German filmmaker Christian Petzold speaking about fellow German director Dominik Graf had this to say:

“Graf’s Sisyphus work is to keep making a film here and there that reminds us of how wonderful streets used to look in cinema, of how great nights used to look, and of how awesome women looked. I am fascinated by this labour, in which he invests enormous, almost suicidal energy, because each of his films goes beyond well-established boundaries.”

The promise of what the cinema can do, that power to bring a world into being, contained in Petzold’s words makes one want to rush out and watch Graf’s work. But here’s the rub: most of his films are beyond the reach of English language film enthusiasts, either as theatrical screenings or via DVD.
Is it in the destiny of certain filmmakers to be in plain view within the borders of their national cinemas, yet out of sight in an international context? Film history, no doubt, throws up many examples, but in this day and age of the global market place one would think otherwise.

The raison d’etre to Marco Abel’s interview with Graf that leads off our new issue is precisely to bring Graf’s work to the attention of an international audience, to, in effect, do the work of translating the “local’ into the “global”. And translation is the key word here, for as Abel points out, although a number of Graf’s films are available on DVD they are hampered by a lack of English subtitles.

Is the cost of subtitling prints so prohibitive that the producers of DVDs would risk disenfranchising a large potential market sector? After all, it is not that Graf lacks commercial appeal, he is a stylish practitioner and ardent defender of mainstream genre filmmaking, as these words attest:

“Every time when enthusiastic journalists wrote critiques of my films claiming that I teased out new aspects from a genre, I always insisted that I nevertheless made a genre film, that everything that was allegedly “new” in my film had always been in the genre’s endlessly deep well and merely awaited its discovery.  And I know that genre can save directors: it can save him from all those topical films about endangered minority groups and especially from all these boring literary adaptations.”

Christian Petzold is aligned to the Berlin School of filmmakers, also well profiled in this issue. Graf, while not associated with any “school”, has maintained an ongoing dialogue with members of the Berlin School, especially Petzold. There is between Graf and the exponents of the Berlin School “aesthetic” (a non-singular, manifold and dialectical proposition) an ambivalent push-pull, attraction-repulsion dynamic at play. While Graf lauds genre, the Berlin School view it with a degree of suspicion. No doubt why Graf can detect in Petzold’s appreciation of his “Sisyphean work” a hint of damning praise, and he counters with:

“I do not want to film the graveyard of genres like Tarantino does; that is to say, I do not want to produce mere projections of a cinema that no longer exists.”

This “dialogue” taking place in Germany between “schools of thought” may have “local” origins but it is immensely important at an international level.

Hope you enjoy the new issue.

Rolando Caputo