Interview with Professor Regina Ziegler (Chairman of the Main Jury for the German Documentary Award) – SWR Doku Festival

Professor Regina Ziegler produced her first film in 1973 and I Thought I Was Dead by Wolf Grimm, her later husband. This made her the first female film and television producer in Germany. Many of their more than 500 productions have received national and international awards, such as the Federal Film Award, the Golden Bowl, the Golden Lion, the International EMMY Award, or the German Television Award. Professor Regina Ziegler has personally recognized, among others, Lula’s Honor for Outstanding Services to German Film, ROMY, Federal Cross of Merit, First Class, Carl Laemmle Award, Denver Obelisk, and Adolf Grimme Prize. All witnesses to an exceptional production work that is globally recognized. She was honored by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City with a retrospective in 2006. In 2017, she published her autobiography as a book and audiobook titled She Doesn’t Exist – My Rich Film Life. Ziegler lives in Berlin-Schlachtensee.


Ulric Chamonix

What drew you to this year’s German Documentary Prize jury and to take on the role of president?

Inviting you to a jury – and then also as president – is always like being invited to a banquet with interesting strangers. First reaction: “Should it be, right now, I have so much on my mind right now, who knows what lies ahead?” And once the whole thing starts, she wonders why she hesitates even for a moment. You have exciting conversations, you have experiences you wouldn’t have otherwise. You would have missed it all if you hadn’t been there.

In terms of being a jury, you see movies that you might not have taken the time to see otherwise, or even pay attention to. This is what makes the work of the jury so important to me: to direct the attention of the audience, the audience, to films that have affected me, that have given me insight, consolation or knowledge. As head of the jury, this has largely worked.

In the course of my work, I have frequently produced documentaries, for example Rodina means home, secret inquisition And the November daysBecause this focused view of reality has always been very important to me. How important it became to me became painfully clear when I watched my husband’s last Wolf Grimm movie I still love life. The documentary on cancer, which ended shortly before his death, shows what a documentary could have been like. Ruthless and sensitive, very sad and funny, painful and comforting.

What do you think of making a good documentary?

For me, what’s so good about a good documentary is that I suddenly say to myself: Oh, that’s how it is, I never realized that. Ah, that’s what the world looks like out there. So people think there. This is how this person lived. That’s what he paid. This is how this event happened, this disaster really. Now I know more than before. However, knowledge and reality are one thing: every documentary is also fiction, and documentaries and feature films are closely related from the start. The most conscientious documentary filmmaker can only show me part of the reality. If he did it cleanly and with no intent to deceive, he could make a great documentary. Regardless of whether we see an ordinary classroom in an ordinary small town or testimonies of the long and eventful life of a Jewish immigrant we encounter as a television journalist, director, writer, and more.

Regina Ziegler (Photo: SWR, Ulrike Schamoni)


Ulric Chamonix

Has documentary film changed over the past few decades? Has the demand for it changed – and if so, how?

The documentary is constantly changing and so are the demands on it. What remains is our always delusional claim that the documentary conveys reality and the truth. Yes, if he is sincere, honest and conscientious, then such an approach to the truth will work. That is why the documentary filmmaker has a greater responsibility than the director of the feature film and the screenwriter. While we can always think of the feature film as “fantasy,” the documentary expects us to believe what we see there. Thus, documentary film has taken on an increasingly important role in the course of film history: it can influence how people see the world, and how they make their own and political decisions. This ranges from National Socialist propaganda films to the present.

A comparison of documentary footage from the Ukraine war convinces us that the street dead are not Ukrainian theater, but victims of a senseless, bloody war. With the help of very similar images, Putin wants to confirm his completely different “truth”. This example shows that documentary is more important than ever. But at the same time, it is more vulnerable and dangerous than ever before. Decades ago, the technical means for photo falsification were limited and primitive, and today the tools are infinitely diverse and of the highest perfection. That is why the documentary film maker bears a great responsibility.

What is important to you personally in making a documentary?

It is important that the film enriches the viewer in some way. At best, it is an increase in clarity, perhaps even truth. I got a glimpse into the world I couldn’t have without this movie, whether it was the emotional lives of circuses or fighters against climate change.

What is a documentary that should definitely be made?

An honest and unbiased documentary can give us a whole new perspective on the world, on a microcosm, on humanity or even on a single person – and thus enrich us.

Can documentaries make a difference in society?

They achieve what good and “real” photos have always achieved: gaining knowledge, sometimes in the form of shock and bewilderment, especially in these weeks. Original photos make a lasting impression. They burn your eyes.

When is a topic or person exciting enough for you to make a documentary?

When you learn something important about a subject or person that you did not know or did not know. When a person or thing is not unprecedented, but perfect. When you learn to see something new that you have lost or never seen in your life.

Do documentaries inspire you for your work, and if so, how?

Most feature films are inspired by reality in some way, and as I said before, documentaries and feature films are not that far apart, for example our films like The Publisher, The Shadow of Power and Gladbeck.

The feature film is perhaps the easiest out there: it creates its own reality and reality, and it can play with what reality or fantasy dictates.

A documentary filmmaker does not have to make up his truth, but rather finds it in what he sees for us. Then the feature film approaches the documentary again. Even the truth should not be just a dream, it should be rooted in the reality of our lives.

The interview was conducted by Dr. Erin Clonder (Festival Director).

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