Edwin Brienen – the Dutch Faßbinder

Edwin Brienen is a one-off independent film maker who has often been called ‘The Dutch Fassbinde. Born in The Netherlands Edwin has made 14 films, many stage plays and has shot music videos. He’s lived in New York and is currently living in a pleasant area of Berlin. After studying philosophy and psychology Edwin started his career as a radio host on Dutch Radio Association VPRO. In an interview for Maulbeerblatt, Edwin talked about his films, his past and future.
Describe your films in 3 words.
If you could show your films to one (famous) person, who would it be?
Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He was such an influence on me, it would only make sense to find out how he feels about my works. Unfortunately he’s been dead for over 25 years now. That might be a problem
You often work with Sebastian Suba, why? Do you have any favourite actors you like to work with?
I like to create my own film family. To surround myself with people I trust. It’s not only much more fun, you can work much faster too. I think Eva (Dorrepaal) and Esther (Verkaaik) worked the most with me. In Berlin I work a lot with British and American actors: Tomas Spencer, Clayton Nemrow. Yeah, if the chemistry is right, let’s make another film with them.

How well do you plan your films? Or are they more ad hoc?
Oh, theyre very well planned. From start till end theres a lot of surprises, but I always have a very clear picture in my mind how the end result should turn out. Besides, I never film for the sake of filming. It has to come from my inner self, something I find important to explore. That creates a necessity, which automatically asks for discipline.

You said in an interview in answer to the question if there is a lively underground film scene in Berlin: Berlin is probably the most difficult city to make independent films. The people here simply don’t care. Film means business. There’s not really a sense for underground film, as far as I can judge. But the people who like strange films, they’re really into it. Almost fanatic. Yet when we met you said Berlin was a great place for underground films. Please explain!
On the one hand, German film industry means big business. It’s all about making money, students get taught in the 3rd month of film school not to work for free. Berlin on the contrary is a cheap city. People don’t really seem to bother about paying rents and all other costs. That makes it easier to get a crew together, although some of them have often no clue in what kind of project they’re involved. For them it’s a networking thing: ‘maybe the next time there’s a lot of money involved and he’ll ask me again.
How do audiences react to your films? Have you ever had trouble, problems?
Depends on the kind of film you’re talking about. I received death threats after my first film. I mean, especially film can touch a sensitive snare. There were some problems with authorities once. I think the biggest problem for certain criticasters is the fact I don’t take a stand. Especially if it comes to political issues, I easily change from the left to the right side. Simply because it’s more interesting from an inspirational point of view. Although I’m a person with very strong opinions, I absolutely don’t believe I own the truth. I prefer to stay open-minded for several options, ideas that keeps life more interesting.
You must have met some pretty interesting people over the years, anyone in particular stick in your memory?
You want me to do some name-dropping?
What do you most like about making films?
It’s not something I like. It’s something I have to do. It’s sometimes very compulsive. I have all these ideas in my head, and I slightly start getting insane if I don’t exorcize them. And yes, I often to talk to my therapist about these issues.
Who is your favourite film or director?
My favourite film director is Rainer Werner Fassbinder. I feel very close to his approach of telling stories, his use of intensity. As an adolescent, I was obsessed with Fassbinder. I was about 17, 18 years old and I went with Eva (Dorrepaal) to a Fassbinder Retrospective in Rotterdam. It felt like a rebirth. It basically redefined my whole ideas about life, about art.
You have often said you’d like to live in New York, what is stopping you? Do you plan to one day? Are there any other cities you’d like to live in?
I lived already in New York in 2001. Since 9/11, it lost its touch a bit. I’d love to go to Madrid for a while. Next year. To get a touch of that typical Spanish hysteria.
What’s in the pipeline? Are you filming anything at the moment?
That’s non-stop business for me. If not filming, then writing. Or doing promotion. Or whatever. It never seems to stop. My next project is a film heavily influenced by conspiracy theories – my newest obsession since two years.
How are your films financed? How would you like to see monies spent in Germany?
I’m open for any money proposal J
How’s your German? Do you feel good about writing a film in German? Was it easy/easier/hard/harder than writing in Dutch or English?
Mein Deutsch ist wunderbar. I don’t care writing in whatever language. It only feels a bit strange to make a film about ‘20 Jahre Mauerfall (Edwin refers to his latest film Viva Europa) when you’re not German yourself. You always have to be careful that you don’t make to much fun of them, (Laughs). The Germans can be a bit stiff sometimes, but I love them anyways.
Where do you see your films in 10 years?
I’m changing already into a more political direction. But that’s because of what’s going in society in the last years. You never know, maybe I become more mainstream and will make my own ‘Pretty Woman.
If you didn’t direct films, what other job would you like to have?
Oh, well, what I did before. Being a TV- and radio moderator, interviews, those kind of things.
How do your films reflect who you are? And how, if at all, do they reflect German/Dutch cultures and society?
That’s tricky to answer. I think my films reflect a lot about who I am, but you have to search for the underlayers. It reflects for sure my concern about this new society we live in: a society wherein we experience control and manipulation everyday. People and institutions use our fears and our needs against us to get us to do what they want. We are being manipulated by the government, the media it’s sickening and I’m deeply shocked by the non-resistance from most of us. Oh let’s make film about it!

Thank you Edwin for the interview. If you would like to know more about Edwin or his films, please see his website http://www.edwinbrienen.com/index2.htm And his DVD collection can be ordered here http://www.filmfreaks.nl/brienen/brienen_top.htm