Q&A with Peter Mettler

Master Class - November 20, 2014

A Q&A with director Peter Mettler in advance of his Master Class on November 20, 2014. For tickets, click here

1. What films have inspired your work?

As a teenager, The Man Who Fell to Earth, by Nicolas Roeg and starring David Bowie as an alien, may have gotten me to start making films. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia and Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil joined forces years later, both plucking at familiar cinematic chords within myself. Each of them, in their own way, presented a vision of the world from within a psyche, as though the movie was a living entity and the frame was its eyes looking both inwards and outwards. They presented a kind of subjective, personalized vision, no matter if they were “fiction” or “documentary.”

2. Are there any documentaries you feel every documentary filmmaker should see?

Perhaps the most important thing to see is how we ourselves watch the world around us. How we take note, make our narratives and our musics, generating memories from life experience. There are lots of great films along the way. Some films I’d recommend today: Workingman’s Death (Michael Glawogger), 20,000 Days on Earth (Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard), The Sound of Insects (Peter Liechti), Step Across the Border (Nicolas Humbert and Werner Penzel), Taiga (Ulrike Ottinger), The Eye Above the Well (Johan van der Keuken). I could make quite a long list. Alongside the great works of art and cinema, there would be those perspective-changing images observed by scientific instruments, security cameras or children with their first iPhones.

3. What advice do you have for aspiring documentary editors?

i. Get a job. Preferably a complicated one, full of associative pathways.
ii. If you can’t get a job, walk down a street taking note of the cutting points in your attention to things.
iii. Use post-its and walls to track and build things, both concrete and conceptual.

4. What films will be referencing in your Master Class and why did you select them?

I’ll show the shortest film I ever made, Away–it was made on a cell phone that I wanted to throw away–as a little demonstration of diaristic filmmaking. I’m also showing a film that was actually a pitch to make The End of Time. It might be a useful example of how to suggest ideas and themes where words do not seem to suffice, while preparing for exploratory and improvisational filmmaking. I’ll also use the opening of Picture of Light, which presents a train ride as a poem to the north, and that also cites a cinematic philosophy and methodology. There will also be an excerpt incorporating the few sparse lines of voiceover used in Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands, as a demonstration of whittling down the words.

Read more about the DOC Institute’s Masters Series