In choosing the film BENIDORM as winner of the German Short Film Award 2006, the jury recognized the work of a filmmaker who has managed to make an impression with just a few short documentaries exhibiting a very unconventional and ambitious approach, both in terms of aesthetics and content. This was reason enough to devote our portrait column this issue to Carolin Schmitz, regarded as one of those female filmmakers who is sure to provide inspiration for the future of the artistic documentary genre in Germany.
The success of BENIDORM came as no surprise. Born in 1967, Carolin Schmitz had already worked as a bookseller before taking up studies at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne in 1997. In 2000, her film 4 MIN 3 SEC was selected for the German Competition at Oberhausen and promptly won second prize. Her next project, SITZEND ÜBERLEBEN, was also recognized at several festivals. Two years later, her final exam film, PARALLELUNIVERSEN, was selected by the Duisburger Filmwoche and was also the only German film nominated in the International Competition at Oberhausen. Since then she has been working as a freelance documentary filmmaker, now adding the German Short Film Award in the documentary category for BENIDORM to her list of triumphs.
One look at her filmography shows that Carolin Schmitz has dared to try her hand at a variety of themes: these range from the observation of a static diver in 4 MIN 3 SEC, to the comings and goings of the universe (PARALLELUNIVERSEN), to a portrait of a supposed pensioners’ paradise on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Her films explore some of the major issues facing us today. She looks at our aging society, the question of whether our universe is unique or whether parallel worlds exist, the longing to overcome the bounds of one’s own body, and the way peoples’ habits are shaped by office architecture and furniture. She renders these sometimes speculative or at least edgy themes in short films that are carefully composed as artworks but are at the same time always comprehensible as films made for the screen.
An elementary component of Schmitz’s films is the camerawork of Hajo Schomerus, who himself has achieved success as a documentary maker with ICH UND DAS UNIVERSUM. Schomerus has worked with Schmitz on all of her films, making a significant contribution to their imposing impact. His penchant for long, stylized takes creates space for reflection and a certain distance from the subject. This aesthetic strategy gives the “reality” he films a new level of meaning. The camera creates a distance from the familiar world around us, giving us a new vantage point, while at the same time alienating reality to the extent that one has the feeling of watching a science fiction film. A fictional level is superimposed on the everyday world.
The soundtracks are reserved, which has the effect of reinforcing the alienation effect even further. Background music is largely eschewed, as long as it plays no role in the action, in favour of the original noises that go with the images.
The combination of ambitious themes, strong imagery and painstaking composition is what sets Carolin Schmitz apart from other documentary filmmakers and ensures her such a distinguished standing on the artistic short documentary scene. Her success can also be attributed, however, to the courageous producers at Colonia Media and unafilm, and to the Filmstiftung NRW, with whose help she was able to realize her elaborate shooting plans abroad. With their engagement on her behalf, they allow us to hope for a renaissance in documentary films that need not fear the big screen.