Both melancholic and funny, sensitive and incisive is the film „Take a picture“ that shows Sibylle Bergemann during her last days. In our interview, director Sabine Michel tells about her work with Sibylle Bergemann, her stamina and her sense of humor.
Anna-C. Hartmann: Do you recall your first contact with Sibylle Bergemann's images?
Sabine Michel: I became familiar with her work at a very young age. My parents were subscribed to the GDR women´s magazine Sibylle that often published images by Sibylle Bergemann. As a child I always cut out the pictures of the beautiful women. The name Sibylle Bergemann had already struck me then. I found it funny that the photographer had the same name as the magazine. Later, in Berlin, I came across her Polaroids that have, to this day, a particular appeal to me.
© Uwe Mann
ACH: And how did this early interest in Sibylle Bergemann lead to a film project?
Michel: Personally, I wanted to know more about this photographer. And I always want to tell stories that can not be told anymore in a few years from now. Hence my desire to make a film about Sibylle Bergemann.
I sent her my film portrait of Corinna Harfouch to introduce me to her and then we met. She was first quite reserved, as she often was. But she had liked the portrait and she was willing, under certain conditions, to do the the film with me.
However, a short time later, she called me to say that she needed to have chemotherapy and wanted to cancel the project.
ACH: Then you have made the film anyway. How did that come about?
Michel: Sibylle was a fighter who has gone through six chemotherapies and got through all of them. But she was afraid not to be beautiful in the film because of her illness, which I found very touching. And it was important to her to be well presented. This respect she had shown to the people she photographed, she also claimed it for herself. Me and the camera man had to promise that to her. During filming, we paid much attention to the lighting and always kept a certain distance from Sibylle. The camera man suggested working with a special camera, a Canon 5D. This camera is similar to a 35 mm film in its depth of focus. And through the use of photographic optics it is very specific in its use of colors. This was also interesting for Sibylle.
© Uwe Mann
ACH: How did you start filming?
Michel: I had kept in touch with Sibylle during all this time. When it turned out that they would go to Venice, she herself asked us if we wanted to come along. I did not yet have the confirmation by arte. But Anne Katrin Hendel and Maria Wischnewski from IT WORKS! were willing to take the risk. We were 3 or 4 days in Venice. And worked 10-12 hours per day. Sibylle never spared herself or others. That was a good, intense start.
ACH: You have mentioned it earlier, Sibylle was a rather reserved person. How did you manage to make her open up in front of the camera, and tell so much even about private matters?
Michel: Anyone who ever stood in front of a camera knows how it feels, if you're not an actor. How insecure you are, how vulnerable. As a director I had to show her that she can trust me. This requires an attitude towards things, towards life, experience and time. That does not happen overnight, at least if you din´t know each other previously. We talked a lot. Sometimes there are also details that count, a word in the right place, a shared laugh, a quiet moment. There are no rules.
The very personal things that she tells about her daughter and her granddaughter for example, that came at the very end. Just like the scene where she shows without a head scarf, something she didn't use to do.
We also started to share a certain sense of humor. The tone became more flippant and we were more relaxed with each other. Uwe, the cameraman said at some point, it was like a dance the way we reacted to each other.
ACH: You've spent a lot of time time with Sibylle. What do you remember most about her?
Michel: My personal discovery was her specific humor. It fascinated me that that behind these melancholic pictures was a woman with so much ironic distance from the world and from herself. And looking on her whole life intrigued me. With all its ups and downs and an unconditional dedication to art, which has demanded a price. She spoke about that, but always without complaining.
Sabine Michel © Arno Fischer
ACH: The first version of your film premiered in November 2010 in Babylon, and was then shown on arte. Why did you release a second version this year?
Michel: We thought about continuing while still shooting with her. The DEFA Foundation had already accepted. But then Sibylle died and it was a shock. For all of us.
Continuing without her was not possible. Not doing anything wasn't possible either. Not to do anything, but nothing more. The longer version was meant to be more personal. And necessarily more completed. With an attitude towards her life.
ACH: Shortly before her death you have shown the short version of the film to Sibylle. How did she react?
Michel: She said: "Yes, that's quite good." At that point we knew that this was quite a compliment out of her mouth. And she said: "You and the camera man, you have kept your word."