Cynthia Beatt on Truth and Fiction
Director Cynthia Beatt attended this year's EIFF in a dual role: as a visiting filmmaker and as the Chair of the Jury for The Award for Best Documentary Feature Film supported by Aljazeera. We spoke to her about her film and the Festival experience ahead of this year's Awards Ceremony.
Cynthia Beatt's film A House in Berlin held its UK Premiere here at EIFF last week. The film follows Stella, a Glasgow woman who unexpectedly inherits an old house in Berlin from her Jewish great-uncle. Stella soon discovers that there is the complex history of the building, her family history, and of displaced people.
The film mixes fiction and non-fiction to portray an account of a personal family past that intersects with great forces of history.
With this in mind, I asked if the film was ever intended to be a documentary.
"I never saw it as a documentary," said Beatt. "In fact I’m quite surprised that some people do. Some people have actually said to me, 'It’s such a great real life story. What happened to Stella? How is she doing in Palestine?' and I’m like, "“I have no idea! She’s a fictional character.'"
"I’m very keen on the essay form of writing, of personal essay and in filmmaking. It’s a mixture of fiction, based on many many hours and years of research, so it’s very real, and I try to work with my actors in a very realistic way."
"It was always intended to be fiction, but of course there is a massive amount of research, and in my life in Germany, over the years I’ve been addressing these subjects repeatedly. In the last 7 years I’ve been completely immersed in Palestinian history and resistance, peaceful activism with groups of Israelis, and Jewish people in America and Britain who are involved in very strong solidarity work. That’s extremely interesting and heartening."
Although her own film is a fictional narrative based upon real life history in Germany and Palestine, Beatt is the Chair of the Documentary Jury. In her duty as chair, Beatt and her fellow jurors, Dominique Auvray (Editor/Director) and Sunmin Park (Producer/Director/Writer) watched all 11 nominated films.
The Award for Best Documentary Feature Film recognises the immense strength of documentary filmmaking, which is currently pioneering new ways of imagining the world while insisting, with urgency, creativity, and vigour, on the vital relationship between film and reality.
So what is the experience of watching a film as part of a jury like? "I did, of course, watch them as I normally would," said Beatt. "But I knew that I had to think of them in a certain way, also to be able to argue for or against them. That’s always the extra edge."
"Each film was very important. There weren't any that I disliked. But I knew that I had to think of them in a certain way, also to be able to argue for or against them.
"I was mainly just curious, when I came out of the films, to find out what my fellow jurors thought, because we are all very different people."
The Documentary Award jury, along with our other juries, have now deliberated and the prize winners will be announced at today's Awards Ceremony.
The Awards Ceremony is a free, ticketed event. Pick up your ticket from the box office and join us at Filmhouse from 1pm.
Winners of EIFF 2014’s short film awards and two of its documentary premieres have been nominated for 2015 BAFTAs.