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Fetish for film-making

From cinematography to film-making to photography, it has been one eventful journey for Beat Presser. A well-known photographer from Europe, he has held many solo shows, the most recent one being part of the Venice International Film Festival. He has also assisted the celebrated German film maker, Werner Herzog as a cinematographer in several film projects.

Last year, Presser conducted an interesting workshop at the Max Mueller Bhavan, Chennai, with a group of professionals drawn from different disciplines with a single thread unifying them — a lively interest in video documentation/documentary.

The focus of the workshop was on producing a video film without editing it. It was done in three phases. Presser came back in January, 2002, to conduct another workshop where the focus was to explore the theme of docu-drama. At the end of the workshop the films produced by the participants were screened at the Max Mueller Bhavan. Seven films were produced, two by students of Asian College of Journalism and five by the freelance participants.

As for Beat, he has never had any formal training in a film making or photography. His training began in the 1970s. "For the first three years, I worked as a fashion photographer. Then I worked as an assistant cameraman in films in the 16 mm format. The next five years were spent with a newspaper, editing and putting together a photography journal followed by a stint in an ad agency. I spent the next eight years working with Werner Herzog as a cameraman. I then became a video cameraman, director and at times even producer of films. Now I have gone back to photography, working in the black and white format", says Beat.

Today he is busy giving lectures, holding exhibitions and writing books (he already has eight books to his credit) on photography.

But why did he stop working for such a great director like Werner Herzog? Presser replied, "Film making has become more complex and complicated over the years. Even people like Herzog are finding it increasingly difficult to make full length feature films. The main problem is raising finances. It is easier to shoot photographs. I can do it by myself. I do not have to depend on a whole lot of other people like the lighting man, director and so on. The assembling of a whole crew for a film shoot, before one operates the camera is a complicated process and I wanted a change."

He continued, "Photography has immediacy about it. You know what it looks like soon after print is developed. But, in film you can find out about the camerawork only after the whole film is finished.".

Talking about the recent workshop, Presser said he intended to allow the participants to experience the process of making of a docu-drama. What is a docu-drama? Presser explained that it would have the elements of a documentary as well as fiction. The film would be based on an actual event, but it would be fictionalised.

The groups had to discuss ideas and then prepare a working script. After that they were left on their own to shoot. Presser had brought an editing machine to facilitate the editing of the shot material. He also screened some docu-drama films to the students to give them an idea as to what is expected of them.

After ten days, the students came up with seven films, which were screened at the Max Mueller Bhavan. One felt that the two films shot by students of the Asian College of Journalism showed displayed imagination and coordination. Presser pointed out that the students had already acquired some experience from their course and this helped them to discuss and shoot films better. Again the freelancers came from different disciplines and they did not have the experience of working as a group.

However, both sections enjoyed the experience immensely and they agreed that what helped them most was Presser's attitude. He gave them instructions, but he left them on their own when it came to the actual shooting and editing. This boosted their confidence. Presser too found this experience rewarding and exhilarating. In fact, he commented that he found the workshop more exciting than the ones that he had conducted in Europe. The students work tirelessly to put their ideas into creative use. It is the enthusiasm and the thirst for knowledge that makes the difference.


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