May 25, 2015

Sundance Channel Shorts winner

Thank you all who helped us to win this award! The film was presented for a very short time for you and we hope that you enjoyed it as much as we when filming it! So now it is official: during the First Ever Sundance Channel Shorts Competition DISCONNECTED won Vimeo Audience Award chosen by Sundance Channel fans. We have gained more than 400 hearts from you! Thank you, friends! It's good to know that our short film has generated so much interest and hopefully some awareness too. Muchas gracias!

Below you will find an interview with more background about our project:

Ben and Ricardo, you’ve met in Berlin to make a film, but you come from Venezuela and Poland. So how did the idea for “Disconnected” was born?
Ricardo: Last summer I traveled to Berlin for the exhibition of my documentary 'Art'. Connection with the city was instantaneous. Berlin looked to me as a metaphor of entire world and 'Disconnected' was my creative answer to that feeling. I lived in Barcelona at that time for 7 months, but that city was not even in half as inspiring as Berlin.
Ben: A friend of mine told me that some Latin filmmaker is visiting Berlin as I was looking for some contacts in the industry. She arranged the meeting and with Ricardo we’ve discussed some issues including the politics, arts, filmmaking etc. The next day he mailed me asking for help with some mysterious idea for a film.

Could you explain further the origins of your cooperation on project?
Ben: Ricardo mentioned that he has everything but an actor: an interesting story, the locations and of course the camera. He said that he would film me and I would film him, back to back. Thus the production won’t need many people and it will be faster. I liked that idea instantly. He mentioned that he want to make a kind of experiment with filming the scenes without dialogues and adding later archive footages. The script was one-page long so we had the whole film idea at one glance.

Ricardo: I wanted to show the story of all four characters through situations, not the dialogues. Only then they would be more universal. The sound was not a problem for us since we planned not to use the original recording. Ben put the camera on a tripod to film most shots in one-point perspective which gave the film the distinct look. The static shots were later divided with multi-screen technique during the editing. We covered the picture with black bars in order to fit the composition and to give it more epic look. Like in the opening shot with Brandenburg Gate when we meet the characters for the first time.

Did you have any problems during the filming?
Ricardo: Ben was setting the marks for actors. He is also an editor so he knew how to assemble the shots later and what was missing. He took care of the continuity, like in which direction each character is going, so we could easily film the scenes out of order. It made the work so much faster.
Ben: We were filming totally the guerilla style. I was wearing a white hat and the city map was hanging out from my pocket. When in crowd we were speaking Spanish. The security guys didn’t allowed us to film from a tripod close to the Holocaust Monument. But in general no one cared about us. We were like some crazy tourists.

How was the process of being actors and directors at same time?
Ricardo: The very first day we were filming the scenes with The Artist in the gallery. I turned Ben into another work of art: he was static, and so was the frame.
Ben: My scenes were rather easy: I was literally doing nothing. Just standing with some strange gaze or walking from one place to another. But Ricardo had to run through all the shots and it was challenging. The weather was very good for us, lots of warm light. It was funny to film the scene in the park behind the Topography of Terror with me and Ricardo together. We had to check the playback after every take. As you’ve said, it was lots of fun.

How did you find the other actors and why there are no Germans?
Ricardo: Dionisis Christofilogiannis and Eva Mitala are amazing Greek artists. They took part in III International Biennale of Contemporary Arts in Venezuela, where I was a special guest curator. Then we met again in Eva Mitala’s Reh-Transformer in Berlin, so the next step was shooting something together. Dionisis was amazing, he came from Greece just for this project and we filmed him when he was sick actually. Eva was about to play the She character, but had to travel. We were searching for some other actress through internet databases, asking friends and posting adverts. Lot of people were interested, but we couldn’t fit the character and schedule. We were scared because my flight to Barcelona was already booked.
Ben: Finally Ricardo’s friend from Greece mentioned him Despina Bibika and luckily she was free on the weekend. Ricardo moved to my place for the last days and we filmed Despina very fast. She was very pro, perfect in every take. Eventually it was a small international production with Venezuelan and Polish filmmakers, two Greek actors. And BogusÅ‚aw Salnikow, my Polish friend from Holland composed the score. No German involved during the production in Berlin and hopefully no German was hurt afterwards.

Speaking of Germany, what about the political inclinations? There are lots of Snowden images in the film and many “Free Gaza” graffiti.
Ricardo: The Asylum for Snowden bumpers were all around the place at that time. And there was a godsend in the flesh of Gaza demonstration on Potsdamer Platz. There’s a strong “documentary spirit” in the movie. Upon noticing what’s going on we wanted to incorporate the event into our anti-war story, which was already connected to the Gaza issue. After Ben’s suggestion we filmed a scene with the forgotten grave of Ulrike Meinhof from RAF to give even more dimension. After coming back to Barcelona I was working on the archive footages. I scanned the net in search for some material which would give more depth to our basic story.
Ben: He was experiencing the horrors of wars while I was experiencing the horrors of putting the whole material together. Editing the narrative story as we planned it was rather easy. But adding the archives forced us to develop the new aspect ratio. The whole structure was emerging from the gathered material. After all it was the story of four characters with the recent German history in the background. At that time we were using a working title “Time Machine”. Then we were brainstorming to get anything better and now it seems that “Disconnected” is a perfect fit.

But would you agree that some of the connections that you’re trying to point are rather forced.?
Ricardo: We are not trying to simplify the history, but rather to show how complex and tragic it is. We put the equation mark between Palestine and Israel to remark how history repeats itself: the wars, the walls, the intolerance… eye for an eye, the same stuff. The wall in Jewish ghetto in Warsaw becomes the border in Gaza Strip, but at the same time it reminds us about the Berlin Wall.
Ben: And we are mentioning the virtual wall of social networks where everybody is posting some hot topics. But actually we don’t give a damn, because virtual action doesn’t equals real engagement. It’s just an illusion that by clicking ‘like it’ we can change the world. The virtual wall make us more isolated in our bubbles of confirmation bias, more disconnected. We are too small to change it, but with artistic license we can point the case and show our personal approach.

So what actually troubles you the most about the world?
Ricardo: These times everybody wants to be cool, popular, a celebrity, virtually connected with the other people, but actually disconnected of their issues. But, at the same time we are lonely, struggling to be close to somebody, almost anybody. And the fragility can’t come out because it is covered so strong by vanity. It’s rather easier to enjoy the one-night-stand, jogging, shopping, or one’s very own art.
Ben: Everything is faster now so there is not much place left for reflexion. Even the Checkpoint Charlie has been transferred to a place where tourists can make a photo with fake soldiers and then get cold drinks on the Charlie Beach to discuss which clubs to visit at night. The historical origins of the place - which marks the Cold War’s Iron Curtain, symbol of that era - are faded in the background by the rush to see some other “attractions”. And no one cares that by going there they are stepping on the Stolpersteins - gold plates on the sidewalk. The character of the Tourist in our film represents more understanding of the place which he is visiting. We are trying to present the issues which people normally try to neglect. We live in the past so everything is just an afterthought. It’s scientifically proven - what you've just read is gone. We tend to rationalize our actions, but we’re vulnerable to not knowing the source of our information.

Why the pace of the film is so fast? It make the story harder to understand?
Ben: It shouldn’t be too easy to watch. The world is so complex, many important things are happening at the same time.  That is why we are showing split screens so often. The viewer can focus his attention on one part of the screen, and repeat some scenes if he wants to.  We intended to present the film in clips as well or to play it in the loop in art galleries. “Disconnected” are imitating the tempo of contemporary life.
Ricardo: The short form and intensive editing should imitate the pace of our life filled with lots of information, but with no focus at all. We are constantly multitasking: there is something on TV, we are sending the e-mail while checking the facebook and talking to somebody. Meanwhile some demonstration might take place behind our window and ruin our plans to get to Starbucks on time. People are invited to find lots of meanings in the movie.

Where there any inspirations for this film? What was to key in selecting the right clips?
Ben: I appreciate the films of Costa-Gavras and his engaged approach. During editing I was watching “One Day in September”, “The lost honor of Katarina Blum” and “The Battle of Algiers” which gave me some hints how to make the story more balanced. I enjoyed Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of USA”  as well as the Adam Curtis’ found footage results, who is trying to make a point by offering a counterpoint. In “Disconnected” however we were not trying to interfere with viewer’s feelings by putting some edgy narration.
Ricardo: The only dialogues in the film come from the archive footages, mostly said by the American presidents. Very often what they say contradicts what is really happening. Our no-budget project forced us to look for public domain clips and pictures, we were trying to represent the last 80 years of history which Berlin has witnessed.

Since none of you are German your approach might be not correct. Does it worry you somehow?
Ben: I don’t care about political correctness, it’s only a slogan after all. You can’t accept everything when it’s dragging you to use some Orwellian Newspeak which change the original meaning. The best example we have with infamous Polish concentration camps. The shortcut-keyword approach is very dangerous for the history when it is rewritten by the victors. In the film we are presenting some gay issues as well, but the point is to show the complexities of our own approach too. What is more, both of us are expats living in some other country and “The Battle of Algiers” or “Z” has proved that foreign perspective is less influenced by state propaganda.
Ricardo: Berlin, for me, is the epicenter of contemporary history. I loved filming here. But the movie is not about Berlin or Germany, thinking about it would be superficial. “Disconnected” is a story about the world, human behavior and how powerless the history could be. Take a look around: the monuments, books, documentaries… who cares? Hate and intolerance go on even stronger through the whole world. And contrary to the popular believe, the globalization make us more disconnected from each other. We understand the world even less. What we do with this film is showing some events that really happened - we can’t erase them. Even though some people might wish to turn a blind eye. And from the beginning the fictional part of the story told in “Disconnected” was mentioned to be repeated. That’s why the film it ends the same way as it begins: same thing, different day. And even the activists like The Tourist might be badly influenced by this impotence.

So if there is no solution than what’s the point of your work?
Ben: As the artists we are helpless, we can’t do much. We can only observe and interpret through our own sensibility what we perceive. It can be simple and tough, but we are eventually playing the role of king’s clown with the very digital mirror. And we should continue anyway, because it helps to spread the word and motivates the others.
Ricardo: We are the creators and their material at the same time. Thus the shortcut to the elliptic form of the film. As Hegel said: “History teaches that history teaches us nothing”. We can’t change the world, but we can change the way we think of it. And we believe that it means a lot.