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“Thoughts on culture and Europe” series: Exclusive interview with Wim Wenders

Wim Wenders


What is the role of politics in your work? Is art an efficient, or even subversive, form for addressing political questions?

I don’t believe much in overt political content in movies. There are better platforms for that in politics themselves. But more than ever, the most important political idea to keep alive today is that of change. Change as a constant possibility, as a necessity, as the very condition of democracy. People often forget that they have it in their hands to change things, small ones as well as big ones. And most of the entertainment industry today tells us the opposite: No need for change, things are good as they are. And people feel increasingly powerless in this global era of late consumerism. Any change therefore appears more and more abstract. But movies can keep that spirit alive, can remind us of this most basic right.

The theme of a latent, never actualized, violence is present in many of your films. Do you think that violence can have liberating effects as well?

Not violence as such. As a mere “ingredient” in a film, it is ugly and despicable. Violence has turned into some sort of consumer article in recent years. But if a film shows the conditions for violence to grow and to erupt, it can in fact have a liberating effect. Most “visible” violence today is superfluous in my mind, though, especially violence against women.

How has cinema been influenced by the overflowing of images and as a result by the growing popular awareness of the lack of their authenticity?

That lack of “authenticity”, certainly fostered by the growing manipulation of images, especially through visual effects, has caused the comeback of documentaries, even to the big screen. People have a growing desire for truth and “real things” they can invest their trust in. The “Dogma” films were a proof of that, and the growing number of independent films, especially by young directors, that describe local events, local color, local conflicts. In the Nineties, “form” and “style” counted more than anything. Now, CONTENT is back, and real issues.

You have chosen and managed to make films all around the world. Would you say that the migrant-artist enjoys a privileged view of the state of things?

My main profession, as filmmaker and photographer, is being a traveler. It is a privilege to work in places other than “at home”. You see things differently, with a larger curiosity. You see things in contexts that “locals” don’t have access to. You have other priorities. Being a stranger can be a state of grace. Not necessarily, though, just potentially.

Europe apart from a political project reflects a cultural dimension as well. This, in terms of setting the boundaries of European culture and trying to pin down a European identity. Do you think this is feasible or even desirable? If you do, even if you don’t, where do you think this process might lead?

The process of strengthening a European identity is more than a necessary one for the future of this continent. It is vital. It can only become the home continent for the next generation of an even larger Europe, if it is filled with emotions, with solidarity, with understanding and respect. “America” and the “American Dream” are largely a product of literature and cinema. The “European Dream” is still undefined and lacks precision. European films have the biggest responsibility here. Films can create that momentum, that enthusiasm, that “belief” in Europe more than any other means.

How would you picture/write/direct something that you would call ‘European’?

I couldn’t do anything else, wherever I work. I’m a German in my soul and European in my heart and in my mind. I could never make an “American” film, even if I tried.

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