Sounds from the FogKlaus Stanjek
“Active forgetting” is a common process of coping with history in Germany. In a radical personal approach, Klaus Stanjek’s film follows the complex turns and feelings of his family when they confront the threatening knowledge of Uncle Willi’s secret. Klaus Stanjek narrates, “My cheerful uncle lived with my family unless he was touring as an entertainment musician across Germany. Only when he turned 90 did I detect what my whole family had hidden: that he had spent eight years in Nazi camps and that he was gay. As I researched his life, I found out that my hometown, which presented itself as a liberal town, had been a major stronghold of the early Nazi-Party. And that my mother enjoyed her career in the Hitler-Youth, despite knowing about her brothers captivity.” Sounds from the Fog (or Sounds of Silence) is a compelling account of the director’s own family history and the phenomenon of German repression of WWII memories. Stanjek delves into the personal and political life of his beloved uncle, a talented singer and accordion player, in a chronicle that is one part historical inquiry and one part fascinating detective story.
Extended synopsis by Klaus Stanjek
“Active forgetting” is a common process of coping with history in Germany. In a radical personal approach, the film follows the complex turns and twists of my family’s feelings, when they try to deal with troublesome, contradicting and threatening knowledge.
My cheerful uncle used to live with my family unless he was touring as an entertainment musician across Germany. Only at his age of 90 (when I was 40) did I detected what he and my whole family had hidden all his life: that he had spent eight years in Nazi concentration camps (Dachau + Mauthausen) and that he was gay.
During the following research I found out that my hometown Wuppertal, which presented itself as a liberal town of social consciousness, had been a major stronghold of the early Nazi-Party in the twenties. I found out that even in brutal concentration camps like Mauthausen, turbulent festivities took place where my uncle played music; that my mother enjoyed her career in the “Bund Deutscher Mädel” (the Hitler-Youth), despite knowing about her brother’s imprisonment; and I realised that my hometown tended to cover its history with a kind of amnesia, ignorance and even transfiguration.
My research around our family taboos was hindered at several levels: by restrictions of the German judiciary, by the reluctance of some family members to talk about these things, and also by my own inclination to avoid painful questions relating to possible guilt.
Because of the heavily charged taboo, the story of my beloved uncle was hardly accessible. Therefore the film is based on sources like my own memories, reports and imaginations of my relatives, on detected documents and on plenty of photos.
By means of animated sequences and image compositing (made in collaboration with Sonja Rohleder), we revitalized the photos, by stressing their subjectivity and imaginary content. My exploration, my surprising encounters in several countries, my evaluation of findings and my descriptions lead the audience through the burdened and antagonistic social history of Germany.
My hope is that the dynamics of repression and denial might become emotionally accessible, while music offers its potential for imaginary relief.
William Dieterle Film Prize of the city of Ludwigshafen, 2013
Bürgerpreis (Civic Award), Nonfiktionale Bad Aibling Film Festival, Bavaria April 2014
Kommunales Kino, Freiburg
Cinema Bolzano, Internatational Competition
Münster Queer Film Festival
Kino Maxim München
Alte Feuerwache Wuppertal-Elberfeld
Oli Lichtspiele Magdeburg
Hackesche Höfe Kinos Berlin
Eva Lichtspiele Berlin
Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival
Klaus Stanjek’s Director’s Statement
The disquieting synchronicity of bliss and horror, darkness and luster, liberty and cataclysm is poignantly reflected in the life of my musical uncle:
Homosexuality during the martial empire, the blossoming of the arts in devastated and demoralized post-World War I Germany, the Nazi crushing of Weimar Era liberalization, popular music in concentration camps, decades of secrecy and indifference during the age of economic miracles in post-World War II West Germany….
Like my uncle, my parents and relatives kept mum about the decisive conflicts, presumably to safeguard my peace of mind and their own. Apparently we are emotionally incapable of integrating the stark contradictions between glory and abyss without subjecting ourselves to intolerable pain. Instead, we distort, forget and suppress everything around us until the intellectual result appears to be emotionally tolerable.
Willi learned early on to keep certain truths to himself and to bear the unbearable. His life drastically reflects the all-encompassing repression of homosexuality over generations. Willi sought his own path to emotional well-being by retreating into an inner world of freedom—music. His music lent him wings. It was the shelter that gave him a purpose in life, which gained him friends and admirers, money and self-respect.
The film’s perspective remains personal and subjective, even when reflecting the emotional landscape of a nation grappling with the rise and fall of several different forms of government, changing values and ideals, and the suffering these inflicted at home and abroad. But the nation was not really coming to terms with its haunted past. Instead, it was erecting walls of silence, creating memory lapses, and suppressing entire historical episodes.
Willi Heckmann’s life and the views of his relatives are exemplary of such processes. His popular music encapsulates the tremendous emotional strain of coping with the fractures and calamities of the 20th century.
Klaus Stanjek was born in Wuppertal in 1948. He studied psychology and biology with a focus on anthropology, followed by cross-cultural research at the Max Planck Institute. After receiving his PhD on the cultural history of property, Stanjek studied documentary film at the Munich Film School. He has also worked as a packer, truck driver, waiter, sorter and fitter, and traveled through Europe, Africa, Asia , North and South America. He was active in the Munich Film Club “Cinepol.”
From 1979-82, he worked at the HFF Munich Film School Documentary Department, where he was employed as an assistant and lecturer until 1989. Stanjek has worked as a Lecturer for documentary, aesthetics and film practice in Munich, Bolzano, Colombo, Addis Ababa, Beijing and Leipzig. Since 1977 he has made numerous documentaries on social, ecological, ethnographic and socio-political themes for TV and the cinema, mostly with his own production company Cinetarium Babelsberg, which he founded in 1983. His work has been awarded Best Documentary at Cinema Bolzano, and has screened at numerous festivals in many countries as well as on TV and in the cinema.
In 1993 he was invited to teach at the Babelsberg Film School HFF Konrad Wolf as a professor of documentary directing. In addition to teaching at the Babelsberg Film School, he organized international workshops on documentary like the “Visions Project” and cooperated with the Iranian Film School Soureh University in Tehran. Stanjek has been a member of various juries and selection committees and has published articles on documentary cinema. Stanjek lives in Babelsberg near Berlin.
Klaus Stanjek’s Selected Filmography:
2013 SOUNDS FROM THE FOG
A musical detective story
2004 COMMUNE OF BLISS
A close look at the inner dynamics of a Hutterite commune
1999 YEAR OF THE FISHERMAN
A fisherman’s family and its 350- year old farm
1999 CHILDREN OF UTOPIA
A Hutterite commune seen through the eyes of their children
The ecology of artificial light
Increasing dangers to drinking water
1981 MENDZANG BETI
Musical traditions of the Beti / Cameroon
1977 CHRISTIANIA Commune in barracks
Observations in Danmarks slum stormer movement
English title: SOUNDS FROM THE FOG
Original title: KLÄNGE DES VERSCHWEIGENS
Country of production: Germany
Year of production: 2013
Duration: 94 minutes (24 fps); 90 minutes (25 fps)
Format: DCP (16:9 anamorph)
Original language: German, English and Czech with English subtitles
Color: Color + Black/White
Director: Klaus Stanjek
Author: Klaus Stanjek
Camera: Niels Bolbrinker, Volker Gerling, Klaus Lautenbacher, Axel Schneppat
Sound Recording + Mix: Raimund von Scheibner
Animation: Sonja Rohleder
Editing: Barbara Toennieshen, Dirk Schreier
Music Composers: Eike Hosenfeld & Moritz Denis
Production company: CINETARIUM Babelsberg
Producer: Klaus Stanjek
TV-partner: WDR Cologne
Supported by: Cultural Council City of Munich, City of Potsdam
SOUNDS FROM THE FOG
Protagonists and interviewees in the order of their appearance in the movie.
Dr. Uwe Eckardt
Historian / director of
town archive Wuppertal (until 2009)
Main character / musician /
born 1897, died 1995 in Wuppertal, Germany
more details here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_Heckmann
Née Heckmann /
niece of Willi Heckmann /
died in 2004 in Lüdenscheid, Germany
Née Stanjek / aunt of the author /
born 1923 in Upper Silesia
Née Heckmann / mother of the director and sister of
Willi Heckmann/born 1920 in Wuppertal, Germany
Died 2005 in Wuppertal
Née Heckmann / niece of
Willi Heckmann / journalist /
Died in 2013 in Bochum /Germany
Owner of Hotel Würschmidt / Altena /
died in 2006 in Altena, Germany
Born in 1920 in Altena
neighbour of family Heckmann
Innkeeper of “Café zur Burg” /
Former Innkeeper of “Café zur Burg” /
Born 1930 in Italy, political prisoner in
concentration camp Mauthausen
1944 – 1945, lives in Canada.
Born 1934 in Mauthausen,
neighbour to the camp,
lives in Mauthausen, Austria
Born 1922 in Vienna, political prisoner
in camp Mauthausen 1942 -45, died in
Mariánské Lázně, Czech Republic in 2013.
Born 1921 in Czechoslovakia,
political prisoner in camp Mauthausen
1941-45, died in Prague,
Czech Republic in 2013
Born 1914 in Vienna, political prisoner
in camp Mauthausen, director of the
Mauthausen Memorial up to 1976,
died in Vienna in 2011.
Archivist, director of the
town archive of Passau /
Dr. Jens Dobler
Historian, manager of the archive
and library of “Schwules Museum*”
Animator Sonja Rohleder
The animation sequences developed by artist Sonja Rohleder fulfill a crucial role within the storyline of SOUNDS FROM THE FOG. They help to deepen the emotional layers of the interrelations of the characters, and help to imagine past situations that persisted only in the author’s memory. The art of Sonja Rohleder’s Cut-Out-Animation is determined by its outstanding sensitivity and its respect for the originality of the primary photographic images.
“Where original footage is missing I am able to revitalize images and emotions by animation,” explains Sonja Rohleder about her approach.“At the same time the new creation reveals a representation of an imagined reality – nothing factual – but rather a `maybe like this’ reality.”
The animator used collages digitally combining original photos and archival footage as well as frame-by-frame-painting for some backgrounds and characters. Moving some of the static elements in relation to each other creates the illusion of moving characters and objects.
For more info about Sonja Rohleder: http://www.sonjarohleder.de/
Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten
- November 17, 2014 London, UK
- UK Jewish Film Festival