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Hubert Sauper

Darwin’s Nightmare

Xenia Docio Altuna (XD): So we’re here with Hubert Sauper. He was born in Austria, he studied cinema at Vienna and Paris, and he lived in many different countries, such as Great Britain, Italy, France, where he lives now, and USA. On 1990 he made his first film, and then can you tell us about your career from 1990?

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Hubert Sauper (HS): I’m trying to do cinema, it’s a way of exploring myself and the realities of our time. If I have a good idea about something, I explore it and try to transform it into a movie. Usually I make films about issues that I’m very interested in, but that I don’t know anything about.
So when I first went to Africa it was in 1997, and I was trying to make a film about refugees. I knew very little about it. I was using the structure of the United Nations to get into the areas where refugees are, in the Congo, in that case. This journey became a very painful experience, because I was looking for refugees but what I found were dead refugees. Many thousands. And I understood this was the same moment when the war was starting in Congo, a civil war. So I started to film what I saw, and it was such a terrible reality that it’s almost impossible to see the film, because it’s so horrible.
At that time I noticed that the people who were bringing humanitarian aids to the centre of Congo were Russian pilots flying in very big cargo airplanes. The only way to make war in Congo is if you get a lot of material from Europe, which is munitions, guns, grenades and bombs. And the only way to get munitions into the war is with the same planes which are being used for release aids, that are also used to bring arms. This was the initial idea for Darwin’s nightmare.

XD: That’s your last film, Darwin’s nightmare. You showed it at Venice film festival, and you won there the prize of “Giornata degli autori”. Do you think this way of making cinema, to make a documentary, is a more efficient way of showing people what you want to show? Do you prefer to make a documentary, do you think it’s more useful than to tell a story, more useful than fiction?

HS: I think reality is always much stronger than fiction. The only problem is that most people who work with documentary don’t know how to do cinema. They do not go to film schools, so what we know about documentaries is what we call in France “reportage”, and it’s very different. It takes me 4 years to make a film, and usually a documentary or reportage for cinema or television can be made in two or four weeks. So there’s a big misunderstanding between this notion of documentary and documentary. It’s just very different.

XD: Did you had problems with the Tanzanian government when doing the film, or with some of the companies you talk about?

HS: Yes, we had problems all the time, every day. Because the film I was trying to make, nobody wanted me to make it, nobody was interested, and in many cases I couldn’t explain in Africa what I was doing because it’s impossible to understand. Somebody, as a chief or policeman in some small town in Tanzania, has never been in a cinema in his life, so I cannot explain him the idea of my film because he won’t understand. So they preferred to put me in prison. I had to pay some money to get out, it was like a game.
The team was very small and we tried every possible way of making this film. We tried different techniques, and one technique was to write to the embassy, to write to the president to get an official letter, to be very official. And it worked, at one point we had the national filming permit and everything. But the laws in this kind of countries aren’t very clear. So when we had all the permits we went to a fishing island in Lake Victoria. The chief of this fishing island took the permit, broke it, and threw it on the water. And this was the end of that little story. From that moment on we understood that there was no way to be legal, so we only worked somehow illegally.
I think the film is not to hurt the country, it shows a catastrophic image of the Third World, but it shows a human image of its people, and that’s more important. I think most governments of poor countries are very corrupt, everyone knows, and its people are very ignorant. And European and American politicians are so cynical, because we’re always feeding this leaders. It’s been going on since colonial times, and since long before. We’re just feeding very fat leaders in the whole southern hemisphere. We’re driving cargo airplanes who are indirectly killing their own people. I don’t want to go into details now, but I could tell you a lot of stories…

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XD: I think so! What do you think is your role as an artist?

HS: The role of every artist is to get an impression of the world and express it. It’s very simple. So you try to get an impression as good as you can and then you try to form it into something: into sculpture, music or into a movie. It’s a very difficult job, but what I’m doing is the only way to survive, you know. You cannot go to the war, to some concentration camp in the middle of the jungle, see a few thousand people die in front of your eyes, and try to come home and be the same person. It’s not possible. So when you come home you have to talk about it, you have to transform your experience into something. And cinema is a very good medium because I really think that I can transform almost precisely my anger, my feelings and my confusion into a piece of work. When I see two o four thousand people sitting in a cinema, and they are very angry, confused, and very afraid when they see my film, I think that’s what I want.

XD: What are your future projects? Are you working in some new film?

HS: Yes, I have three new projects.

XD: Can you tell us something?

HS: No, I don’t want to tell you…

XD: It’s a documentary film, anyway?

HS: It’s fiction and documentary. The only thing I can tell you is that the basic motivations are always the same ones. It’s always about realities of our time, about human race and the understanding of stupidity. I think humanity is on the edge of really getting crazy, like a kind of virus in everybody, a collective virus. It’s a very strange thing, you can see it. It’s like we’re in a very big island with very sick people and I think it’s not too late. It’s just time to understand the disease, and then maybe you can do something, I don’t know what, but if we don’t understand we cannot start healing it.

XD: Yes, first you have to know what’s the disease, and then try to heal it. Ok, thank you very much.


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