Set in a distant crimson world, filmmaker Hannah Doerr’s video for Wir hatten was mit Björn’s RUINS is a spiritual exploration of one being’s awakening through the medium of dance. The unique lucid look of Doerr’s video can be attributed to the infrared technology she and her team utilised for the film. Doerr and her crew tested multiple lenses and filters during an extensive pre-production period to achieve the aesthetic which gives her short a striking otherworldly nature. This, combined with the expressive and reality-twisting movements of Butoh dance Artist Valentin Tszin, allow the piece to take on a truly ethereal atmosphere. DN caught up with Doerr for an informative conversation on the making of RUINS, discussing everything from the specific technology she utilised for its infrared complexion to the connective narrative threads between the story she was weaving and the fundamentals of Butoh dance.
How did you begin your collaboration with Wir hatten was mit Björn? And what propelled you to create an infrared video for RUINS?
The initial idea to shoot an infrared video came from the DoP Jesse Mazuch. He had been researching and testing for some time and introduced me to his thoughts in November 2021. He was interested in the fact that you could make a digital camera sensible for light waves that are beyond human vision and you’d be able to show a different layer of reality that we don’t perceive and that we cannot see, but that exists, just by swapping out a filter in a camera.
At the same time Maika Küster/Maria Trautmann from the band Wir hatten was mit Björn and me were talking about a possible collaboration. They liked the infrared idea and we decided on shooting a video for their album release. The song was quickly picked: RUINS. Its jazzy-gloomy atmosphere seemed to fit the estranged infrared pictures.
Butoh dance tries to express the inexpressible, tries to present a different kind of sphere of the world.
Totally. The gloomy textures of the song match the visuals wonderfully as well as the story of the video. What led you down the path of a dance-centric narrative?
It took some time to decide on what we would portray in the video and I eventually came up with the idea of working with a dancer. I met Butoh dancer Valentin Tszin at a workshop held by video artist Phil Collins in 2016 and wanted to work with him since then. Butoh dance tries to express the inexpressible, tries to present a different kind of sphere of the world. In its attempt it’s quite similar to infrared so it was a very intuitive decision to combine these two aspects and create a dance video.
What kind of preparation was required for an infrared video shoot?
We spent a good amount of time with further tests and location scouting. Because colour infrared looks different with various filters and also reacts heavily to the white balance of the camera we needed to scout with a converted photo camera and test the locations with different filters. It took some weeks until we found the right locations. We also tested different filters and eventually decided to go with the post-apocalyptic look. The red sky and the almost white leaves, as if from ash rain, reminded us of the aftermaths of nuclear bomb tests and linked to the concept and the history of Butoh dance.
What cameras and lenses did you bring into play for production? And how long were you in production?
We shot for two days in July with the converted Alexa Mini. In April 2022 Jesse Mazuch received the prize for Best Cinematography at the Achtung Berlin film festival and that combined with sponsorship by Arri Rental Berlin. So thanks to them we were able to shoot with the converted Alexa Mini and Signature Primes, and some very wide focal lengths, 12mm and 15mm on s35 which contributed to the distorted view of the world. Our long lenses were 29mm and 40mm. The release was set for September 2nd, so editing was done quite quickly in August.
I imagine the colour grading process was also fairly extensive during post. How was it managing the infrared material during that stage of the film’s creation?
It took some time to find the right look in the colour grading process. The Alexa Mini preserves organic colours even in this strange color infrared world. Our main concern was keeping the skin of our dancer as natural as possible, so we had to go with quite a warm look. We didn’t want to manipulate the image too much in post-production, so we tried to do the grading globally for the whole frame rather than using a lot of secondaries. In the end we stuck more or less to the look we established in our tests.
We needed to scout with a converted photo camera and test the locations with different filters.
How did you develop the choreography with Valentin? Was it a collaboration between yourselves or mostly conceived by him?
Valentin and me developed the choreography together on set. Since Butoh is based on improvisation we didn’t define a choreography beforehand. We let ourselves be inspired by the sets and then talked about different qualities of movement; fast, slow, hectic, etc. and how they would fit to the nature. We also talked about spirits of animals to create more anthropomorphic movements. I was a bit nervous before the shooting if we would find the same language. I find it more difficult to talk about dance movements than acting gestures but working with Valentin was great and it was a wonderful collaboration.
What is it you specifically enjoy, as a filmmaker, about the process of making music videos?
Making music videos gives you a wonderful freedom. You’re able to experiment with cinematic aesthetics or narrative structures and you don’t have the pressure to get a story across. Especially working with Wir hatten was mit Björn was great because they trusted us and didn’t interfere at all. So yes, it’s basically perfect to try out new stuff with a small team and budget and have a great time after all.
What can we expect from you next?
At the end of September I’m shooting another short film in the woods and in October I’ll start preparing the next feature film and hopefully more music videos.