GERMAN VERSION    
zur Startseite
FILMCREDITSTEAMPICSTRAILERCONTACTFACTSLINKS

Biography Erwin Wagenhofer
Biography Lisa Ganser
Helmut Grasser, Allegrofilm
Interview mit Erwin Wagenhofer


How did you come up with the idea for this film?
Did you expect to come across something so big in Spain?
What were your biggest "Aha" experiences?
How did you manage to get in to film at these places and interview these people?
How did you find people like Karl Otrok?
... Jean Ziegler?
... Peter Brabeck?
On the subject of your way of working–we have here a 96-minute film… What's all behind it? How long did you work on it?
What were the greatest difficulties?
Did you sometimes have any emotional difficulties?
What was your biggest challenge?
The audience expects documentaries to show the truth. Is it even possible to show the truth?
Does your film have a message?
You've been working almost exclusively on this film for nearly two years. Now that the film is finished, you hand it on to others. What remains?
You worked in a small team. How did that go?
What are you next projects?

 

How did you come up with the idea for this film?

Well, to fully answer your question, the idea came from an earlier project. We were making a film called Operation Figurini about an art project which took place at the local markets. From the beginning we had planned to make a detailed documentary of Vienna's markets. When it came time to write the script or do the treatment for this film, I wandered up and down the city's markets and I thought: what is it about markets that's so interesting in the first place? And the only thing that interested me was the products. Where does all that stuff come from? The original idea was to start at Vienna's most famous market, the Naschmarkt, and to look behind the scenes. Where does that stuff come from, where do the tomatoes and all the other products come from? And we actually began with the tomatoes. We did our research and that's how we ended up in Spain. We just did the tomato story first.

back to top


Did you expect to come across something so big in Spain?

I was never interested in whether there were pesticides or some other illegal substances in the foods. I was always more interested in the connections. I mean, if you take the Spanish tomatoes, for example, then for me it was odd even before I got there why such a simple product like a tomato had to travel three thousand kilometres before it gets to us. There was something about that I didn't like. And that then became the main story. We only found out that the largest greenhouse complex in the world is in Spain when we got there.

back to top


What were your biggest "Aha" experiences?

Basically, the biggest "Aha" experience was seeing the size of those production centres. I mean, when you see that in Spain–the dimensions of that place–that's really impressive. Take the hens, for example: we were in medium-sized battery cage sheds, here in Austria–these hold 35,000 hens, and that's medium-sized; there are some that hold 70,000. That's, I don't want to say impressive, but somehow it's an uneasy feeling to even get to that point, where you have such a subject in front of you. The worst thing in the whole film which happened to me personally was as we were filming early in the morning when they were rounding up the hens. They're rounded up when it's still dark because that early they don't get so hysterical–when it's daylight, they get hysterical and aren't so easy to catch–so we went in there when it was almost completely dark. The smell is one thing and the noise another, but it was something else–and this was for me the most horrible–entering a hall where the hens had shat and pissed into the manure pit for five weeks, and everything is all soft and squishy and all of a sudden you go "whoops" and you step on a dead hen. You know, that, for me that was the worst moment–that was worse than the slaughter hall.

back to top


How did you manage to get in to film at these places and interview these people?

What was our approach? And why did we leave Austria so quickly after that? In Austria it's like this: people are scared. It was really difficult to find people who would say more or less what they think. You can find a farmer on every corner who after only two minutes will complain about the way things are set up, about the prices, about the food store chains by name. And when you say, can you tell that to the camera, maybe he even says yes, but then he can't do it. They're afraid, the farmers and the food companies, they're all on the distribution lists of two major food store chains here in Austria and they're scared to death that they'll no longer be allowed to sell to chain A or chain B. That's really something. But that's one story. Another is, in Spain, of course they were also sceptical. And ultimately I ask myself: Why do they let us film? The reason is my approach. I never come with the camera first; instead, I often first go there four or five times alone. I call that confidence-building. And I don't make fun of the people–you see that in the film. That's something I'm very proud of. I don't make fun of anyone in the film. Not even Nestlé chief Brabeck, you can bet on it. I meet Brabeck like I would meet a farmer somewhere here in Austria, and people realise that. And that's why people say yes. Anyway, we were never interested in what was illegal–that's very important!–not in anything illegal, but what it's like under the normal, legal conditions. There's nothing in this film outside the legal framework, it's all above board. There's absolutely no funny business in the film–that never interested me in the first place. I mean, that potatoes are shipped from Munich to Trieste and there, I don't know, stamped and sent back to Regensburg, where they are packaged, and then transported to Budapest in order to make chips out of them… that doesn't interest me. There are loopholes in every legal system. Like robber barons, people are always trying to make easy money; and then the lawmakers figure it out, close the loophole and it's over. I'm more interested in long-term things. The Spanish thing has been going on since the 60s, as our man, Lieven Bruneel, who gave us a tour there, told us. That kind of thing is set up and becomes larger and larger and more complex and now they have this water shortage and other problems. We were interested in how the work is carried out in the first place. Why do all these Africans come to work there?

back to top


How did you find people like Karl Otrok?

In different ways. When you get into a subject, it gets broader and broader and opens itself up, and then there are times when you go the right way and times when you go totally the wrong way. Karl Otrok is a cousin of [Austrian baker] Gerhard Ströck. And through Ströck I came to this bread story. And Karl Otrok, who's in Romania, is not always so easy to get a hold of and is here only for a short time at the weekends. I had been in contact with him five, six weeks already, and then it was high time because it was already harvest time and we wanted to shoot before the harvest. And one day I just said, I've got to speak with you, face-to-face, I must see you. And he said, there's only one possibility, at eight in the morning, because at 10 I have a flight to Bucharest. It was a Monday. At the airport he immediately started to say all of what he then also says in the film. I say: Hold on, hold on. Will you say that when there's a camera running? Yes! Good, then you fly at 10 and we'll start with the car at five. And that's how we did it.

back to top


... Jean Ziegler?

It's interesting how that came about, because I found Ziegler first. I've read his books and followed his TV appearances for years and have great respect for his work. But I chose Jean Ziegler for only one reason–or rather, he interested us for only one reason–and that's because he works at the UN. Because Jean Ziegler as Jean Ziegler would immediately put everything into the left corner, but since he has this high UN function, that of Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food… that made him interesting for the film. I wrote Jean Ziegler a letter, and because he's an admirer of the French Revolution, I sent the letter on the 14th of July. I worked a long time on that letter, and two days later he called me. We met in Geneva that October.

back to top


... Peter Brabeck?

I sent a similar letter to Peter Brabeck, actually almost word for word the same letter. Not on the 14th of July, but slightly later, with only a few things changed, and surprisingly I actually got a response. At first the answer was no, we don't want anything to do with that, your thing, it's about fresh foods, and so on. In any case, Nestlé initially resisted having anything to do with the film. And they wanted to somehow refer me to Nestlé Austria or to other people at Nestlé who deal with food. But for me it was clear: it's either Brabeck or it's no one. Then there was a long silence from Nestlé. And in October I was with Jean Ziegler in Geneva and I thought, I'll just stop on by. I called the day before and I told the company spokesman, I'm coming tomorrow; let's talk it out face to face. And that was the decisive point. That was really important–the fact that I showed up in person, that I was real and tangible. And then it came to the interview rather quickly. Well, I don't really do interviews, but this appointment with Mr Brabeck, which was on November 11th, 2004, the start of the German carnival time… and we filmed there for one-and-a-half hours. We first established the subject matter: genetic engineering, water, hunger and the position of the food companies. It was quite clear to me that in his life Mr Brabeck must have probably had I-don't-know-how-many rhetoric seminars behind him–I wouldn't be able to keep up with him on a rhetorical level, because he just spins his story, he wants to deliver his message. And how can I get him to, I mean, on the one hand give him the feeling that he has delivered his message and on the other hand get him to say things which he may not want to say like that. My theory was that if I let him talk long enough, at some point he would also say what he really thinks as a human being. And that concept actually worked out in the end. And I'm sure that when Peter Brabeck sees the film he will have absolutely nothing against how we put it together. He sees the world like that; that's one way of seeing the world, and he has to represent that view. After all, he only represents the companies–that's his job, he gets a lot of money to do that. For me, he isn't the bad guy. Rather, that's one view and there's another.

back to top


On the subject of your way of working–we have here a 96-minute film … What's all behind it? How long did you work on it?

JYeah, we did work on it a long time. Okay, we started with the script in 2003 and we had the financing secured relatively quickly–that was near the end of the year. It was nice of Helmut Grasser [from Allegrofilms] to set up the money; I didn't have anything to do with him personally, so I'm really very grateful to him. We actually started shooting in March of 2004; the last shoot was just now in April. There were a total of around 75 days of shooting, we spent almost 130 days editing–due to my way of working there was a hell of a lot of different editing and re-editing, confidence-building, meetings with people… I was always meeting someone. So, that's how we made this film, and each little scene is made up of many small pieces and the painstaking work then was to put the whole thing together. And we've got 84 hours of material put together to form 96 minutes of film.

back to top


What were the greatest difficulties?

The greatest difficulty in making a documentary is being at the right place at the right time. Once I'm there, and I can take out the camera and take out the sound equipment and it doesn't fall apart on a technical level, if everything works, then the whole thing nearly shoots itself. Just one example: this scene with the hens–particularly the slaughter scene–we shot that in two hours, and that's now a block of six, seven minutes. The difficult thing is, if you work like that, without actors, but with regular people who you've got to motivate to come with you… like with Karl Otrok. Motivating him to come with us–and then he's too tired and we're tired and we spent the whole day under the sun–well, that was difficult .

Another difficulty was the language. It was unbelievable! In France we went out with a fisherman in a boat where there was room for only the two of us–Lisa and me. There wouldn't have been any room for an interpreter. It was pretty heavy, especially the first trip, also because of the heavy sea. And to film under those conditions, that was really difficult. And then there was this young kid I liked so much… They told me he spoke English, and we get there and he doesn't speak a word of English, he doesn't speak a word of German, I don't speak a word of French–THAT was hard.

And that whole thing repeated itself in Brazil. We had an interpreter, but she translated things how she thought they should be translated and not what was said. And what's more, she was from the industry, which was terrible. She always thought she had to take us to those places she had taken other teams, and we had to convince her that we didn't want to go where she wanted, but where we thought we wanted. The "there" turned out to be 3,000 kilometres away in a different part of the country. So that was difficult. In Brazil, there were a few days where I was really frustrated–I didn't know what was happening, do we get the material or not? So I had to put on the pressure, which I don't really like to do.

back to top


Did you sometimes have any emotional difficulties?

Well, to be honest, we didn't really have any emotional difficulties. And regarding the poor people suffering hunger… I was not really interested in filming people who are on the verge of starving to death and are lying around dying and can barely move, and we just show up with our stupid camera–I mean, that didn't interest me. It's the beautiful things we humans have: living life and making something out of a desperate situation. It was hard enough to make a montage out of that, but that this woman and her children can still laugh… I thought that was good, that there's still a spark of hope left. But what really made me think was: when you're standing there in Brazil and it's called Mato Grosso. Mato Grosso means "thick forest", but the forest isn't there anymore. It's just gone. That really made me think. Interestingly enough, there are people who see this film who are not in the least moved by that, but who get terribly upset when a baby chicken falls down somewhere from a height of twenty centimetres. So, the way of seeing things, how to read this film, is quite open. I like that. It isn't limited; I don't try to make a statement, but rather we show something and everyone can draw their own conclusions.

back to top


What was your biggest challenge?

I'd say the cinematic challenge, which was not so easy to solve, especially because I absolutely wanted to work without commentary. The challenge then was mixing the sensual experience–film is after all an experience of the senses–with facts, hard facts. And how do you do that? Well, that was really difficult; we solved that by using inserts, and I think it worked out quite well cinematically, showing facts and then relaxing and becoming quieter and showing some images and then coming back to the facts and letting the film work with moods and feelings… that was the most difficult for me.

back to top


The audience expects documentaries to show the truth. Is it even possible to show the truth?

Here I have to quote Heinz von Förster, who said: Truth is the invention of a liar. What I mean is, I don't know what exactly truth is. If there are six billion people in this world, then there are six billion truths. Everyone has his own subjective view of things and I think that's great. I'm a fan of the subjective. And I'm a fan of the authentic–I like it when people are authentic. Only authentic people are truly interesting. Be it in sports or whatever, authentic people are just interesting. That's one aspect. Another is: documentary films vs. feature films. This distinction only exists in film–you don't find that anywhere else. In music no one would say that Brahms was documentary and Beethoven fiction or something like that. But, to answer your question more concretely, in my opinion feature films deal with how life could be, and documentary films deal with how life is. And we started off some time ago and took on this subject and tried to squeeze a facet out of it. We fought many times and over many points. And because I'm the filmmaker, the film's got to have something of me in it. So it's a film about how I saw these things at the beginning of the 21st century. It's a completely subjective film about the food industry, food production, the way we deal with food. It's a completely subjective view of things. And I was only interested in one thing: what does it have to with us? What have Spanish tomatoes got to do with us, what do the Africans who pick the tomatoes and do the harvest and do the work there have to do with us, what has the cutting down of the rainforest got to do with us? What does Mr Brabeck have to do with us, except that we eat his products and he's also Austrian. He's just a sign of our times, and the motto is: profit at all costs, full stop! "Predatory capitalism" is what Ziegler calls it. If we go to Spain 20 years from now and have a look around, there won't be much left to see because it will have served its purpose and there will always be some other place in the world–and this is important–there will be some place in the world where you can produce tomatoes more cheaply. Or cucumbers. Or whatever. If we go on doing what we are doing. And globalisation–globalisation is what it is–it isn't good or bad; rather, the question is how we deal with it. That's all. If go about how we are doing now, then that won't work much longer and you can see, the people–well, people aren't stupid–the people are fed up. You see that with the EU referenda–the EU is being hit in the wrong places, but, no matter–it's an expression of an inner dissatisfaction with the current system. That's good. That's good, and this film is a contribution to all that.

back to top


Does your film have a message?

Here I could answer with a quote from my favourite director, Roman Polanski, who was asked: Do you have a message? And he said: If I had a message, I would send it by post. Me, I turn that around and say: If I had no message, I would work at the post office. My message is–and that motivated me to make this film, and although this film is about food, principally all my work goes in this direction–my message is: We have to change our way of living? We can't just go on living like this. We've got to live differently, we've got to eat differently, shop differently, we've got to see other films. Or at least we should be unhappy with what we have. That's the message. And if we don't do it, well, then who will? And that's why the film is called "We Feed the World" and not "They Feed the World" They, the Brabecks and the Pioneers and whatever their names are, they're all part of our society and we've got to accept that responsibility, that's what's in this "We". Maybe that's too negative, but there's a positive message too: We can change it. And if not us, then who? We, as Jean Ziegler says, the civil society. We're all consumers, we go to the supermarkets, we've got to eat, every one of us, we've got to go shopping and we can go there and we can decide–that's power! We don't want tomatoes at Christmas time, we don't want strawberries at Christmas time, we don't want that stuff to be carted three thousand kilometres just to get to us. We don't want our animals to eat up the Brazilian and South American rainforest. Us, who else?

back to top


You've been working almost exclusively on this film for nearly two years. Now that the film is finished, you hand it on to others. What remains?

The interesting thing in a project like this is always what's left over on the cutting room floor. This film has a strong point, but at the same time its strong point is its weakness. In life it's always like that. And that point is that it tries to explain the connections between things, which also makes it very fragmented: here a part, then we jump over here and over there and the whole thing fits together in one picture. You could do it the other way round as well: stay in one place and have a closer look. What's left over for me are a hell of a lot of things in my head which are not in the film. And the question is: What do I do with that? And that'll no doubt go into my next work. That comes automatically, that's the creative process. And that's really nothing amazing. I don't feel like an artist, I feel like a filmmaker–there's a difference. It's like that with a shoemaker–he makes 10 pairs of shoes, and what's left over? Experience. Specifically, what he did wrong, what he did right. And he'll make the eleventh pair differently than the first ten. And that's what I've got ahead of me.

back to top


You worked in a small team. How did that go?

All my films are a "longitudinal section". That means I use the available resources in order to work on one project for a long time, not in order to plan for a long time and then spend it all in one week. Here we've got large lights and cameras and giant things, and we'll go there then and do that then. But instead we take a longitudinal section and then it becomes quite clear for financial reasons that it will only work out if a small team gets paid more, instead of a large team less. But that's one thing. Another is: Why work with a small team in the first place? Well, when you deal with ordinary people, it's often an advantage for that to happen without too much hoopla.

And a lot of things which were shot in this film happened so quickly that there's no way I could've said "lights, camera, action" with a large team–the scene would've been over. And that's the secret of working with a small team. And we were really small. The team was so small that if you'd taken away one from the team, the team would've fallen apart. So there were really only two of us – Lisa and me. That has advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage was that Lisa had to take on a lot of responsibilities which normally only people with years of routine do, which she didn't have. And in the end I had to take final responsibility. Because at some point I had to deliver a finished film–then it doesn't do any good when something goes wrong once or twice. But it had already become clear during the filming of “Figurini” that she's very talented and that she can handle the responsibility.

back to top


What are you next projects?

I've already started to look at new projects. But because this is a work in progress, I don't really know myself what the next project will be … and I've got to think a bit about it and will use the summer to figure that out. There're a few things which came up out of this, you know, you learn things–this would be interesting and that would be interesting – there're a lot of points which I won't mention specifically now because first of all maybe nothing will come of it and … but, you know, I'd really just like to make a comedy now.

Interviewed by Birgit Kohlmaier-Schacht
Vienna, 28 June 2005

 
Imprint filmstransiallegrofilmFILMLaden