JOA Especially here, art is a very important way to deal with time. The Cuban choreographer George Céspedes reflects: “Europe has a lot more sophisticated art, but just a few people participate. Cuba is the other way around: Art, film, music and dance take part in everyday life and culture. Everybody participates.”
KS: Art carries the soul over chasms proble.
JOA What influenced you growing up in Germany? What is your bond with Latin America?
KS: I was a tomboy, spending every free minute with friends and our ponies in the forest. During childhood and youth we moved every five years, so new beginnings, strangeness and authority problems have been big issues. Nevertheless, I had a very happy childhood because I am self-confident and my parents taught me to transform unpleasant experiences into something positive or productive.
Our dad once worked in Mexico. Our house in Germany was full of Mexican crafts and pottery. Watching slide-projections of prehistoric temples was fascinating. Latin America became for Maren and I a far, mysterious, creepy, beautiful continent.
In the meantime, my mum made me familiar with meditation and painting. When I was in elementary school, she put me into yoga classes and took me to a lot of museums. I was deeply impressed by Marc Chagall, James Ensor and large-scale history paintings with melodramatic scenes.
JOA What is your background?
KS: I studied Central-American studies and ethnology with a focus in visual and urban anthropology. I love theory; nevertheless it became too theoretical at some point. There was a big desire to get more practical. In 2006, I went to Cuba to study documentary film as part of an exchange program with my German film school.
JOA You once told me that you finally woke up artistically in Cuba. Why?
KS: I studied at a very prestigious German film school. Unfortunately, my department was not open-minded; it was reactionary. A professor wanted to kick me out of university because I refused to edit an audio-comment in a documentary film. It was absurd! All my energy was lost in fighting and maintaining instead of developing. In contrast, I found great support in the camera department. In 2006, I came for an exchange at the EICTV (Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV) in Cuba, an international film school founded by [Colombian author] Gabriel García Márquez with people from all over Latin America, Africa and Europe. The school is a creative audio-visual laboratory designed as a self-sufficient community, located in the middle of nowhere between citrus plantations in the Cuban countryside. Over the last 30 years, amazing lectors gave classes, including Isabelle Huppert, Abbas Kiarostami, Rube Goldberg, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Francis Ford Coppola, etc. Here I could develop things that had no space [at my German university]. I am grateful for the artistic formation and the cultural influences that I received and am still receiving—but also for the friction because it sharpens the will.
“TV steals lifetime… It takes more than it gives,
and subconsciously creates fear
and concern that I did not feel before.
Art is different. It gives you a lot more back
than you may ever give yourself.”
— Kirstin Schmitt
MS That’s the way life is! Kirstin’s plan has always been to go Mexico, and I wanted to go to Cuba. Finally, it happened the other way around.
JOA Who influences you today?
KS: Today, I am particularly inspired by locations and “Lebensgefühlen,” a German concept that does not really have an English translation, [but roughly means an awareness and attitude toward life]. The people and regional discourses of Havana, Cuba and Luanda, Angola have been a strong artistic influence for me during the last 10 years. Yoerlis Brunet, my contemporary dance teacher in Cuba, is very important to me. He is my precious friend, padrino and muse. I guess it’s always people who are tattooing our souls…
JOA What’s your favorite book, film and music right now?
KS: I love Austrian cinema, for example Nordrand by Barbara Albert, Loss Is To Be Expected by Ulrich Seidl or The Castle by Michael Haneke. Also, Three Women by Robert Altman, Twin Peaks by David Lynch, Playtime by Jacques Tati, Memorias del Subdesarrollo by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and directors Ingmar Bergmann, John Cassavetes, Andrei Tarkowski or the old stuff by Werner Herzog. I am impressed by Horse Money from Pedro Costa or documentaries by two young female filmmakers: Casa Blanca by Aleksandra Maciuszek and Hotel Nueva Isla by Irene Gutiérrez.
For me, music is definitely the queen of all arts. The only thing I really regret is that I have stopped playing piano. I have started to listen to vinyls again instead of tons of gigabytes on the hard disk. I listen to Cymande, Al Jarreau, Gil Scott Heron, Tim Maia, Lee Scratch Perry, Kelvis Oshoa, David Zé, Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, Los Van Van, The Cure, Patti Smith, Pink Floyd. I recently discovered Tycho and love what he’s doing!
On the table next to my bed, you’ll find the books Unterleuten by the German writer Juli Zeh and Uncountry by Yanara Friedland.
MS After the holidays, we will start editing a long-term documentary film called Adelheid, Kornelius & Die Töte.
KS: It was a big a struggle to get the funding for an art-house documentary. Without Maren I would have not succeeded. She is an amazing producer!
MS What does working in our collective, Sailor’s Yarn, mean to you?
KS: Those who want to travel far must go in good company. We are misguided by outdated and incomplete theories, like natural selection: the strongest wins, etc. This guides us in our social and economic life and is dangerous! The way is not competition but cooperation!
Images from Waiting for The Candy Man (2014–present) series and The New Men (2016) excerpt, by Kirstin Schmitt.