Times goes by like a roaring lion

An 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?

PH: 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.

I 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 of  carrying 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.

There are of course many other layers. After the screening at the 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. I always find it interesting to see other people’s interpretation of my movie.

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?

PH: 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. Which also 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. For 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?

PH: 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. So I 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 objective.

PH: 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 details. This 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 subject from 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 all these matters than a more realistic way; fiction resonates better with the subjective reality of our childhood memories.

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 this?

PH: 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?

PH: 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 immediate picture being the real starting point. I was interested in these moments pre, or before the actual real beginning, because my idea was that you may find something valuable in these unstaged photos. 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.

PH: 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. Continuously not 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.

PH: I 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 own experiences.

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 before time.

PH: …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?

PH: 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. And 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. In 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 is conserved and almost stops. The fact that you got focused and you were concentrated on minute details maybe suggests that time was slowing down for you. The camera was not affected by high salinity?

PH: 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 for it.

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. Clocks and sandglasses can not measure our inner time. In the movie you also tried to see what is time from the perspective of measurement.

PH: 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?

PH: 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.

PDM: 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 failure.

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.

PH: 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 my reality.

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.

PH: 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…

H: 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.

PH: Yes - this is maybe one aspect: to find visual metaphors for time, or to make images of the effect of time on movements. You 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 nostalgia.

PH: 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.

My 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. I 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.

PH: 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.

PH: 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. There is 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 which, suddenly, becomes very serious.

PH: 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. You suddenly 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 time.

PH: 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.




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