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· Statements Director (wama)

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Watermarks

Some thoughts

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«Since the crushing of the democracy movement in 1989, I have followed the upheaval in China with equal parts amazement and irritation: the country looks like a huge construction site and seems to be involved in a precipitous search for itself. In this unstable present the protagonists are taking tentative but courageous steps into the future.»
Luc Schaedler


Statements to the film

During the research for «Watermarks» and the subsequent filming in China I kept returning to a topic that had preoccupied me in my earlier films: namely, how people respond to external events, ruptures and life changes, and what this means to them in their daily lives. I took this question to heart in my new film and continued my search for answers. After Made in Hong Kong (1997) and Angry Monk (2005), the current film Watermarks · 2013 also marks the end of my Asian Trilogy.

My relationship to China

My relationship with China began over 20 years ago. Since the crushing of the democracy movement in 1989, I have travelled repeatedly through China. I have followed China’s economic development and the associated political and social upheavals with equal parts amazement and irritation.

The social changes triggered by fast-paced economic development unsettled the people. They registered the growing pollution of the environment and water with concern. Entire landscapes as well as a part of their own family history and the cultural history of China were punctiliously ‘flooded’ by progress. My love-hate relationship with China is reflected in the ambivalence of many Chinese, who are simultaneously proud of and disconcerted by developments in their country. These are the contradictory feelings that I have attempted to capture in my film.

The collaboration with Markus Schiesser

In the project Markus Schiesser was responsible for the interviews with the protagonists as well as sound. To complete the research (2009/2010) and filming (2011), we travelled together for months through China and shared in the everyday lives of the protagonists. Markus and I made a good team. His relationship to the people grew out of his quiet ease and the fact that he speaks fluent Chinese. This brought him a great deal of respect. He was simultaneously an insider and an outsider. I was the stranger, as well as being more extroverted and louder. I had to build my relationship with the people through non-verbal means, by gestures and looks.

In a cultural and political situation which treats the spoken word with caution and relegates most things to the deeper level of trust, we complemented each other ideally. Markus Schiesser studied Sinology and ethnology in Zurich and China. For over 12 years he has lived and worked in Beijing and Shanghai. He is married to a Chinese woman. We have been friends since the Zurich youth riots of the early 1980s.

Our working method

Water is the visually binding element in the film. Like a river, it flows through the individual scenes, stories and interviews. In China it makes sense to comport oneself like water. Wherever it flows, one lets it go, and wherever it is dammed, one gives way to it and finds another route. In this sense, time and patience are very important factors. What appears to be obvious whenever one works with people in a film turns out to be doubly important in China, for cultural and political reasons.

In China, if you want to get close to the people, you have to give yourself a lot of time. It is a complicated but not unpleasant ritual, during which you spend weeks building up trust, step by step: a first conversation, a second one, drinking tea, smoking, chatting, eating together, slowly getting to the point and always coming back to another toast. The first contact, and how you behave at that point, is crucial.

Statements director – Luc Schaedler

WaMa-Statements-director - Watermarks

Markus Schiesser, Chongqing

WaMa-Statements-director - Watermarks - WaMa - Statement Director

Luc Schaedler, Wusutu

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· Interview Director (am)

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Angry Monk

Luc Schaedler

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Interview with director
by Till Brockmann, 2005

 

Why did you chose the title «Angry Monk»?

A monk is not supposed to be angry. The title is thus contradictory and provocative and that’s intentional; this contradiction is part of what the movie is about. The way the West sees Tibet has more to do with our own projections than with reality. Interestingly, in German and English there is a note of irony in the title which gets completely lost in the Tibetan translation. I found out that the title cannot really be translated into Tibetan. Apparently the combination of «angry» and «monk» is not planned…

Why a film about Tibet?

I travelled a lot in Asia and I often passed through Tibet. I first went to Tibet in 1989, shortly after the Tiananmen massacre in Bejing – during the time of the Lhasa uprisings. I also worked on Tibetan issues during my anthropology studies at university. A part of me is always on the road, seeking an encounter with all things foreign. My film is surely also the result of this personal interest, a way to give it a shape. But it also has purpose to actively participate in a specific discourse, the discussion that the West had long been having about Tibet.

Why a road movie?

It was the idea from the beginning. Somehow that’s the point of the whole story. Because in a broader sense the whole life of Gendun Choephel, the central figure, was a journey. A journey from the border provinces to the city of Lhasa. From there he went abroad and came back again. Apart from this outer journey, there was the inner journey of a man who, agile-minded as he was, always remained «on the road».

And furthermore, as already mentioned, the film is structured like that because I got to know Tibet as a traveller, too. Finally, a last aspect, the film is a dialogue with the past which is also a kind of travelling, time-travelling so to speak: the film moves back and forth between present and past that mirror each other…

What about a permission to film?

I was aware from the beginning that the authorities would have informants and therefore always knew what was going on. Thus, shooting secretly and getting an official permit for a bigger project were out of question. For that reason I had the idea to work with a small and unobtrusive team; actually, just the cameraman Filip Zumbrunn and me. We behaved like tourists, like teachers who wanted to show the video material to their students back home.

Partly we were shooting the usual stuff: markets, monasteries, like all tourists do… (smiling), but we were really lucky, too; if we had been searched at some point and they would have found all the many videocassettes, who knows… But even if the film is critical of China, I clearly never meant to make a film against China. What I am interested in is the inner dynamics of Tibet and in this regard China is just one of the factors. After all I’m critical of Tibetan culture as well.

What do you mean by that?

First of all, I’m very critical of the one-sided way the West looks at Tibet: as a spiritual refuge, an inspiration for the mind… some managers even go to Buddhist monasteries to prepare for the next round of globalization debates. A lot of damage is done by reducing Tibet to a peace-loving pseudo-paradise, perceiving it as «Shangri-la» with all the Tibetans having a spiritual message ready for us. I believe this harms the struggle for Tibetan indepence. Furthermore, I find the romanticizing of the past rather problematic, though Tibet gets idealized not only in the West but by Tibetans as well.

For instance, hardly 5% of the people controlled the whole country and the mingling of religion and politics developed into an unholy alliance of the aristocracy and the monastic establishment. This prevented necessary reforms and a policy of openness. Such things are often forgotten. Gendun Choephel and many others as well, such as the predecessor of the present Dalai Lama, were open for change but they failed time and again with their ideas because of the opposition of conservative forces who of course defend their privileges.

Was your critical approach intentional?

Yes, of course. There are so many films full of admiration for the monasteries, for the lamaism and also for the nomadic society which has been celebrated as a remnant of an age-old, intact culture. Similarly, I dislike political reports that make us believe that Tibet is a destroyed culture and that any resistance against the Chinese is defeated or futile in the end.

But the situation is more complex and indeed a paradox: on the one hand so much has been destroyed since the invasion in 1950, especially during the cultural revolution it was done with meticulous precision. On the other hand, the Tibetans prove every day that there is a life under the Chinese. They have preserved their culture and language, they have kept alive more than one thinks. For instance, many of Gendun Choephel’s writings and paintings featured in my film, have been preserved in Tibet. In this sense Gendun Choephel becomes part of this «survival».

What I mean to say is that the Tibetans shouldn’t be perceived just as victims but as a people who have managed very cleverly to resist the Chinese and who will go on showing their subversive spirit. I never intended to make a purely biographical film on Gendun Choephel, but he serves as a key to the understanding of the history and the complex present of Tibet. Choephel was a man with many sides who had fought for change and at the same time remained a Buddhist all his life. He never turned his back to his own culture.

I deliberately chose to have only Tibetans speak about Gendun Choephel in my film: old people who knew him and other Tibetans of a later generation. At the end I cut out all the Western scholars and Tibet experts whom I had interviewed as well…

Why is the Dalai Lama missing?

I did this on purpose. Probably it would have been easy enough to get an interview with him. But I didn’t want his presence to dominate the film and the other interview partners to be pushed to the background. No matter what he would have said about Gendun Choephel, it would have been a confirmation for many that the film is justified. I didn’t want that, I didn’t want to have this «offical stamp». In my view it is very important that there is a parallel discussion on Tibet which doesn’t rely exclusively on the voice of the Dalai Lama.

AM-Interview-Director - Angry Monk - Luc Schaedler

Luc Schaedler, shooting of «Angry Monk», 2001

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