German documentary filmmaker Katharina Pethke on her award-winning film Louisa
When Katharina Pethke sees life, she sees stories. “Life is so exciting, and there is so much to life that it's not hard to find stories.... I find stories everywhere,” gushes Katharina, an award-winning documentary filmmaker from Germany. The young filmmaker, who is in the city for a three-month “discovery of India” tour, says that she is still on a high after winning the coveted Golden Dove award for best documentary in German for her film Louisa at the prestigious 55th Leipzig International Film Festival for Documentary and Short Film in October.
Tale of fortitude
Louisa is a realistic portrayal of Katharina's younger sister, Louisa Pethke, who is hearing impaired. The documentary is neither a sob story where Louisa is depicted as wallowing in self pity nor a story of suffering where she struggles to comes to terms with her disability. Instead, Katharina has woven a beautiful tale of fortitude, a story of “sensual emancipation” where she portrays Louisa's fight for the “self-determination” of her other senses. “My sister is an incredible woman. Losing her hearing has not stopped her from doing what she wants to do. With a smile on her face, she uses her other senses to compensate. For example, if she wants to listen to music, she touches the speakers to understand the beats. She writes lyrics for her rapper friends and even plays the keyboard. She is an inspiration to one and all,” says Katharina, with more than a tinge of pride.
“The win at Leipzig was a complete surprise. The win was as much Louisa's as it was mine. So I shared the 10,000 euro prize money with her,” says Katharina, who also cranked the camera for Louisa. She shot the 62-minute film using ordinary film. “It was a huge challenge because it was not shot in digital format. I wanted to do the cinematography myself and not depend on a crew because Louisa was an intensely personal story. It took three years to make, but I wanted to be the one observing my sister through the camera,” says the perky 30-year-old. Louisa will be screened at the Thrissur International Film Festival on January 30.
It was her interest in photography that led Katharina to films. Born in Hamburg, Katharina started off her career as a freelancer for newspapers. “Soon I started clicking pictures to accompany my articles, and realised that I have a flair for it and wanted to do something more with it. Cinema is all about the harmony between the text and the image, and turning to filmmaking was but a natural progression for me,” recalls the filmmaker, who has a degree in Audio-visual media from the Academy of Media Arts, Cologne. Louisa is one of her diploma films (she has two, the other being Anopthalamus (2004), a seven-minute short on the making of an artificial eye). Katharina has a total of six films to her credit and is at present filming her new documentary in Kerala. This is her second visit to the State and she has been staying with various families in the city to get “a feel of India” and indulging in her new passion for yoga. “Here in India spirituality seems to be a huge part of daily life. The smell, the colours, the people, the close relationship between the opposites – the poor and the rich, the dirty and the clean, and so on – is remarkable,” she says