Interview with 'Beuys' director Andres Veiel

Source: Via Email/Kino 

Kino/Andres Veiel
Andres Veiel's new film "Beuys" was recently released on Jan. 17 at the Film Forum in New York. In February and March "Beuys" will be expanding to other national markets. It's about the charismatic and controversial German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986).

Andres Veiel is one of the most renowned German directors known for his other films like "The Kick," "Winter's Night Dream" (his first documentary film), "The Survivors," "If Not Us, Who?" and "Addicted to Acting." He also worked in the theater too! So the Abstract got a chance to ask Andres Veiel a few questions about "Beuys" and about his new project!

So here's the interview:

1. What inspired you the most about Joseph Beuys that made you want to do a documentary about him?
Beuys was a provocative artist, so he already fascinated me when I was young. His “Fatcorner” was like dynamite in the suburban bourgeois atmosphere where I grew up. And there was another provocation too: Beuys extended the notion of art into the political sphere. He developed ideas for a new monetary system; money trade would undermine democracy, money shouldn`t be a commodity. He said this in the 1980s, more than 20 years before the huge financial crisis in 2008, so I still see him as a visionary, someone way ahead of his time. And he is a great artist, too. His drawings, for example, are so beautiful, full of poetic strength. And that's a rare combination. And more than two good reasons to make a film on Beuys.

2. How does “Beuys” compare to your other documentaries?
It is my first film on an artist based mostly on archive footage. We were able to work with a huge treasure box of footage: 300 hours of moving images, 200 hours of taped audio interviews, around 20.000 photos. I never worked so long on a film, we spent more than 18 months in an editing room, with two editors. We had to find a very specific formal approach, beyond a conventional structure of a biopic by telling his life from birth to death. We tried to develop a more open, associative narrative style. Beuys always revealed and concealed himself in riddles and contradictions. We realized that this openness ought to become the film`s principle as well.

3. Was there any major issues during the production of “Beuys?”
The whole project took more than three years. There were a lot of hurdles. First of all, we had to convince the Beuys Estate (the widow and his two children) to let us make the film. There were many other directors who wanted to make a film on Beuys, and they were all rejected. I also failed in my first attempt but then I could convince the Estate (don`t ask me how!). The permission was necessary to get the right to use all the pieces of art in the film. But we also had to license all the photos and moving images. That meant to deal with more than 200 copyright holders all over the world. Some were very cooperative, but not all. Sometimes they wanted to charge us thousands of dollars just for one photo, far beyond our means. So we had to find other editing solutions, which sometimes meant destroying something that was already done in a very sophisticated way. But in the end, we found sometimes even better solutions.

4. Do you believe that there is another artist like him in this current time period?
Of course, there are a lot of great political artists in our period, Ai Weiwei or Damien Hirst, just to mention two of them. But there is no new Beuys. His background of knowledge, mystical inspiration, and political foresight is unique. Dealing with him now for many years I still discover something new. So I´m not really at a dead end with Beuys. Even if I wished.

5.  Are you working on a new documentary subject? If so can you share any information about it?
It will be a project on our future for the next ten years. In my last films, I was always looking backwards. It is time to deal with the challenges of the future which are already present: the decay of democracy and a questionable monetary system aimed on highest profits rather on the question where money is needed: education, research, socially relevant investments. I`m in the middle of a huge research worldwide.

So I would like to thank Andres Veiel once again for answering these questions. I would also like to share the official U.S. trailer for his new documentary "Beuys:"