LAURIN FEDERLEIN & LAURA HERMANIDES
Two weeks ago we had the immense pleasure of having the CPH:LAB team Laura Hermanides (NL) and Laurin Federlein (DE) join us in the CPH:DOX headquarters. The team asked if they could meet here for an intense week of development on neutral ground, a.k.a. the office space next to the CPH:LAB headquarter. Needless to say, we were thrilled to welcome them back to Copenhagen.
We took advantage of the situation and seized the opportunity to sneak a peek inside the world of a CPH:LAB collaboration at work, to find out more about the dynamics of working in pairs and to discuss their mutual project in the making.
When paired in Copenhagen in November, the team’s initial idea was to outsource the grant given to them from the LAB, and use it to create a project that would finance ten projects, from ten filmmakers from ten different countries. If that sounds familiar it’s probably because in a way it reflects the structure of CPH:LAB as a source that funds ten pairs of filmmakers to create ten projects per year. The aim in this case, however, is to treat the commissioning of the films purely as a commercial transaction, using the cheapest commercial filmmakers from countries that have never previously submitted films to the CHP:DOX festival. The question of what constitutes an "art film" is outsourced, and the answers are returned at a very low cost.
Who is paying for your lunch?
Laurin explains: “It is naïve not to question the context in which we were asked to produce the work. When someone invites you for a free lunch, you should question who is paying for it, and in a way that is what we are doing. It would be easier just to eat lunch, since being invited here in Copenhagen is so beautiful and everything is so beautifully organised and everyone is fantastic, but maybe it is also important to draw attention to the context and who is excluded and who is not invited.”
When discussing the process Laura clarifies: “What we tried to do was to find the ten countries worldwide that spend the least public money on cultural funding. As it turns out, it is very hard to find this kind of information - it is even hard to find data on the GDP of all the countries. So that’s why we decided to go back to the source and use CPH:DOX as our main databank and use it to find the countries that have never submitted to the festival. We figured that would give us the gap we are looking for.”
When suggesting it seemed like a very moral cause, that of targeting countries that don’t usually get the opportunity to participate, Laurin answers: “It sounds too charitable. Cynical mechanisms is the key term used as our starting point. So it shouldn’t be seen as a research about overlooked artists, but rather as a project in which we two fit the shoes of a corporation trying to outsource something as efficiently as possible, and so we go for the overlooked countries because it has novelty value and because those films are not usually exposed.”
“I guess it is a provocation to turn an artistic statement into something that should be purely a financial transaction.” Laura goes on, “I think this is a very deliberate provocation to treat artistic filmmaking as a commodity, and see what the outcome might be. And at the same time we started questioning what the definition of an artistic film is, and contemplate it along the contemporary market mechanisms that it has to go though nowadays, a topic we are both very interested in. So we asked ourselves how could you, through a market mechanism, get the maximum amount of art out of a definite amount of money?”
The worst intensions
Although a very convincing argument, there was no doubt that the pair, even when willingly assuming the part of a mechanic process, portrayed a very human side of them when confronted with the hopes they hold for the future of the projects to come. So inevitably a conversation about their fear and hopes for the final result of the future projects came about and the pair was confronted with the risks of experimenting and the possibility of failure, which are both endorsed by CPH:LAB in its attempt to push the creative boundaries of the filmmaking industry.
The couple thought about creating an artistic project of their own but couldn’t resist the idea of experimenting with something different and new “I feel that when I get funding I get funded for an idea of mine and now instead we decided the money we got we don’t spend it on our own idea of a story that has to be told, but we spend it on a concept, and that feels very different” Laura says, when asked about how she felt taking such an unusual approach. And when questioned about what pushed her and Laurin into that decision she answers: “I think is common ground and common interest in how the world works and its market mechanisms and the way it defines art. I think it is such an interesting project and I keep on being fascinated by the questions we ask.”
“It is a different sort of responsibility.” Laurin adds, “I guess in the end we just hope that the contrast between our very mechanical and cynical way of setting it up, and the actual work we’ll end up having will be very strong. You see, I think often people do terrible things with the best intentions, and I think we are trying to have the worst intentions with the hope of creating really wonderful things.”
The final project is planned to be an installation, which sees the ten filmmaking projects as the main focus, while at the same time providing context and conceptualisation of the CPH:LAB pair’s process. Their hope however, is that each one of the projects they intent to produce will be able to stand out and have a life of its own.
No matter the final outcome, it is undeniable that Laura and Laurin are a great match, and not just because of the lovely alliteration that comes from their names. In fact the two appear to be complementary rather then similar and capable of confidently confront how their diversity came together as a point of strength rather then weakness. Laura is a very hands on, working machine with a strong training in documentary making while Laurin comes from a much more artistic background, and a thrive for conceptualization.
“We are completely complementary,” Laurin explains, “I haven’t made many film in the past seven years and Laura is been working like crazy and that’s such a great exchange. And of course when you are put on a level, that really influences you, encourages you in a good way. I think it’s a miracle to encourage artistic ego, I think to me initially [pairing two filmmakers] sounded like such a strange idea because there in usually only space for one of you in the room. But it is a really good feeling because you feel also jointly responsible and so you can be a bit more proud” – a valid point that was also elaborated during Niels Lan Docky master class, during the CPH:LAB workshop week, about the ability of working in an environment with different strong egos, for the sake of the artistic outcome, a teaching he had learned though years of playing jazz.
No hanky panky in the background
Laura’s point on the other hand also conceals an argument that lies close to the core of the CPH:LAB, which is that of learning to turn your weakness into your strengths, especially when working in pair. So even when working together on this particular project required a considerable amount of time, they turned that into a necessary do for the sake of its transparency, conceptualization and accountability.
“I am really learning from Laurin to be a purist.” Specified Laura, while talking directly to Laurin “you are pure about what you do and the decisions you make and I really want to do that to the fullest in this project. This is not a project for compromises; it is a project fit to continuously question weather a step is good or not and look at it from all its angles. And I really admire that of you, when you talk about your other projects, you do take every step very consciously and that inspires me a lot to do that more. In this project we want to be accountable and transparent, it’s a lot about guarding the transparency”
“Yes we want to be incredibly accountable, our decisions should be very clear and should be accountable for what we do. So no hanky panky in the background.” Laurin confirms and adds “Encountering reality so many of your preconceptions are constantly challenged and so many problems that you see disappear and so may problems that you never saw appear, and actually that’s something that I need much more, to encounter the world and not being in my head so much, I think Laura was really useful in teasing me out there and actually pushing me and that’s really good, really useful.”
Needles to say we expect great things from these two and their fascinating new project, especially after they showed us they can literally do magic…