Jesus Der Film

Focus #4

Fri 7 October 201607.10.16
76 rue de la Verrerie
75004 Paris
Unique : 5€

Programmed and presented by Theo Deliyannis

In the presence of Michael Brynntrup

For the first time in France, the “underground” adaptation of the New Testament orchestrated and interpreted by Michael Brynntrup, a central and controversial figure in Berlin’s independent community, will be presented at the Saint-Merri church. Jesus der film is a monumental feature film made up of thirty-five episodes, shot in Super 8 by twenty-two filmmakers from the GDR and the FRG during 1987, on the model of an exquisite corpse. For the first time in France, the “underground” adaptation of the New Testament orchestrated and performed by Michael Brynntrup, a central and controversial figure in Berlin’s independent community, will be presented at the Saint-Merri church. Jesus der film is a monumental feature film made up of thirty-five episodes, shot in Super 8 by twenty-two filmmakers from the GDR and the FRG during 1987, on the model of an exquisite corpse.

Michael Brynntrup
Germany (FRG)
Super 8 on digital

Jesus - Der Film is a monumental feature film consisting of 35 episodes, shot in Super8 by 22 filmmakers from the GDR and FRG over the course of 12 months. Each episode tells a story from the New Testament, and the genesis of the project itself follows the story of Jesus Christ recruiting his apostles. The film’s creator, Michael Brynntrup, is a central and controversial figure in Berlin’s independent community. His transgressive obsessions and his ability to smuggle hundreds of meters of Russian Super8 film across the East-West border have created a following around him.

Individuals and groups from different artistic backgrounds reproduced the sacred narrative, inspired by the Surrealist idea of automatic writing. From one to the other, they exchange ideas, material and actors, among which Michael Brynntrup himself, in the role of the eponymous protagonist.

Théo Deliyannis

Could you tell us something about the German underground of the 80’s, which is somewhat unknown here? Were there for example links between West German and East German filmmakers?

Michael Brynntrup

The 80’s were even called the “Super-80’s” because there was a big movement of young artists who were (discovering and) seizing the Super-8 as their medium of choice.There were not only visual artists, but also musicians and performers, and I would say more, there was a political movement that had seized this medium as their own way of documenting their struggles for the occupation of disused buildings or their actions against Atomkraft (the equivalent of Areva in France) in an independent way.

This wave of the “Super-80’s” was international: the effervescence was common in other metropolises, like London, Paris, or New York. From the mid-1980s onwards, these different circles met through Super 8 film festivals or through program tours (the new term for which would probably be “networking”). Even in East Berlin there were a few people working with Super 8, but obviously under different conditions: for example, there was no sound film. Super 8 was considered an amateur format (as in the West), which had the advantage, in the East, of no state control over it.

When I arrived in this microcosm that is West Berlin, I was very intrigued by the strangeness of this city cut in two, which led me to travel a lot to East Berlin where I made many friends. I also met some filmmakers there, to whom I proposed to participate in the Jesus Der Film project.


Can you tell us about the genesis of the film, how the idea came to you, and how the collective form of the film was decided upon?


During the 1980s, in the midst of post-modernism, not only was authority deconstructed, but the very notion of authorship. When I arrived in Berlin in 1982, I worked with friends in a collective, the Oyko-Group. In this group, we tried various methods of collective creation. My goal was to make a film that was both the work of a number of filmmakers (all of whom were present with their own subjectivity and sometimes different ideas) and a feature-length narrative film with a single story line. My Christian upbringing of course led me to Jesus, “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (to use the title of another movie about Jesus).

The specificity of this story was that it was constructed in episodes, which made it perfect material for a collective film. When I started talking about it to my future collaborators I was very pleasantly surprised by the very positive reactions of these young secular artists.

I think that this idea brought about other things, like the revolt against authority and a deep desire for total creative freedom. The feeling at the time was “anything goes [Anything Goes].


How did you manage to recruit so many filmmakers? One can imagine that there must have been some relational difficulties between some of them, knowing the experimental cinema milieu…


I was quite familiar with the big Super 8 scene, whether it was at festivals or just in Berlin. In fact, I didn’t ask so many filmmakers, I only asked friends who were a bit “special”: those who had the same humorous spirit, and those who appreciated the dirtiness of Super 8. I even asked non-filmmakers, like critics or editors, because I appreciated their interest in underground culture. I think it was quite important for the success of the project that one person oversee the whole thing. And the participating filmmakers accepted that as a way to get the film done. As a result, there was not much discussion between the filmmakers, especially because the surrealist invention of automatic writing was an integral part of the project: no one knew about the other episodes made, except for the few links between them, which were indicated by myself.


Could you tell us about the shooting of the film?


The shooting took place all over Germany: Cologne, Hamburg, Munich, other cities and especially Berlin (East and West). The first shots were taken in the winter of 1984, and the last ones were done two weeks before the premiere of the film at the Berlinale in February 1986. In 2014 a book on the genesis of Jesus Der Film1was published, in which we reproduced the diary kept during the whole project: it can be noted that I spent, during the year and a half that the project took, almost every second of my days preparing, shooting, editing and finishing the film.

The film had no budget; I smuggled inexpensive Super 8 cartridges from East Berlin to distribute them to the various filmmakers. Some reels were developed by hand in my kitchen. At the end of the project I was a really poor filmmaker. When the film was selected at the Berlinale, a public institution gave us some money to print a copy (about 2400€), which allowed me to organize a tour of the film in about 40 German cities. After this tour I was still not rich, but at least I was debt free.


How was the film received at its screenings? I saw somewhere that it was shown at a religious film festival - and now it’s going to be shown in a Parisian church: what were the general reactions of the Christian audience?


After the Berlinale and during the film’s tour there were various reactions: a Catholic magazine referred to my film as “made by the devil”, while other newspapers presented the film as “revolutionary”. You could say that the film was controversial to say the least.

There is no homogeneous reaction from religious audiences - Christians these days have learned from the debates about religious cartoons, especially in relation to Islam and the Islamic State. It would seem that in our Western culture today, freedom of expression has a higher value than religious faith and feeling.


Could you tell us some elements that could help us to understand your work in general, and also the way Jesus Der Film fits in your filmography?


I make quite varied films; each film must be different from the previous ones. In retrospect, I notice that depending on the period, I was interested in certain themes. My first films were linked to my family and German heritage; I could for example make a film about the Berlin Wall. Perhaps Jesus Der Film belongs to that theme. Then I made some films about homosexuality, for example about AIDS, starting around 1989 with a film cycle called Death Dances, and other films with comic “gay content”. At the beginning of this millennium, and for more than ten years, I traveled a lot to Asia where I made a lot of installations and films related to the life and culture of this continent. I am always interested in technological innovations (I have made “interactive” films on the internet, for example).

Overall, I would say that my films are very personal since they are very clearly made by an identifiable human being, and all my films try to reach and transgress boundaries, whether they are technical or psychic.


BRYNNTRUP Michael, Jesus – Der Film – Das Buch, Vorwerk8, Berlin, 2014