"No, politics is not my subject' says Heddy Honigmann in reply to questions from the public, regarding her film. Even when the questions are repeated, she patiently draws the attention of the spectators to that which is most important to her. "I don't make films about subjects, but about people", she repeats tirelessly, irrespective of how much social and political reality is reflected in their lives. The films are not demonstrations but panoramas of lives, suffering and laughter. They take place in Israel, Amsterdam, Lima, Rio de Janeiro, Canada or Paris. They are long and short feature films as well as documentaries. Up until now the producer has made 23 films without being tied to a specific genre, without becoming stereotyped. Therefore she would not let herself be tied down during her discussions with the public at the time of her visit to Berlin in May 2001. Stories, she said, examples anecdotes and meetings brought them to life. Up until now she has produced 23 films. The other side of the commercial circus, amongst film fans, she is recognised as one of the greatest film producers.
Honigmann's global view, which could apply as a characteristic of her work up until now, seems to be organically explained by her biography. In 1951 she was born in Peru, the daughter of Jewish immigrants (from Austria and Poland). Already at an early age films fascinated her. As a young girl she saw every film that was shown in the French Cultural Institute in Lima. She made excursions into the world of words (poems), but pictures are of far more importance to her. In order to carry out her film studies she was forced to leave Peru where there was no film academy at that time. She carried out her studies in Rome. At the end of the seventies love brought her to Amsterdam, which until now has been her centre of existence, and where contacts with the film institutions enable her to work on several projects at the same time. But she always makes a break and finds a path back to her main subject. In this regard very few language barriers would deter her. Spanish is her mother tongue; she speaks Dutch just as well. She speaks English and French and has a good understanding of German - languages constitute an important instrument in her film work, as well as her vision and ear.
Some important characteristics of her work methods may be particularly well recognised in "The Underground Orchestra" (1997). "In programme magazines I continually read that this film is about street musicians in the Paris Metro", she said as an introduction, "but that is not the only subject". The film is about musicians who earn their living with street music in the passages of the Paris Metro. The producer accompanies the musicians from all over the world in her worlds, the Venezuelan harpists, the violinist from Sarajevo, the Argentinean pianist, the Rumanian guitar player, the singer form Mali. We see them on the street, in the Metro passages, but also in modest lodgings where they speak about their music, about family, about hopes and fears.
Honigmann explains her method of procedure: "Through the personal stories you get to the other backgrounds, the beauty, the power. If you did it the other way round, a film would be too heavy, it would be unbearable." Naturally in the Underground orchestra there is mention of massacres, wars, poverty, persecution and discrimination, which drove the people out of their countries of origin, which are not named. Her echo may be heard in the presence of exile, in the expressions of the refugees, in their yearning for their countries of origin. Nevertheless they are not stories about victims. "The musicians are not victims," insists Honigmann, "they do suffer, they have to endure a lot, but they live and fight, enjoy life and have their happiness." And the dignity and beauty of the music. "Sometimes I am more interested in the beauty. I witnessed and shot a scene at the circus and I knew immediately it would be in the film, just because of its beauty. In a film you can touch some edges, frontiers." The beauty of this scene is of a purely aesthetic nature. An acrobat dressed all in black, balances on a trapeze, and a snow-white cat that is no less acrobatic, walks on her. Below in the ring a musician plays on a concertina. The music in the silence, the colours, the melancholy of the scene, create their effect, without a word being spoken. But it also in some scenes, which are more directly embedded in social reality, the beauty is present and carries far more weight than the ugliness of the social and political situation. There stands the African street musician in his mini-apartment, which is more a partitioned area in a loft and says: "No that is not my apartment, that is my cell." And lives and speaks in this cell high above the roofs of Paris with dignity and strength, showing that even this cell cannot rob him of his dignity as a person and musician.
"Metal and Melancholy", a film produced in 1993 makes use of the collage technique: the stories of various people are artistically joined together, here in the documentary Road-Movie through Peru's capital Lima, backwards and forwards, from one taxi into the next. The male and female taxi drivers are teachers, artists, housewives, police officers; their cars are old, smashed, and often ready for scrap. All are members of the poor middle class; taxi driving is a second occupation required in order to survive. Honigmann introduces us to different taxi drivers. One relates his love story with a young Italian girl years ago, and who in spite of an invitation does not follow her in the end to Italy. He never heard from her again, but this possible love of his dreams has never died - in a piece of music that the man has kept and keeps listening to over and over again, and in this instance the producer acts. "isn't it amazing what you get to hear?" says Honigmann in astonishment and looking back at this meeting. "That one can survive on one piece of music which reminds you of that love." Honigmann becomes the messenger of hope. Perhaps the taxi driver takes her into confidence, in the hope that the woman will see the film one day and recognise the music of the heart.
How in her films does music personally play a role for her. She cannot imagine living without music. With the taxi driver in Lima it was a coincidental discovery. In other films she made music one of her starting points, towards a path that leads to the heart of the dialogue partners. "Crazy" (NL 1999) is a film about memories of some Dutch UN soldiers, who in the period of several decades served in different theatres of war (Korea, Lebanon, Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia). She asks the soldiers for a piece of music that they associate with their sojourn. The music facilitates access to the feelings, which are partially linked to traumatic experiences. "Crazy", the pop song from Seal, was used as the film title. The memories of one of the interviewed UN soldiers are concentrated in this song. The detour through music is a method of bringing closer the personal aura of the producer but is also a crucial method of getting the soldiers to open up. Honigmann does not meet the soldiers as a slick interviewer, but as a dialogue partner. She endures pauses and silence as well as the slow searching and probing of the soul tank of some soldiers, behind which the emotions, sorrow, fear and the feeling of futility of one's own deployment are frighteningly palpable. Due to this extreme closeness "Crazy" is not easy to endure. Therefore in conversations with the producer the questions of how and why come immediately to the fore. How does Honigmann manage, as stranger to gain access to the deepest of feelings and fears? "There is a magic secret", she laughingly evades the question. At least part of this secret seems then nevertheless to be exposed. It is the biographical openness necessary for human existence, uprooting, exile and the search for a place. "I grew up in a family of Holocaust survivors. There were all these stories of people who were lost. Not only was that loss of life, but with each person there was a whole universe of stories, places, songs and hopes." Honigmann's view has even given insight to the open view concerning the question of survival after the catastrophe and the war "In Peru I have learned to survive, it was a sheer necessity." On her life's journey through continents she meets companions who do not have to explain a lot to her.
In the meantime Heddy Honigmann's continuously growing work is making its way across the continents. Whilst enthusiastically working on new projects, she has simultaneously started a phase of retrospect: 2000 in Dutch Utrecht, in Paris, London and Gent (Belgium). This year, after Berlin in May and New York in June, there is still Sarajevo in August 2001 on the programme. The immigrants, musicians, the soldiers with the blue berets, as well as Alzheimer's sufferer, who is the main figure of the Jan Berlef filming of "Mind Shadow' (1988) will be exposed to the public in the year 2002 in Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid.