(View the show here)
Talkshows aren’t exactly a mecca for documentary filmmakers, so it felt a bit strange to be invited to be on the NDR talk show DAS! last night. It’s a 45-minute program from 6:45-7:30 every evening, and features a single guest filmed in the studio without an audience. The conversation is broken up into little chunks by news reports and little films about this and that, mostly from Northern Germany – NDR’s home territory.
So I spent the evening on the red sofa with moderator Inke Schnedier, who led me through a praise-filled walk through my filmmaking career and my private life (my wife Susanne and our five kids), how I ended up in Germany, etc. It was all kind of light-hearted and superficial, as talk shows are. Yet at the same time, it was one of those rare opportunities to look at my life from the outside. It’s funny how much we take for granted and how little we reflect about some key moments in our lives. So I was all the more thankful that DAS! staffer Fanny Weiss cut together clips out of my previous films, and summarized what my filmmaking career has been thus far.
Strangely enough, Fanny remembered seeing my film HEAVEN ON EARTH on the German/Swiss/Austrian TV station 3Sat back in 2002, and when she watched it again, she was able to put two and two together. One of my the conversation topics during the show was to discuss one of the most memorable moments of my filmmaking career. While FORGETTING DAD was full of them, the one that has stuck most so far is my interview with General Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay. He was the one responsible for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
While we were in Branson, Missouri filming HEAVEN ON EARTH back in 1998, Tibbets and the other two surviving members of the Enola Gay passed through town on a book-signing tour. Without knowing quite how it would fit into the film, I seized the opportunity to interview Tibbets, sensing that it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. My gut feeling was right. Sitting only a couple of feet away from the hard-of-hearing Tibbets, who was 82 at the time, I was overcome by chills up and down my spine. But I stayed calm, and simply asked him to describe what he felt at the moment they dropped the bomb. Sure, it was typical military-talk about doing the right thing and all that. Yet at the same time, his body language seemed to express some second thoughts. Fortunately, my camerawoman Eeva Fleig let the camera run long enough after his last sentence to catch that magical look of uncertainty on his face.
It was one of those moments where a picture is really better than a thousand words. It was also, in retrospect, a key moment in defining myself as a filmmaker in terms of what kinds of stories I want to tell and how I relate to the people I film with. It was both eerie and exciting to see this clip again on the show. It’s part of who I am, even if I sometimes cringe at Tibbets’ words. But those were different times, and I’ll never be able to put myself in his shoes. My job is to let people like him talk openly, and find a context for who they are and what they’ve done to affect our world.
I guess I got to talk about just about everything that’s really important to me in my life: my family (I got to show off two of the guitars my eleven-year-old son Jonathan has built with a teeny tiny bit of help from me), my film crew (long-time cameraman Axel Schneppat and my editor and now co-director of FORGETTING DAD Matt Sweetwood; unfortunately no time to mention my fabulous soundman Raimund von Scheibner, composer Ari Benjamin Meyers, and graphic designer Makks Moond), and my films themselves.
The whole show flew right by. But I was in a good mood, and didn’t mind having to do some kind of memory test where I could recall only nine of the twelve objects which passed by me on a conveyor belt. (My oldest sons Jakob and Jonathan watched it on TV and got them all right.)
Who knows who saw the show. The weather was fantastic (I arrived in Hamburg early with Susanne and our three youngest children, and took a boat ride through the harbor), and lots of people were surely still outdoors enjoying it rather than in front of the TV. But it was a good experience. I got a kick out of seeing my sons Leander and Elias sitting on the other side of the soundstage watching me. On the way back to Berlin, Leander kept playing the kazoo I’d brought along for a little episode about HOMEMADE HILLBILLY JAM which we didn’t end up filming because of time constraints. Somehow it was a fitting end to a long, but enjoyable day.
Thanks to Fanny Weiss, moderator Inke Schneider, hostess Kim Argendorff, and travel coordinator Sabine Wittkowski for a great opportunity. And thanks to our publicist Nina Schattkowsky for making it all happen.