An interview with Diemo Kemmesies, director of SILENT YOUTH


Q: The plot of your film is very simple and straightforward. It’s a character-driven piece, but at the same time devoid of heavy use of dialogue as a dramatic device. When watching it, I got the impression that improvisation played a significant role in developing the scenes. Is that a fair assumption?

A: Some people think that we used improvisation, but that’s not really the case. There are 2 scenes with some improvisation, the beginning of the scene on the balcony and the waiting for the toast in the kitchen.

The rest was completely scripted by me. I’d like to work more with improvisation in the future, but that requires far more time than we had available (we shot the film in 12 days).

Q: Long takes with minimal action, natural dialogue, lack of music (except for the end) and observation of the mundane make Silent Youth a perfect example of realist cinema. Was that a conscious decision? Are you a fan of realism in cinema? And if yes, who are your favourite realist filmmakers?

A: When I first started out, my films lacked that sense of reality, mostly due to my background in theatre. Later on, inspired by the “Berlin School” movement and the works of Dardenne brothers, I realized that sense of vivid reality intensified the movie experience for me.

I wouldn’t say that Silent Youth is realistic in the true sense of the word. The film employs an aesthetically-raw style, but ultimately, it is all carefully fabricated. This is evident in some of Kirill’s words. Is he always telling the truth or is he making it up? Nonetheless, while experiencing the film, it all feels real.

You sit together with Marlo next to Kirill and feel how awkward and complicated it is. I would like for the audience to have an authentic experience in the cinema and take away something meaningful from it.

You can see that my film is highly inspired by Gus van Sant, especially in the way he works with time and thoughts.

Q: Near the beginning of the film, Kirill talks to Marlo about his accident in Russia where he was beaten up. With the events in Russia now, this is actually quite a timely subject. Was the incident in the film inspired by any personal experience of your own or someone close to you?

A: It happened to a close friend of mine, but it had nothing to do with being gay or not. He just befriended the wrong crowd in a rough city like Moscow.

I had a screening in Kiev and the audience was laughing during that scene. It has become such a cliché that a western European thinks this can only happen in Russia.

Q: Do you think your background as someone who comes from East Germany has had any influences on your work?

A: Yes, it has certainly been influential. Until I was 14, I learned in the school that capitalists were evil, communism was the future and something like gay didn’t exist. But soon after, I learned that being a capitalist is cool, communism is the past and that my country was sold out to the former neighbours.

After that, a lot of West German film-makers made comedies about stupid East Germans and the evil communists.

When I now go back to my home town, I can see a lot of scared and frustrated people, which includes the generation that barley knows the East German times.

So yes, I have something that drives me to tell stories in the way I see it and I also have a connection to the East European way of making films.

Q: It seems you’ve led a colourful life in the respect that you started out as an electrician followed by your service at the military and your work at a commune in France. You also founded a magazine named, “Blicklicht” and now work as a software programmer. What were your motivations in pursuing a life in so many different fields and how do you think it has affected you art?

A: In a way, I have a typical biography for someone from East Germany at my age. There was no straight way to go. Everything was new and also my parents couldn’t give me any wise word of advice.

Learning to be an electrician came from GDR (German Democratic Republic). The same goes for the army. Back then, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. No one asked me that question before. In the prison called army, I began questioning myself about my future. Soon after, I left and went to the commune in France.

I started to articulate myself and my ambitions. I first got involved in theatre and finally became a filmmaker. I always feel bad about the hours of my life that I wasted away and think I should have done something fruitful. However, my varied life experiences provide me with a great deal of stories to tell. It also enables me to see the difference between a worker and an actor who is trying to play a worker.

Q: What do you look forward to most on your visit to the Iris Prize and what do you hope to take away from it?

A: I’m really glad that the festival is screening my film and I hope it reaches as wide an audience as possible. It’s my first time visiting the island (UK) so I’m very curious about the environment and the people and the audiences’ response to the film.

– Interview by Amir Abdolrazaghi for the IRIS Prize Festival, Cardiff.