours) feature film about life in Germany between 1919 and 2000? I’m speaking of course about the incomparable Edgar Reitz and his epic Heimat, and it turns out Reitz has the answer – you go further back. And thus TIFF13 is graced with Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision, a stunning black and white prequel of sorts to Heimat. Returning to the fictional village of Schabbach, where occupants are burdened with destitution and oppression, Reitz continues his visionary sweep across history.
The most immediately striking aspect of Home from Home is the stunning black and white footage. While delivering work in black and white isn’t necessarily the bold choice it might once have been – I saw several in this year’s festival alone – the rarity of this choice still makes it visually powerful. Reitz is very clear on the decision making process that lead to his choice.
“I shoot in black and white because I feel it’s closer to people, closer to the experience. I can get distracted by color,” said Reitz. “I don’t see black and white as a reduction. When I shoot in black and white I’m working with light. And digital black and white is different than film black and white – in digital there are thousands of possibilities to work with the light.”
While being familiar with the films in the Heimat series is helpful, Home from Home stands along and at just under four hours, this is the shortest of the opus (not including Heimat Fragments: The Women), making it perhaps the most accessible. Still four hours is a tough theatrical sell, and might limit the audience. When I ask about whether Reitz feels any trepidation about the limitation set by the length, he answers with a wry observation: “In my experience, this is a short film.”
Touche. But Reitz follows up with a far more considered answer regarding the question of length.
“I’m interested in the dramatic form and the epic form. In drama you are constrained by the ending, but in the epic form you’re only constrained by duration,” said Reitz. “But my distributors are excited to work with this length of film, with a plan to have an two screenings a day, and an intermission. We’ve yet to see the results, but it is interesting.”
Then Reitz pauses and reaches for perhaps the greatest answer a German filmmaker of epics could produce to such concerns. “There was a man named Karl Valentin, a comedian and a very witty man. He said something like, ‘As long as I’m alive, I have to assume I’m going to continue to live.’ That’s the idea of all of my films.”
Reitz’s thematic focus on the urge (or sometimes the need) to emigrate grounds his new work in a surprisingly relevant contemporary space. Are we not all now rootless. with a secret desire to return to a home that most likely no longer exists? Reitz is acutely aware of this parallel and draws a direct line between the intellectually hungry character of Jakob and today’s global wanderers.
“I wanted to show through Jakob the person who emigrates not out of necessity but out of desire. For him it was because of books and literacy, the introduction of these ideas created his desire.” said Reitz. “Today it isn’t necessity and it isn’t books, but it is the internet and television. New ideas lead to change.”
Of course, in Home from Home many of the characters are forced to emigrate by circumstance. Despite a deep attachment to home, poverty, disease, and political oppression forced many so seek a new home while still longing for ‘home.” In our era of global communication channels and affordable air travel, the weight of permanency to past waves of emigration is heart-breaking.
“What moved me so much during my research was that these departures were forever,” said Reitz. “To leave they put on Sunday clothing because it was a like a death – there was no round trip. For them it was not tourism.”
Speaking with Edgar Reitz is first, a privilege for any cinephile, and second, a delight. Much like his epic works of cinema, Reitz contains a multitude, at turns funny and witty and at turns serious and moving. I spoke with him a few hours prior to the first public screening of Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision at TIFF13. When I asked him if he would attend that screening, Reiz laughed.
“I will be coming, but I might not stay til the end because I’m nervous!” said Reitz. “One makes a film for an audience but you never know what they’re thinking. This nervousness never stops.”
Considering that I felt somewhat nervous before talking to Edgar Reitz, I wanted to bark with laughter at this notion. But it’s a deep investment in the work that would drive such an accomplished and admired filmmaker to still feel a little tremble of fear at the reception of his work. That passion is evident through every minute of the Heimat series and remains just as potent in the astounding Home for Home: A Chronicle of a Vision.
Remaining Screening Time for Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision
Sunday September 15 TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 9:30 AM
A Gallery of Images from Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision
Watch the Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision Trailer