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Obsession with the Camera
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Hand-held cameras constantly used by protagonists seemed to flood the film festival this year. Like obsessive collectors in the past, technology has found its own present-day obsessive users; this results in an interesting phenomenon in new work produced.

The first film to show historical evidence of using optic lenses as an instrument was the Indian film Charulata. The wife often picks up opera glasses to study the brother of her husband with whom she has fallen in love. This gives her an opportunity to examine him more closely without being noticed by the servants or her husband in the house. Sunglasses are also used to filter the reality and give distance to the situation. In Youth in Revolt Nick Twisp’s alter-ego wears dark sunglasses and smokes cigarettes in order to find the rebellious strength to set the town on fire. Dark sun glasses give a mysterious allure to a character, and, at the same time, the character can observe a situation without people noticing.

In Sona, the OtherMyself by Yang Yonghi we see years of a family history divided between Japan and North Korea. Yonghi’s collection of more than 10 years of private home videos completed a documentary of life in North Korea. Much is filmed in North Korea, seen through the eyes of Yonghi’s niece. Since much of the footage damages the utopian lifestyle vision created by the communist regime, there are moments in the film when either her niece, or someone else, asks her to turn off her camera so they can have a private conversation. The film takes us into the political ideology of Yonghi’s father and mother. Her father truly thought his sons had a future in North Korea and sent them there in the 1970s. Her camera becomes a device which buffers her from the hardships which her family faces. She told us that she often clings to the sense of humor which makes it endurable to deal with these harsh realities, for example, her one brother committed suicide, and her father dies. We also see her mother sending endless care packages to keep the family going. She has paid a hard price herself in being a documentary filmmaker since she is no longer allowed to visit North Korea. She is now considered a political threat with her camera.

In My Name is Khan by director Karan Johar, the main character, Rizvan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan), has Asperger's syndrome. His life starts in India where he lives with his brother and mother. The mother is constantly trying to find a way for her son to support himself in case something happens to her, and soon it becomes clear that he is a technical genius. Unfortunately, his social deficit alienates him from his brother who moves to America. When his mother dies, he, too, moves to America and his irrational quirks become more noticeable and unacceptable. At some point, he is given a camera which helps him filter the information in his environment so that he can manage his problem. This Bollywood film takes a look at 9/11 from a different perspective. It shows the backlash effect it had on the Moslem community. Rizvan Khan becomes a Forest Gump figure, from marrying a beautiful wife, to saving people from a flood, to losing his son and taking a journey which leads him to meet Obama. This film shows a rather self-sufficient man who gets what he wants despite his handicap. The film unfortunately loses something by being filmed in Hollywood; we don’t have the exotic costumes, although the dance seems to be Bollywood. The use of compulsive filming temporarily disappears as he adjusts to the American lifestyle, but then reappears with the loss of his family.

In Exit through the Gift Shop by Banksy, his main character: second-hand-clothes shopkeeper Theirry Guetta, becomes an obsessive video camera technician. At the beginning he films everything but then, at some point, switches primarily to Street Artists whom he accompanies to work. After literally thousands of miles of footage, Banksy tries to convince Guetta to focus on making this so-called Street Art documentary which he supposedly has in the works. The results are a disaster with thousand of images spewing at you with no sense of storyline. At this point Banksy tries to get his main character to create Street Art to show in a gallery to keep him busy. The film certainly makes a satirical statement on the art world, documentary film makers, and art critics. Through Guetta’s camera we see his insecurities and obsessions as well as his ineptness with dealing with a family in the background.

In the last film the filmmaker’s mother states that, ever since her son had a camera in his hand, he began to film everything in sight. That may be all right in your family, but what if you are looking for a new relationship? In I Shot My Love, we meet Israeli filmmaker Tomer Heymann who has an obsessive need to document everything around him. His last film Paper Dolls, an award winning documentary on drag queens, brought him to Berlin. During his visit he meets the love of his life, Andreas Merk, who, strangely enough, deals with Heymann’s eccentric use of the camera. One opening scene, which looks like a one-night stand, shows Tomer filming Andreas while they shower together. Andreas accepts this as though it happens all the time. Perhaps that was the moment that Tomer fell in love with him?

Interview with Tomer Heymann, Heymann’s mother Noa and Andreas Merk about I Shot My Love.

Shelly Schoeneshoefer (SS): How do both of you deal with your cultural differences as well as with the historical past since Tomer is Israeli and Andreas is German?

Tomer Heymann (TH): I see us as different people. We are here to teach and learn from each other. We are accepted into the gay community which is very open but people make Nazi jokes that hurt Andreas so I feel like I have to protect him.

Andreas Merk (AM): While living in Germany, I didn’t really deal with WWII history. I read books but resisted accepting what happened. Now in Israel, I have come face to face with it and have to learn to deal with that history. I am even to the point where I have comebacks on bad jokes. Jokes are there to release the tension since people are still pissed off. Merk commented that the word “Nazi” is used freely like a normal swear word. Although I have lived a long time in Israel and love the open and free gay lifestyle there, I think that it might be time to come back to Germany. I think about home and the meaning of it. For me home is a journey.

SS: Tomar, your mother plays an important role in your life, What did she think about Andreas and about him being German?

TH: She hasn’t had a relationship herself in a long time and somehow doesn’t really believe in them. She didn’t have an issue with Andreas being gay but she wasn’t sure how the culture and religious differences would be in our relationship. Since her family escaped from Germany she is able to speak German. Being able to speak that language has become a positive bridge between her and Andreas.

SS: One of the most striking moments in Heymann’s documentary was a scene where Andreas is with Tomer’s family during Hanukah and then they spend Christmas with Andreas’ family. In both scenes the ever-present camera effectively filmed the differences and similarities between these families. In Heymann’s family everyone is talking a lot and saying nothing while in Merk’s family it is awkwardly silent with an unwillingness to dive into a deeper conversation. Merk even divulges his sexual abuse by the church when he was young, an issue that remains silent among family members. At Heymann’s family the uncle produces a book that he brought with him as he escaped from Germany, but even that story remains untold. Everyone brings something to the table and nobody is willing to deal with these heavy issues.

TH: The camera gives me courage. I am interested in people and the camera makes them come alive. I am bolder with people although there were times when the people I was filming had had enough and wanted their private space or they wanted me to give an opinion without having a camera in my hand.

AM: Tomar really is trying to leave the camera home more so that we can deal with each other more, one-on-one instead of having this third person in the relationship which is a camera.

SS: I think I would not be able to handle a relationship with a person with compulsive filming tick. How about you?