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23rd September 2020
Sense of grace
Title of film: GmbH, Guest on Earth
Director: Francisco Sendino
Production Company: Akkurat Studios
‘Directing is similar to cooking,’ muses Francisco Gonzalez Sendino of his sexually-charged short, Exchange, which pays homage to famed ‘ramen Western’ Tampopo and an erotic encounter with an egg. It’s a good analogy, as the German-born director certainly brings a Michelin-starred chef’s approach to his craft. From painstakingly selecting the ingredients to tweaking the recipe and mixing it all up into something extraordinary and enticing, he has a knack for cooking up the unexpected, be it a portrait of youth in a 70-year-old ex-con, or a fashion film that has more to do with community than catwalks. He chats to 1.4 about poetic documentaries and how being ‘open to meeting anyone and going anywhere’ has got him where he is today

You studied film at the prestigious Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg. Was directing something you always wanted to do?

Yes, it was. My father is a theatre director and I grew up watching him in his own theatre in Cologne. I spent most weekends during my childhood sitting next to him at rehearsals and observing how he guided and interacted with the actors and organized the set. My memory of it all was that he was a “one-man show.“ It was his ability to organize art and run his business successfully which is, I think, why I enjoy producing as well as directing myself. What I will say though, is that I knew I didn’t want to entirely follow in my father’s footsteps. From an early age I knew I wanted to direct films as it appealed to me as far more exciting and adventurous when I would watch movies in the late 90s.

 

Exchange

 

The premise of your erotic short, Exchange, is an almost shot-for-shot homage to a scene in Juzo Itami’s ‘ramen western’, Tampopo. Why did you decide to update it to a tale of two lust-filled teenagers in a food truck?

Tampopo had always fascinated me in its blunt weirdness. After I first watched that scene with the egg yolk, I could not get it out of my mind. I found the choreography to be pure gold. The egg yolk for me symbolizes the source of life, pure fertility and fragility, the bursting of course is the climax, the connection of two. And in my version, two young teenagers are playing with it.

I knew I wanted to film that same choreography but making it sexier with different key ingredients, so it’s more modern – New York, two brash teens, a food truck and dynamic cinematography. Also, I was missing context in order to empathize with the actors in the original scene in Tampopo. Therefore, I wanted to stage the scene in this contemporary set up also to contextualize it. Outside, in big and buzzing New York, they are just two hot dog vendors. Only inside the closed truck, a safe nutshell of intimacy, do they dare to explore their desires.

 

Exchange

 

As a filmmaker, what’s the appeal of, and the challenges associated with, putting your own spin on an iconic piece of film and giving it a new twist? Are there any scenes from other films which have inspired you?

The appeal for me is being able to show that with such inspiring and iconic scenes, you can tweak it and bend it in different ways and it still has a strong impact. I suppose I look at it like cooking. An egg can be cooked in so many different ways; that key component with a few ingredients changed can create a whole other experience. The challenge of course, is to do it right. One of my mentors, when I said I wanted to recreate that scene from Tampopo, said: ‘I truly love that scene, please don’t fuck it up.’ The risk and pressure attached is high. If you do fuck up, viewers will compare and be brutal.

 

Billy

 

Your docu-short Billy, which won a Young Director Award, is a beautifully rendered portrait of its subject, which really conveys his vitality, spirit and the sense that ‘you’re only as old as you feel’. How did you first hear about Billy and what made you want to tell his story?

I met Billy on a turbulent film shoot in North Carolina where I was working as an art director. Billy has the agility of a young dog and his energy is contagious. We quickly connected and became friends. Something drew me to him and I knew his character deserved being filmed. Billy for me embodied that wild American dream. I was so fascinated by his free spirt and engaging confidence. The first day I met him, he arrived on set in his roaring pick-up truck wearing a white tank top and blue jeans. On the back of that pick-up truck was a motorbike and weights for him to work out with later. He was drinking black coffee and smoking a fat joint – at 70 years old! Rock and roll…

I didn’t fully know his story at the beginning. Over the next few months, details of his past slowly unravelled, each adding a new pixel to the image I was forming in my head. All the time we spent together in North Carolina and then later at his hometown, driving around and meeting people in his life, made it even more clear to me why I had to do a film about him. He is such a storyteller (the anecdotes he has are never-ending) and he trusted me with his life story and allowed me to add my own vision to his memories. It was such a fun and unforgettable time. There was no pressure in the process at all, he and I made a great team, fuelling each other with our complementing energies. This to me is what documentary filmmaking is about.

 

GmbH, Guest on Earth

 

Most recently, you’ve directed a fashion film for GmbH, which follows the lives of different people in the designers’ neighbourhood. How did you get involved with the project and how was directing a fashion film different to your previous projects?

I have wanted to venture into directing fashion films for a while now. To be honest, it wasn’t too different from how I approached my previous projects. You may be able to see from my other films that there is an investment in aesthetic details, subtly stylising and twisting the reality. The GmbH guys and I are both based in Berlin and I had always been super impressed by their brand identity.

I had the concept for this film for a while – glimpses into people’s lives through an invisible being listening to their inner thoughts. I was inspired by the iconic German film, Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders, which is fitting for a film portraying a Berlin neighbourhood. Corona came, Paris Fashion Week was cancelled and designers had to do without a catwalk show and instead create a fashion film. GmbH were looking for a director to shoot their first fashion film to portray their neighbourhood, rather than showcasing their new collection. I knew this concept would be perfect, suiting the strange times we’re living in. My German rep Akkurat produced it.

 

GmbH, Guest on Earth

 

The brand’s aesthetic is ‘poetry of the mundane’: how did you seek to reflect this in the film?

The concept for the film already embodied the idea of ‘poetry of the mundane’, which is why we connected right away. I had the freedom to create the visual language for their first fashion film and I decided to shoot it digitally unlike my previous works. For me, a digital epic aesthetic with super-crisp images was key to making the mundane be boldly shown. The diverse protagonists were also super important for me to make the ‘mundane’ interesting and depict Berlin’s modern society.

Although much of your work is documentary in style, it’s also infused with a very poetic sensibility. As a documentarian, how do you balance that against the need for realism?

I first get that realism by immersing myself into opportunities to meeting such interesting people, from such different places and backgrounds. My attitude is to be open to everyone and going anywhere. I got to know Billy with this attitude – a random encounter with someone in a barbershop in New York led me to the job in North Carolina where I first met Billy.

With most of the protagonists in the film for GmbH, I found them by spending several days on the streets of Neukölln, going into tailors, car repair shops, tea rooms, apartments – forming relationships with the people from there, getting real life information and details once they got to know me. After I find the real gems, then I can play around with the retelling, creating a distinctive mood through decisions in styling, setting, choreography, camera movements, music and editing.

 

GmbH, Guest on Earth

 

What have you been working on in lockdown and do you have anything exciting in the pipeline?

I was able to shoot a commercial in Kiev during Covid-19 with my UK and US rep, Object and Animal, and 72 and Sunny NYC. Such a fun and weird experience, getting tested for the virus after arriving and then quarantining at the hotel for three days before we could get to shooting. The new normal of 2020…

I’ve also started another stylised documentary film about a very intriguing person I became friends with. This again happened through funny coincidences: meeting a Chinese agent in LA who invited me to Shanghai Fashion Week, where I got introduced to a Spanish entrepreneur, who then invited me to his birthday party in Menorca where I got to know Peter. I am waiting for travel restrictions to the US to ease up so we can finish up the telling of his story. It’s a collaboration with Akkurat, Object and Animal and Diplomats. We’ve already shot some scenes in Tokyo and Paris before the pandemic hit. Hopefully I can get back to that soon, I’m super excited for it. It’s an unbelievable life story and I’m buzzing to be able to share it and at the same time apply my artistic vision to it.

Interview by Selena Schleh

 

franciscosendino.com

@akkuratstudios

US/UK rep Object & Animal

Credits

GmbH, Guest on Earth

Director: Francisco Sendino
Director of Photography: Tony Kopec
Editor: David Gesslbauer
Music Lyra Pramuk
Creative Direction: Serhat Isik & Benjamin Huseby

Producer Adria
Producer Hele Marie Camille
Production company Akkurat Studios

Colorist:Florian Staerk
Sound Design: Dennis Beckmann, Julian Holzapfel
Music Supervisor: Lukas Heerich
Casting: Lorena Maza, Deebeephunky, Viva Models, Müge Öner

1st AC: Tim Adam
Steady Cam: Florian Schwarz
Drone Operator: Up Up Berlin
Key Grip: Emil Zeitfrei

Production Assistant: Chiara Bonetti
Art Director: Andrea Horn

 

Sendino, Exchange

Writer and Director: Francisco Gonzalez Sendino
Cinematographer: Jan David Günther
Editor: David Gesslbauer
Sound Design: Denis El Maci
Music: 2wei
Production Company: Saltwater
Service Production: Made by Limbo
Producer: Chris Dodds, Daria Marie Küpker, Sergio Vaccaro
Casting Agency: The Secret Gallery
Casting Director: Daniel Peddle
Production Design: Madison Hatch
Styling: Abby Oliver
H & MU: Chrissie Moissel
1st AC: Tommy Chan, Ciro Jorgos Kavouras
Sound Engineer: Wladimir Gelvich
Shot on: Kodak Super 16

 

Billy

Director: Francisco Gonzalez Sendino
DoP: Jan David Günther
Editor: David Gesslbauer
Music: Stefan Benz
Colorist: Daniel DeVue
Creative Director: Francisco Gonzalez Sendino
Production Company: Saltwater
Sounddesign: Denis El Maci
Styling: Sarah Zadaine @ V Magazine
Producer: Francisco Gonzalez Sendino, Gerrit Klein, Daria Küpker