Britspotting film festival in Berlin. Ben Knight speaks to the veteran of the halcyon frisson of 1970's New York and economic downturn and creativity. "/> Britspotting film festival in Berlin. Ben Knight speaks to the veteran of the halcyon frisson of 1970's New York and economic downturn and creativity. " />
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FILM

Vivienne Dick: ‘Experimentation becomes an important way to resist’

Avant-garde Irish filmmaker Vivienne Dick is one of the special guests at this year's Britspotting film festival in Berlin. Ben Knight speaks to the veteran of the halcyon frisson of 1970's New York and economic downturn and creativity.

Vivienne Dick: ‘Experimentation becomes an important way to resist’
Photo: A scene from Dick's Visibility Moderate

A lot of people compare Berlin now with New York in the 1970’s. Do you understand what they mean?

It’s to do with the recession. Maybe it’s something to do with the city as well. But I think it’s more to do with the recession, or – I don’t know what to call it – the unemployment situation. People can’t get work, but they have to be able to eat, so they live here for less than you can in London or Dublin. But at the same time you’ve got more time to do creative things. That’s what happened in New York then.

Is that why you went over there?

I was following my instinct, I’d say. There was nothing for me in Ireland. I was interested in working in photography, and there was no way to get work because they wouldn’t employ women at the time. Plus you had to go to photography school to get work, and the course wouldn’t take women. And in London? I didn’t see much difference there.

All those people running around calling themselves artists were guys – it just didn’t have that energy I found in New York. I immediately found that city a very creative place on a level I’d never come across anywhere. Perhaps it’s like that here now.

What goes through your mind when you watch your films after 30 years?

I think they’ve stood the test of time, that’s what goes through my mind. They still have this energy that’s beyond me – it’s an energy that’s out there now. Creativity is not something you can own. If you start to believe you own it, then it withers. But the films do bring back a certain time as well. I mean I was younger, for a start. I look at them and think, “God, how beautiful we all were.”

One of the films being shown at Britspotting, ‘Visibility Moderate,’ is about travelling back to Ireland. Why did you make that film then, after you’d been in New York so long?

I love travelling, I love entering different worlds. Obviously I know Ireland very well. When you live away from home and you go back you see it through the eyes of a stranger. You have a knowledge of a place, and you’re more acutely open to the bizarreness of it. It was important to jump into making a film while I was still open to it. Part of the film is about the Ireland that Ireland is trying to sell, and what people kind of expect when they go there. Ireland’s become so good at capitalising on this, and selling the blarney and the craic to death.

How do you feel about that?

Well, it’s a load of nonsense isn’t it? But it’s interesting because everything is constructed anyway. You just get the feeling in Ireland they’d sell their granny if they had to. Things are collapsing in Ireland now though. Which is a good thing.

Is it, why?

It’ll give us a break, you know? From this mad consumerism. Let us pause for a minute and see what we want, exactly.

So why did you go back?

Lots of reasons. One – I got a job. Two – I was getting depressed. New York was beginning to close in on me. Three – I wanted to go back because I’d been away for twelve years. Four – I thought Ireland had changed, and I’d be able to go back. But I got a shock. I found out it was too soon for me.

Does the ‘experimental’ label bother you?

No, I’ve got nothing against it. We all have to be experimenting. We all have to discover new ways to describe the world. People who are successful making large-scale feature films are always experimenting and drawing on the avant-garde. They pick all those tricks up from the experimenters.

And I think in this proto-fascist world that we’re going into now at the speed of light, experimentation becomes more and more important as a way to resist.

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CULTURE

German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Walk around the German Alpine village of Oberammergau, and the chances are you'll run into Jesus or one of his 12 disciples.

German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Of the 5,500 people living there, 1,400 — aged from three months to 85 — are participating this year in the once-a-decade staging of an elaborate “Passion Play” depicting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Dating back to 1634, the tradition has persisted through four centuries of wars, religious turmoil and pandemics — including the most recent Covid-19 crisis which caused the show to be postponed by two years.

“I think we’re a bit stubborn,” says Frederic Mayet, 42, when asked how the village has managed to hold on to the tradition.

Mayet, who is playing Jesus for the second time this year, says the Passion Play has become a big part of the town’s identity.

Oberammergau Passion Plays

Posters for the 42nd Oberammergau Passion Play – which was originally scheduled to take place in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmth

The only prerequisite for taking part in the five-hour show, whether as an actor, chorister or backstage assistant, is that you were born in Oberammergau or have lived here for at least 20 years.

“I remember that we talked about it in kindergarten. I didn’t really know what it was about, but of course I wanted to take part,” says Cengiz Gorur, 22, who is playing Judas.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The best events and festivals in Germany this July

‘Hidden talent’ 

The tradition, which dates back to the Thirty Years’ War, was born from a belief that staging the play would help keep the town safe from disease.

Legend has it that, after the first performance, the plague disappeared from the town.

In the picturesque Alpine village, Jesus and his disciples are everywhere — from paintings on the the facades of old houses to carved wooden figures in shop windows.

You also can’t help feeling that there is a higher-than-average quota of men with long hair and beards wandering the streets.

Religious figurines Oberammergau

Religious figurines adorn a shop window in Oberammergau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

An intricate image of Jesus graces the stage of the open-air Passion Play theatre, where the latest edition of the show is being held from mid-May to October 2nd.

“What has always fascinated me is the quality of the relationship between all the participants, young and old. It’s a beautiful community, a sort of ‘Passion’ family,” says Walter Lang, 83.

He’s just sad that his wife, who died in February, will not be among the participants this year.

“My parents met at a Passion Play, and I also met my future wife at one,” says Andreas Rödl, village mayor and choir member.

Gorur, who has Turkish roots, was spotted in 2016 by Christian Stückl, the head of the Munich People’s Theatre who will direct the play for the fourth time this year.

“I didn’t really know what to do with my life. I probably would have ended up selling cars, the typical story,” he laughs.

Now, he’s due to start studying drama in Munich this autumn.

“I’ve discovered my hidden talent,” he says.

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

Violence, poverty and sickness

Stückl “has done a lot for the reputation of the show, which he has revolutionised” over the past 40 years, according to Barbara Schuster, 35, a human resources manager who is playing Mary Magdalene.

“Going to the Passion Play used to be like going to mass. Now it’s a real theatrical show,” she says.

In the 1980s, Stückl cut all the parts of the text that accused the Jews of being responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, freeing the play from anti-Semitic connotations.

“Hitler had used the Passion Play for his propaganda,” Schuster points out.

Stückl

Christian Stückl, the director of the Oberammergau Passion Play, holds a press conference announcing the cancellation of the play in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

The play’s themes of violence, poverty and sickness are reflected in today’s world through the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic, say Mayet, the actor playing Jesus.

“Apparently we have the same problems as 2,000 years ago,” he says.

For 83-year-old Lang, who is playing a peasant this year, the “Hallelujah” after Christ has risen for the final time in October will be a particularly moving moment.

“Because we don’t know if we’ll be there again next time,” he says, his eyes filling with tears.

By Isabelle Le Page

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