Interview with Carlos Ferrand
Walter Benjamin was a German philosopher, on the run from the Nazis. The thirteen-chapter documentary essay 13, a Ludodrama about Walter Benjamin explores the wondrous world and personality of a genius man. A combination of archive footage and animated puppet scenes gives an impression of a man thought deeply about the impact of mechanical technologies on life in and the art of the 20th century. InScience interviewed director Carlos Ferrand about his film, Walter Benjamin, and playing with images and sound.
Next year it has been 80 years since the tragic death of Walter Benjamin. What do you think has kept his work so influential?
”He had a very open mind and was open to many disciplines. For 20 years, I’ve been feeling that people’s minds have become more closed off and that we are expected to be more specialized. If you then turn to Walter Benjamin, it is very stimulating. He had this huge constellation of ideas. For example, he was the first person to translate Marcel Proust in German and Franz Kafka in French, but he also had an interest in Mickey Mouse.
Besides this, he is very interesting from a political point of view. He was very much against capitalism, which he thought was a great catastrophe, but at the same time he was not impressed with communist regimes. He traveled during the Soviet era to Moscow but considered it stifling and constrained. He wanted something more open, an idea that still appeals to people.”
What is it that draws you to his work, to the point you wanted to make a film about him?
”It grew on me. Walter Benjamin is very hard to read and when I first started on one of his writings in the eighties I couldn’t get into it. Yet somehow he kept pulling me back and over the years I found myself captivated by him. He is like a sorcerer somehow, who slowly reveals his meaning to you and I found that fascinating. In the seven years it took me to prepare this film the most time was spend on re-reading Benjamin over and over again. One thing I share with him is a distrust in any form of system. That, by the way, is also the reason he isn’t really taught in philosophy, as scholars can never use him to tell you if you are wrong or right – there is no clear way of summarizing his thoughts. His work is taught more in cultural studies, thanks to his The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Recreation.”
Your film uses various styles. Why did you decide on this?
”I was looking for impurity. I wanted to create a bastard style, without harmony. That’s why I hired four totally different animators for the film and that’s why all the live-action moments are shot in hand-held. I also have a love for the fragmentary that matches Benjamin’s writing. Maybe it is because I’m from Peru, were a mix between the profane and the holy is common. In our country, you can climb onto a mountain to visit a holy altar, but there will also be a cola vendor. That’s the feeling I want my film to have.”
The title contains the rather strange word ‘ludodrama’. Can you tell us what this means?
”Walter Benjamin’s life was very tragic, but I didn’t want to make it into a melodrama. Instead, I wanted to honor his love for playfulness. He admired the way children always had a sense of play in everything they did and he thought it was a tragedy that we had to grow up to be adults. Instead, we should be serious in our playfulness. The Latin word ‘ludo’ means ‘to play’ or ‘playful’, so I made up the word ‘ludodrama’ as a counterpoint to melodrama. I’m very proud of it. You also see this playfulness in the structure of the film. Thanks to television we are used to three-act-structures, but I hate that. In my film, you get 13 fragments and you can take or leave anything you want from it.”
What can the art of filmmaking mean for philosophy, and vice versa?
”Like philosophers, artists are searching dilettantes; always searching for something we can’t find. You want to suggest something that is hidden. It’s a bit like sound: you are not always conscious of how it influences you. So as a filmmaker, I’m very interested in using sounds in ways that don’t steer your emotion but suggest something you can’t pinpoint. We recorded the music for the film two years before filming, on toy instruments, to create a sound we can build the film around.”
13, a Ludodrama about Walter Benjamin can be visited on Sunday 10 November at 15:45 during InScience. Buy your tickets.