Whenever you walk through a door, it’s worth considering all the other doors that you haven’t opened and how the possibilities of those unselected paths become forever closed off once you make your final choice. This concept reaches a high level of sophistication with Caroline Mackintosh’s The Doors, adapted from a poem by actor and performer Laura Steiner. With shades of Blind Chance and Run Lola Run, it uses the potentiality of different types of doors as a springboard for exploration, resulting in a playful visual poem filled with lovely digressions and observations. Making its online premiere here on DN today, we talk to Mackintosh about her collaboration with the poet, shooting in Berlin but making it feel like anywhere and the power of the essay form.
The Doors was made in conjunction with writer and actress Laura Steiner. Can you tell me how this collaboration came about?
She’s actually a really good friend of mine. We were sitting in South Africa, having lunch and talking about our different work. She had just come back from London where she was doing beat poetry. She read this poem to me that she’d just done a live reading of. Straightaway I was like, “Gosh, this needs to be a film” because as she’s reading the words I started to see imagery to it. There’s also the message behind it, the idea of when one door opens, or not, another one opens, and if you choose one door and go through that route, how different your life can be. I felt really inspired by the rhythm and the way it weaves between different characters and takes you on a journey.
I like that I didn’t have to be super literal and could play with different imagery and sounds.
A large portion of the film is montage and there are a lot of locations. What was the challenge of sorting out all of these different places?
We shot in Berlin but we didn’t want it to feel like Berlin. So trying to find, for instance, an American diner was interesting for us. And of course, the yellow train is very specifically Berlin. But we wanted it to feel like not everything was happening in one city and that it spanned across different time periods, like back into the 80s. Most of the time we were on the fly. I was quite impressed by how open people were when we asked them: “Hey, we’re an independent film, we want to shoot in your bar.”
When we managed to find the diner we were so happy. Luckily I’m quite good friends with a fixer and she recommended this diner which is like an hour outside Berlin, just next to a gas station. They let us take over the restaurant for the day and were super nice. We just had to buy everybody lunch on set. The main thing was just trying to coordinate all these different locations. I think we shot over a weekend or two trying to make it happen, where it was possible to get in without having to pay a lot or disturb people. But actually, if you ask people nicely, they’re usually quite generous.
So there are all these lovely digressions in the poem already. What was it like having to navigate those transitions and make it feel coherent in this new form?
That was a challenge for us. At one stage when I was writing all these scenes and putting it together, I didn’t want to be as literal as the poem in a sense, because it’s such a fast kind of pace that you’re going through across these different places. The actual film was a bit longer. We cut it down and ended up making it quite fast, which is why we decided to add in subtitles. But I was always trying to have these transitions flow through each other — I think sound really helps with the transitions and carries them into the next scene.
It’s packed with characters as well who have to convey a lot in just a couple of seconds. Tell me about the casting?
The casting was really fun. We tried to use as many people as we already knew. We’re lucky that Berlin is so diverse and multicultural that there are already so many different people. Finding a good fit was a challenge of course because I was both producing and directing the film. For the 80s couple making out, we were lucky because when we met them, they just looked straight out of the era. We asked them to start making out and even when the cameras were off they just kept going. It was great everyone wanted to be involved, which was really refreshing.
If you ask people nicely, they’re usually quite generous.
It’s more of an essay film than a traditional narrative. What’s the draw of working in this type of mode?
It’s my favourite type of film because I’m a very visual person. I like that I didn’t have to be super literal and could play with different imagery and sounds. For instance for the opening scene, we had this random girl in a Chinese restaurant because we almost wanted you to think that the film is about this woman. Then by the end it’s a totally different story. I love that with essays, where the voiceover allows you to play with more abstract imagery and not having to be super literal.
What else are you working on at the moment?
I just had another film that was released and I’m working on a book at the moment because I’m also a photographer as well as a director. The other film is a poetry piece as I really want to keep going with the spoken word and collaborating with other poets. It’s called Star Sailor and is much more dreamy but along the same idea. My idea now is to carry on looking for people to collaborate with on this kind of work.