Times goes by like a roaring lion
interview with the filmmaker Philipp Hartmann
PDM: You end up your movie “Time goes by like a roaring lion” with
this shadow of a man in a cablecar going over the landscape of a
mountain? What was the meaning of this scene?
As in the whole film, in this scene one may
discover many layers. Layers that are in the picture and sounds but
also layers that lie beyond the film. Layers that the spectator
has to construct him or herself. In this picture of my shadow
sitting in a cablecar, one could for example, remember Plato`s
theme of the cave. The different forms of reflection of reality is
definitively something I am interested in the film. But always
understanding reality as something very subjective, something that
everyone will understand and handle in a different way. What I
offer in the film is my point of view and I hope that every
spectator will use this as a starting point for his or her
reflections, feelings, conclusions.
constructed the film from the concept that one year of my life is
equivalent to one minute of the film and there is a point at
minute 42 where my life time and the film time meet, and then
separate again. Also this shadow that I used at the end which by
coincidence at one moment meets the truck going up the mountain is
really an amazing coincidence; this is like two linear movements
that cross in a moment and then separate again. Then you have
another layer, which is maybe the most obvious
one, which is directly spelled in the text of the film:
the different ways of facing the end of
life in cultures that have a more circular vision of time in
dealing with death, cultures in which
death is not actually the end of the line, but is like a point in
a circle where everything is repeated
and there is re-creation after that, etc; and one of the texts
makes reference to Japan where they had the tradition
old people on the top of the mountains to die, so
the fact that you see me riding up to
the top of the mountain might be something like
an illustration of that concept of
dying. I like the idea to imagine myself at the end of my life
looking down from the mountain, although in the cablecar journey,
or the shadow`s cable car journey, you
never notice actually whether the cable is going up
or down and this is also something that
I like very much. Probably, the most
important thing for me, was the actual
duration of that scene, which is around 4 minutes long, and I wanted to
picture time directly by allowing the scene to last for
the full 4 minutes.
Which I hope allows
the spectator the time to reflect, to think about what
happened in the film and to forget what
I was narrating before. My idea was to make a film that intrigues
you and incites you to reflect about it
but also makes you
think about time itself,
and maybe, at the end,
you will make your own interpretation of
time. My intention was not
to explain something or to
deliver a message.
are of course many other layers. After the screening
Lincoln Center in New York, a woman came to me and said
that she interpreted the shadow like a
sort of spirit, like a ghost going
up the mountain or something like that.
always find it interesting to see other people’s interpretation of
PDM: So you conceived the movie
going in parallel with your life until a point and then the movie
separates from it, because it
describes your future, that’s what you meant by
those lines going together for a while and then separate?
Well, it’s something that comes out of the construction principles
of the movie, it’s not something that I actually meant it to be
strictly like that. At some point
in the film, I am saying that I constructed
this movie to last exactly 76 and a half minute, which,
if you go by the statistics, is my life
expectancy in years as a male German born in ’72. And I built up
the film according to this principle and I tried to construct within this rigid form.
implies I tried to construct the movie more or less according to
different ages - it starts with childhood related subjects and
ends up with elder people and death subjects.
On the other hand, within this very
strict form I am trying to do something that is much more open,
and much more free, but at the same time
I kept track of the duration.
example, exactly at minute 42, which corresponds to my current
age, (I am 42 years old), there is a point where
theoretically the two time lines intersect.
In fact, it is really
something more like playing with this
particular form, it is not like a
gimmick or trick. I
really didn’t know in advance what the editing process
would do, I thought that if by coincidence the movie will last 76
and ½ minutes, then it’s fine, the coincidence would be fine.
Of course, this was not really a coincidence, because I had a written
script, and I knew in advance what would be more or less the
duration of the movie but, for example, if the film would
end up by being 82
minutes long, it wouldn`t
matter. I would just say that hopefully I would also reach
82, that`s all.
P.D- The movie itself is a collage, and it
suggests this idea of a hybrid
time, like a sphinx, a composite form that contains different animals at the
same time: the linear time, the circular time,
etc. I thought the form
you used mirrored this composite nature.
Did you do it on purpose, did you make a
film that is a sort of mirror of the different
things that time seems to be?
Yeah, definitely and I noticed immediately that time isn’t
something that you can explain with one sentence or two or one
approach or two. But you have all this different times, as you said:
the linear time, the circular time, the parallel time, and if you
think about reality things are very similar. What is
reality? There is a huge number of different perceptions,
concepts at work simultaneously. It is the same with time
where there are also
many concepts of time running in parallel.
knew I have to make something different from
a linear construct. Maybe the
collage form is what is most fit to the variety
of aspects encompassed by this concept.
And not only the collage, there are also different
filmic approaches: you have the documentary part, some parts with
actors and script, some personal texts and images; even different
formats, sometimes you have a 16 mm film, some other parts
are filmed in
digital video, some are made with a cell
phone camera, etc.
PDM: Yes, that was the other question, because first you have this
personal narrative and then you have some interruptions with
something that is kind of perpendicular on the personal narrative.
On one hand you have
this subjective personal narrative and then you have all these
other clips which seem completely different.
It is almost like in a novel you move
from the first person to the third person and you try to
find different angles to capture time, you move from inner
time to outside time, from something personal to something more
Yes, and also there are jumps in time.
I remember one of the questions you
sent me by email, asking about documentary and reality.
In the movie there is me and my voice and my own
impressions connecting everything, giving some
structure or some form to the collage. But there are also these fiction parts, the 5 fiction miniatures.
They are, at least in part, like memories of former times, like
memories of my childhood, of my adolescence, even although they
are not completely autobiographic but are
constructed together with Jan Eichberg,
a filmmaker and friend of
mine, who actually wrote those scenes and the texts
and we constructed them together. The idea was to construct stories
about our memories in order to try to approach memories in a different
kind of form, which is in this case the fiction form, with actors,
staging, lightning, etc. For me what is interesting as a
filmmaker who works mainly with documentary, is to include some
fiction parts, because it gives you
different opportunities to speak
about things, to focus on some things and some
is the reason we included all these fiction scenes. In that sense,
I think there is not one better way to speak about reality between
fiction and documentary because both of them are reaching the
different points of view. Reality which
is obviously always something very subjective, something also very
multilayered with a lot of aspects happening at the same time. I
think fiction might sometimes be a more appropriate way to address
matters than a more realistic way; fiction
resonates better with
the subjective reality of our childhood
PDM: It is interesting to note that for Newton time was something
objective, external and then since the theories of relativity of
Einstein who said that there is nothing like an objective time,
everything is in relation and occurs at a
certain spatial location. When you talk about time and your personal life
you are basically, in a sense, mirroring what Einstein was saying:
time is only local, it is only you, only the
time of your life. When you
interrupt your subjective time with these
miniature fictions you introduce something like an
objective time which, in fact, is
fictional, because it does not have any relevance
to you. And I also thought that because of
the parallel between reality and time,
similarly, you can only
approach reality in a personal way because whatever you
consider objective is completely fictional. What do you think about
Yes, time and reality are very similar concepts because they
always depend on you. Your time perception may be completely
different from that of the person that sits next to you. It is
like the story my sister told me about a kid that was in the
railway station with his parents and his parents told him that
there was a train that would come only once per day. “It passes
very rarely” the father says. After ten seconds the kid asks:
“Dad, I think now is rarely”. As children, we perceive time in
a very different way than adults and obviously with reality is the
same; it is all made up within our minds.
This is similar to our fiction
parts in the movie.
Somebody used to compare them with dreams. Reality
can be the things that you see during the day and that intrigue
you but then at night you dream about somebody you did not see
for ten years and you wake up in the morning and that person you
dreamt of is completely real. Sometimes you find in dreams the
same reality of your daily life.
PDM: The nature of dreams…people try to interpret them in a
certain way, Freud and all this psychoanalytic school of
interpretation…but the dream itself is like a found object in a
sense, you don`t really know what it is but it is something very
real, something that defies interpretation. It is like reality.
You try to interpret it and try to understand what is going on but
reality is always more than what you try to say it is.
You start the movie with this photos of
your childhood. Are you using the photos in
order to suggest some type of frozen
time, a sort of metaphor for present, or
rather like a way to go back in time to those moments? Why does your
movie starts with photos?
Yes, on one end is what you just said: frozen moments of time
within a movement. This is very different from film which is more
like a portrait of the movement. 24 photos per second and one photo
is like a frozen moment in that sense.
Sometimes you see a photo and
immediately you remember the situation then you go back in time to
that moment in the past reality that is
more like a dream. These photos are not
like any photos, they are the very first pictures of the film.
When you are loading the
film there is some exposure of the first photos to light and part of the
photo is destroyed in the process. The idea was to start
the movie with the very first moment
of my life which is like the first
picture of the film.
You take a picture of something which,
knowing that it will be destroyed,
is not that important, the next
being the real starting point. I was interested in these moments pre, or
before the actual real beginning, because my idea was
you may find something
valuable in these
You take a picture of something
that is not important for you but,
sometimes in the end, may become
even more important to you than any staged
photos. The idea was to explore this kind of photos
to see if you can find something in them which can be more real than the staged reality/staged
photos. Another idea I had for the film
that in the end I did not use, was
to record the digital
parallel of these photos my father took forty years ago.
Using camcorders that have this prerec
function which automatically records the
previous three seconds when you
press the record button.
PDM: It is preparing itself to start filming.
Actually it is filming all the time but deleting
it every three
seconds. If you want to catch a quick movement like a dolphin
coming out of the water that you always miss because of the
inertia of the camera you have to keep the
camera on going. My idea was to see what happens if you use
the prerec function to record the "non important" moments
- like the camera man focusing and adjusting the camera.
waiting for something specific. Then I found those photos that my father took and I
immediately thought of the parallel with the prerec function. By the way, there is also something
which is important for the choice of these photos; the
psychologists always explain that you do not have any memories of
your first three years of life; between the age of three and six
years of age something happens in your brain that erases the prior
information to make space for something new; psychologists call
this phenomenon "childhood amnesia" which is apparently something
that happens to everybody. At some point you loose the memory that
you had accumulated until your third year of life. So actually
these photos taken in the first three years of my life are
portraits of moments I myself can have no memory of, so I need
these photos to recreate my own memory. Your
reality before the age of three is all
made up, is a false reality created by
false memories.My memory of the first three years of life depends a lot
on these photos taken by my father and I feel
my own memory being build on these pictures. I
have the impression I remember these
first moments but what I am remembering
in fact is a fictional world made up by me based on
these pictures and not reality itself.
PDM: Maybe with these pictures you were trying to represent
something which is not possible to represent which is the
apparition of time, something which is static and with this
focusing on the prerecording moments it’s like looking at the
universe before it was created when time did not exist; is like
trying to find out what happened before time existed. So you start
the movie, which is time, with something which was before time. It
was obviously intentional.
am actually not speaking of the moment before the existence of
time but I am speaking of the moment before my personal life time.
I am actually speaking only about my life, so if you see this as a
metaphor for the moment before the creation of the universe it
works because I am speaking about myself and my ideas, in order to
make you think about your own life and your
PDM: I am starting to see that there are
more than 6 billion realities on this planet, meaning that every
human being is a universe with its own rules and the consensual reality,
the external reality is a fiction
we create together…So,
your universe starts with these partially white
photos that try to capture time
…I mean, maybe this is only one time in one branch of universe or
universes, we still don`t know.
There is in quantum physics this
theory of parallel times and we see only one of several possible
times. Maybe is not even 6 billion realities but billion times 6
billion realities or even more…
PD: Yes, there was a movie, “Mr. Nobody”, in which there are
bifurcations in time and there are all these parallel times that
are superimposed, different layers of time but, in your movie
there is a white desert, and this is an image that persists and I
was wondering if you were using it as a way to depict time itself,
which is like a white and cracked page onto which anything can be
written. What was the reason behind the
use of it?
Yeah, definitely, I am not sure if I can give you a precise
reason, it was somehow also a lot of
intuition. I went to this place which is the biggest salt desert
in the world located in Bolivia at 4,000 meters altitude above sea
level. I went there a couple of years ago with some friends
as a tourist and we travelled around it in
these tours in which in one or two days you see everything.
immediately I had this feeling, wow, this place is amazing! One of
the strongest feelings I had was that time doesn`t exist here, it
is like a standstill and I felt I had to go back to this place and
stay longer. You really have to expose yourself to this place and
this is why I decided to go back together with
Helena Wittmann, the photographer of the
film. We stayed there for two
weeks with the idea to expose ourselves to the monotony of time in
this place that gives you a strong feeling of non-existence of
time. We felt intuitively that we have to film different sort of
things; there was more intuition than anything else, but it had
something as you said of a white page with nothing on it. I think
also a lot had to do with the fact that your mind gets very
focused because there is nothing to expect coming from this white
horizon, you really feel this white page that you mentioned and
you can concentrate. We spend half a day on a mountain
observing the tourists taking pictures, there were moments when we
physically felt time passing. The
tourists scene in
the movie only lasts 3 or 4 minutes and actually during all this
half a day we did nothing than observe the tourists taking
pictures. But if you look closer you suddenly realize they are
forming some sort of choreography and change in their
configurations. By taking time to observe you suddenly become very
focused and start seeing a lot of small details. We spent a week and
a half in one village, there was not much there to see, no
telephone coverage,etc. and we knew in advance that we have to
spend a week and a half there. It was amazing because obviously
every day we went out with our cameras to film something else.
the first days we went up the mountain and we filmed all the
white, up to the horizon, this huge white desert and the more time
we spent in that village, the more focused on small details we
became. I remember we spend the last day filming small cracks in the floor,
macro shooting the floor. The longer we stayed there, the
closer the camera
got to the ground, and
also closer to the smaller things.
PDM: Is this because salt conserves everything? We use salt to
make things last. This is a salt desert in which time itself
conserved and almost stops.
The fact that you got focused and
you were concentrated on
minute details maybe
that time was slowing down for you. The camera was not affected by
The photographer is very responsible and takes good care of the
equipment but we had some problems related to the high altitude.
One of the sound recorders stopped working because it was too high
PDM: We started discussing about personal
versus objective time.
In the movie, you also depict ways of measuring time and I
was wondering if it’s possible to measure inner
time, because in
inner time every single being, any single object has its own
pace, its own way of being inside.
sandglasses can not measure our inner time.
In the movie you also tried to see what is time from the
perspective of measurement.
This has also very much to do with reality because for everybody
time perception is different.
We still have these regulated
time calculating systems, like the 24 hour day, we all start
working in the morning at the same time, etc; I have been trying to fight these
time measuring systems, by finding the moments when the measuring
systems fail - like the leap seconds that the physicist was
describing in the movie; they have this extremely accurate atomic
clock yet every 18 months they have to add a second, to
practically produce a minute that has 61 instead of 60 seconds; so
even their system is not accurate. Or the lady in Buenos Aires with
this sandglass that is running 25 minutes on one side and 26
minutes on the other. She is saying this is rubbish we can not
sell that but I am interested exactly in those moments, in that
particular time when the system fails.
PDM: This is a very ingenious device, how did you do it, to have
time running 25 min one way and 26 minutes
the other way?
What is actually amazing is how hourglasses that run
exactly the same time from both sides are
produced. Glass workers told me that in fact it is not natural to produce
hourglasses that run the same time from both sides.
You have to work very accurately in the
production. Maybe in this case somebody
did not pay enough attention during the fabrication process and
that`s why the hourglass is not accurate.
This is interesting, because you think of the movement of
reversing time, but in fact you can never reverse time, going one
way is never the same as going the opposite way.
PH: That, too… You
have your personal, subjective perception of time but still you
are living with certain obligations, rules, even biological rules.
The thing that intrigued
me, at the beginning, was how the subject of time
and the concept of reality are related. In the desert I
was trying to cover similar distances
on the screen in similar times running from one side of the
camera to the other. My speed, of course was
variable. The experiment failed because I am a
non perfect human
being. At the end this is what interested me: to show my
PDM:. Time…the movement…Aristotle said that time is a measure of
movement… and when you’re running back and forth you are really
illustrating this idea that time is a measurement of movement.
Your scene in the movie when you run in front of the camera was a
clear illustration of Aristotle`s idea.
Actually, now that you think of it, velocity…there is a simple
physics formula that velocity is distance divided by time and I am
reformulating this formula saying that time is distance divided by
velocity. So, as I am running,
some lines that seem the same distance from the perspective of the
camera, that seem to be the same distance on the screen, obviously the closer I get
to the camera, I have to slow down to
adapt my velocity to the real distance (which
becomes shorter) and, like this, make time constant.
This was the idea of the "experiment" - to find a way to dominate
the mathematical variable time. Trying to adapt physics to
PDM: So, this is interesting making something fix which is
actually variable, when you go between the subjective and the
objective. We have all these measurement devices that are
regulating our lives and then we have your inner world that has
very different movements and times. I am wondering whether anxiety
appears from the clash of these 2 worlds.
You know there are all these small kids that have to go to school
and their biological clocks start working at 9 am and nobody knows
why these small kids should not sleep 2 hours more…Tomorrow I have
to take a flight for Brazil and the plain leaves at 6 am which is
obviously good for their business but for me it is horrible to
wake up at 3 am. Another observation is that your inner time
concept and the social time concept are not the same.
PDM. In the movie we have a scene with some people running around
a car, and I think this is also interesting because their time was
different from the guys in the cars waiting behind…
Yes-this is one of these five
"fiction-film-miniatures" and this is actually a memory from the
adolescence of Jan, that friend of mine, who used to play this game as a
teenager. You are running around the car and time seems to stop
and it’s like you are in the middle of the world and the only
thing that is important is your time perception and your reality
at that moment. It is like the whole queue of the cars is stopping
just to let them play their game.
This is a moment in the flux of
time which is very strong. It is
also interesting that
in this scene you also see different movements; the
circular movements of the guys running around the car, the linear
movement of the cars waiting at the stop light and you also have the image
of the plane that flies above (which is actually a fake digital
airplane) with another direction and another kind of linear
movement behind. If you look
closely at the plane you see it disappear, like a timeline vanishing at that
moment. The main idea of the scene was to play with different
visualizations of movement.
PDM: This leads me to a different question, because you don’t
really see time, time is like the invisible man, and I am
wondering if these miniatures scenes are like painting the
invisible man or putting some cloths on him to make him visible.
Time is like air…you really don`t see it…you have the
linear movement of the car and then another movements going in
circles, you put in front of your eyes these two different times:
the circular time and the linear time because otherwise you would
not see it, it would be like air.
Yes - this is maybe one aspect: to find visual metaphors for time,
or to make images of the effect of time on movements.
cannot see time but you feel it, you have the physical feeling of
time, and you have the third layer, the third element of the
imagined things, such as the staged story of the woman who lost
her memory and she is the only one remembering her twin sister.
People say “you don’t
have a twin” but she knows “yes, there is a twin sister”.
And then one afternoon, the mysterious
sister comes and you can
maybe even hear her
talking but you don`t see her.
PDM: Another layer is time and memory, this woman with memory
problems is erasing time, without memory time, at least the
subjective part of it, we would be stuck in the present and unable
to record anything. Remembered time becomes nostalgia, there is
this memory layer that is producing the nostalgia, and I noticed
you are using black and white scenes in your movie to suggest
Yes, I have probably a lot of nostalgic feelings and nostalgic memories of
my life until now. As you say, the memories are the things that
structure your past. The past 42 years would be nothing without the
memories I had. This childhood amnesia is actually something very
tragic because you loose part of your biography. A similar thing
we were imagining for the case of this amnesic woman:
she may have lost her sister because
she does not remember her past.
nostalgia...am I nostalgic in the film?
I was interested in creating
this form and using the convention one year of the movie-one year
of my life; then there is minute 42, after which I am guessing my
future, what may interest me in the future, how will I die and
things like that. And then there are moments in the second part of
the movie, when I am talking about my father, and my mother.
don’t know what the future will be, but I will carry with me my
memories. On one hand the future is optimistic, on the other hand
it maybe has to be nostalgic because of the memories. The memories
reconcile your past with your present and your future and help you
move on with your present.
PDM: There is a word in Portuguese called “saudade”, also an
equivalent word exists in Romanian, ”dor” and this is what you
depicted, the nostalgia of the future, you have this yearning and
joy for what will happen.
I think, in this sense, I am quite nostalgic, but I also have joy remembering the
"good old days".
The memories of my childhood give me a lot of
happiness and energy to direct me to the future.
PDM: Also “dor” in Romanian, does not have a pessimistic
connotation, it describes the feeling of being separated from the
beloved and then yearning to be with that person again.
PH:…yeah, the same for “saudade”.
PDM: You also brought your parents in the film, how do you think
about them in this film that is about time and yourself; your parents
were there before time, before your time. By
bringing your parents in the movie, in a
sense, you brought the past into the present.
My parents are the most important people to me,
and somehow it is a tragic
feeling the fact that you can’t spend your whole life with the most important
people for you. They have a time before
your time and now I have a time after my father`s death and I will
probably have some time after my mother`s death.
I owe them a lot of memories and time and I included my
parents in the film because they are very important for me.
Some people wait their whole life for their
retirement to finally enjoy life after 65. Maybe this is why I
decided to change life and start to study film at age 33, after doing a Ph D in economics,
because I had the experience that sometimes you
even don`t reach your retirement age. Maybe I wouldn’t have
done this if I didn`t have the experience of my father dying at 61.
This is also why my father is so present in a lot of scenes.
a scene where I talk about his death and I remember that with
the last money he gave me I bought my first
video camera. I
always thought that
at some moment I
would make a film for him; and when I was making this film I
realized this is the film. Also if you are speaking about time, death is the moment
when time ends. There maybe be something after that but I am not
convinced. I think my death will be the end of my life and my
father`s death was the end of his life.
PDM: There is this other layer,
mortality, both a source of anxiety,
and one of the sources of meditation
about time. The fact that we are mortal beings
gives a different stake
to the meditation about time
Yes, definitely, death is the end of time and at some point you are
obliged to confront it. I was never religious or something but
at the time of my father death I noted something that other people
may call religious: That time is not only linear.
start to believe in things, you hope to see him again, you notice
some new details. I have a close friend of mine who is a pastor in
the protestant church and she is very religious. She saw my movie
and she told me that my movie is exactly like the speeches she
does in church: you go through all these feelings from
laughing, crying, and you have all sorts of reflections on life
and at the end you get out of the film somehow
purified. She thinks it is
a very religious film.
It is true that although I am not
speaking about religion, in a sense, it is a very religious movie. I am
speaking about the death of my father but I am also speaking about
these attitudes of different cultures that see life as a circular
movement and death embedded in a natural
and spiritual circuit.
PDM: Your movie ends with images of nature and nature has this
power of renewal that never ends, this circularity, the seasons
that come and go and the shadow that goes over this landscape is a
visual metaphor for the fleeting life of a human being against
nature`s background which is eternal; eternal time versus human
You can understand death as the end of time but you can also see
the constant repetition of nature that
perpetually rejuvenates herself. I am not saying that
things are like this or like that but I am
presenting a whole
variety of options. I hope everybody makes up his
or her own mind
about what will happen after death.