With the film “Behind the Headlines” about the investigative department of Süddeutsche Zeitung opens the Munich Dokfest. Among other things, you can experience how the Ibiza affair is revealed in Austria. A conversation with the director of the film Daniel Sager and producer Marc Bauder.
SZ: There are a striking number of films about print journalists, from the classic feature film “Die Unbeugsamen” with Robert Redfort and Dustin Hoffman to the documentary “Kollektiv” about the revelations of a Romanian newspaper that won the European Film Prize last year. What is so interesting about newspaper work?
Marc Bauder: Investigative journalism is an exciting form of storytelling. One can tell of the search for truth with great immediacy, and that is a great need right now.
Daniel Sager: Truth-finding processes are becoming more and more difficult and are changing due to digitization. Keyword: fake news, social media, a lot is changing. This makes the role of journalism all the more important as an authority that tries to classify what is true and what is not.
In your film you can see manual processes that hardly anyone knows. That there are digital forensic experts, for example, who examined the Ibiza video and who were able to identify those involved – including the then Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz Christian Strache – on the “ear print”.
Sager: We didn’t want journalists in the film about it reasonhow they work, we wanted one seeshow they work. Hence the narrative form of direct cinema, the most uninvolved observation. Therefore the detailed consideration of the individual steps after the playback of the video, up to the point where the texts are written about, the last words of the article.
Why no interviews, no comment? Why this shape?
Sager: Establishing closeness to the protagonists works best with the form of Direct Cinema. We wanted to make journalistic action tangible. That there are, for example, different positions in the editorial team and different roles, journalists and editor-in-chief, also the legal perspective. That words and decisions are struggled with, that this is not a sure-fire success, as is sometimes assumed by media companies. I believe that Direct Cinema is the most honest form of documentary film and you can tell from the film that there are real moments to be seen. Because he – unlike a movie like Lovemobil – has its corners and edges both in the cut and in the camera work.
The form of Direct Cinema has been around since Lovemobil come under massive suspicion of counterfeiting.
Sager: The cinematic representation in Lovemobil you can see that there was an attempt to re-enact situations. The film has a very distinct feature film aesthetic, with images in which a person tells something for several minutes against a background that looks great. With our film we are dealing with a completely different narrative form, so I would allow the term “direct cinema” to be used in the first place. The prerequisite is that trust is created and that you have time. Of course there were many days when we were with the South German newspaper were on site where nothing happened. But Daniel Sager was there before something happened and after. And that’s what makes Direct Cinema so complex that you need a lot of shooting days to be there when things happen. Then, in the heat of the moment, no one even thinks about having a camera with them.
Bauder: But the interesting thing about the watching documentary is that you are there, before something happens. You have to have time.
How much time was that?
Sager: We prepared the project for a year, that was 2017. The original plan was to shoot over a year. Then the processes dragged on. In the end we shot over a period of two years and then roughly nine months of post-production.
The Ibiza video was a godsend for your film too. Did you know this footage existed when you started shooting?
Sager: We knew we were going to make a film about investigative journalism in the Süddeutsche Zeitung wanted to do. However, we did not yet know which specific cases would be involved. Then there was the tragic death of the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galicia, and it was immediately clear to us that this had to be part of the film. We knew about the Ibiza video a year before it was released. Also roughly what it is about, but we didn’t know the details because they were of course kept secret for source protection reasons. That is why the two main protagonists speak from the Süddeutsche Zeitung a bit confused in the first scenes. We tried to incorporate this research, even if at first we didn’t even know whether the material would ever be published. Fortunately, it came to that.
In connection with Lovemobil Much has been said about funding documentaries. How can you as a filmmaker afford such a lengthy project?
Bauder: You can’t actually make such films unless you go to the limit of self-exploitation. I would related this topic Lovemobil like to be at the center of the debate: Everyone wants to uncover the difficult, exciting stories that uncover new things, bring the most secret things to light, but hardly anyone wants to accept that this means a long filming time and that those involved have to make a living from it. Not to mention the fact that such films are also made while editing. Try to find out that you don’t cut the classic eight or ten weeks, but double the time! A situation has arisen in which you run the risk of wanting to meet certain requirements at some point.
You also have to want to afford investigative journalism. And even then, you don’t know what the end result will be.
Bauder: With the difference that we as film producers have to guarantee the co-producing broadcaster that that something comes out. If I’ve got money for the film, after a year I can’t say: Oh, it won’t work. The way in which documentary films are financed, perceived and in some cases produced in Germany has become dangerously unbalanced.
It was surprising to me how exciting everyday journalism looks in your film.
Bauder: However, research is also shown that has not yet led to any journalistic success. So that the viewer sees that not everything leads to profitable insights. Investigative journalism also has to do with frustration, readjusting and starting over again. You don’t wake up in the morning and find an incriminating video about a politician in your mailbox; it’s a laborious process of putting pieces of the puzzle together.
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The media landscape is changing rapidly, and print journalism is under great pressure. Wasn’t that what you wanted to address in your film?
Sager: We had material for it, but decided against adding it during the editing process. That would have gone beyond the scope of the film.
Bauder: Perhaps the film also gives exactly the right answer to the savings and cuts in the industry, because it shows what the peculiarities and the relevance of in-depth investigative journalism are. And that it pays off in the end when these spaces are created.