INTERVIEW WITH MARIA ARLAMOVSKY

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On the occasion of the festival Sotto le stelle dell’Austria 2020, director and screenwriter Maria Arlamovsky will present her documentary Robolove, which has already been very well received by audiences and critics at the Viennale 2019. Cinema Austriaco was honoured to have a chat with her and to be told something about her interesting work, about her career and, more generally, about a possible near future. Interview by Marina Pavido.

Marina Pavido: In your documentary Robolove, you describe a possible future in which robots could live and work almost like any other human being. How did the idea of telling such a controversial and fascinating story come about?

Maria Arlamovsky: In my films I often relate to women’s bodies and everything related to these bodies. In my second last film, Future Baby, it was about new means of reproduction and artificial insemination. And even from this perspective, everything can be considered almost futuristic, when considering all the new options available. This, however, also involves a certain stress that we, as women, have to bear. I, for my part, have related both to the human dimension and to these new scientific advances that are almost sanctioning a sort of ‘upgrade’ of man himself. And so I tried to consider the two situations as a whole, almost as if they had given rise to a new phase of human existence itself. In Robolove, at the same time, I found particularly interesting how women’s bodies themselves can be reconstructed and how far they can go ‘beyond’ when these robots can somehow ‘replace’ humans and function as ‘technological’ bodies. Basically, I immediately found such a topic extremely interesting.

M. P.: The future described in Robolove could shock many people and give rise to much debate. In your opinion, is the human being ready to accept a possible reality such as the one you imagine in your documentary?

M. A.: During the Coronavirus pandemic, I reflected on many things and found, however, that this could be a moment of reflection for everyone. With regard to robots, I wondered how robots would be able to help us deal with a pandemic today. But, at the same time, there is also the question of how the inclusion of robots would be possible in our society. In Japan, for example, the construction and potential spread of these humanised robots is also being promoted by the government, both because there are, in general, not many immigrants, and also because there are fewer and fewer young people capable of caring for the elderly. And so it was thought that it would be worthwhile to invest in some humanised robots that could take care of the elderly most in need of care. In Europe the situation is a bit different. In Europe, there are discussions about putting these robots almost exclusively as a workforce in factories, where there are fewer and fewer workers and where the robots can work much faster than humans themselves, or, in any case, in safer conditions, since accidents cannot happen to them as seriously as they might to a human being. In practice, it is always a matter of finding a sense and a concrete purpose for the inclusion of these robots, especially since they are very expensive. One has to identify an area where they would really be indispensable. For example, many people nowadays think of these robots almost as possible sex toys, or even possible surrogate wives. But the important thing is to be able to identify a sector where these robots could really be useful. And then there is also this to add: we all grew up with films like Blade Runner or, in any case, with the idea of a dystopian future in which these robots can live happily together with us. So the concrete idea that one day robots might become part of our society is less frightening. We just have to see, precisely, how they could really be useful to us and analyse all the pros and cons.

M. P.: The story told in Robolove starts in Japan and the staging itself at times seems to remind us of the directorial approach typical of eastern cinema. How has this cinema influenced you?

M. A.: I think that, in general, I may have been somewhat influenced by the cinema of Nikolaus Geyrhalter. And in any case I think that this particular mise en scène, which is often extremely essential, has spread widely in Austrian documentary cinema in recent years. And this was also very important for me when I found myself making films. I often find myself looking at what has been done in the past and depending on what happens in front of the camera I evaluate all the possibilities that come my way. And then it is particularly important to me that my documentaries can provide the audience with a lot of food for thought. I don’t like the idea that a documentary shows a specific and rather inflexible point of view. I prefer my documentaries to have different interpretations. Basically, in my documentaries my point of view is not put in the foreground, but rather ‘in the background’.

M. P.: What were the main difficulties you experienced during the making of Robolove?

M. A.: The main difficulty was, of course, that many of the scientists working on these robots thought that such work could somehow hurt them financially. And then, when it came to shooting, one often needed a lot of time to capture really beautiful or impressive images. And one often had several hours of footage, but little footage that was really useful, also because there were very few robots that were ready or almost ready for possible commercialisation. Most of them were still in the construction phase. Practically no robots were yet available for purchase, because some rather complex issues had to be resolved first.

M. P.: If human beings have managed to achieve many medical and scientific breakthroughs, they should also think of equally powerful methods to safeguard the environment in which we live. How do you see, 20 years from now, the future of our planet?

M. A.: So, after relating to all these different ideas of a possible future, I think that the world could almost be divided into two parts. One side will believe that technology could solve any problem, but, at the same time, there are those who might think that technology itself could, meanwhile, destroy everything, since they will mainly focus on small, extemporary situations, without taking reality as a whole into consideration. Only technological problems can, in practice, be solved with the help of technology. And then I also think back to some of the young people we met during the shooting of Robolove. Some of them tend to avoid technology almost altogether, since the technologies themselves tend to become more and more complex and we find it increasingly difficult to understand them. Similarly, I think that as technology is becoming more and more a part of our lives, if before, in school, one had to study Latin in order to ‘understand the world’, nowadays one needs computer science to better understand the world we live in. However, I think that our children and grandchildren must be enabled to understand technology, without, however, becoming totally addicted to it.

M. P.: Let’s talk more about your career. Is there any particular film or any particular situation as a result of which you decided you wanted to become a director?

M. A.: I have always been interested in the art and film worlds, and I had a teacher at school who, back in the 1980s, used to talk to us about film in art history lessons. And this was, for the time, practically an exception, since cinema, at that time, was considered part of pop culture, far from being thought of as something that could be taught at school. Our teacher, however, did introduce us to cinema. For example, I remember that when I saw Eisenstein’s films for the first time as a child, I was amazed. Basically, I immediately realised that there are films that are pure entertainment and films that are much more complex and develop on various levels. In any case, when I started making films, it was immediately important to me that a female gaze was perceived through my films. I remember, for example, that when I was at school, I had studied film history but, within it, very few female directors were mentioned. And that was quite frustrating. But at the same time I had been fascinated, among other things, by the films of a director like Maya Deren. In general, in films directed by women, you immediately get a different perspective and point of view. And that has always been a great inspiration to me. I have also always wondered how my female ‘ancestors’ directors would have staged a certain situation. (laughs). Anyway, I think that in art, a female point of view still makes the difference. Even when, for example, it is a woman who writes a novel rather than a man.

M. P.: Talking again about the future, how might the way of making or even watching films change tomorrow?

M. A.: This is a question I also asked myself during the lockdown. I immediately noticed that, since I could not go to the cinema, there are still plenty of possibilities to watch films online. And fortunately, technologies have evolved. It is always the same situation: as long as we don’t need the technologies, we manage to keep away from them, but when they are the only possible solution, then we are thankful that they exist. I think that instead of criticising all robots, advanced technologies or so-called artificial intelligences, we should at the same time reflect on how dependent we all are on our mobile phones or computers today. We should reflect on how much technologies, today, are concretely part of our daily lives.

M. P.: Thinking back to the lockdown period, I believe that in the coming months, however, many films telling the story of this particular historical period will be released.

M. A.: Yes, of course. For example, my husband Nikolaus Geyrhalter also started making such a film in Vienna. But anyway, in general, as far as the future of cinema itself is concerned, I think we will be led more and more to the realisation of so-called virtual realities. I think this could be a further, possible form of evolution of cinema. Even if, nowadays, we still don’t have all the right technologies, I think that the possibility of being able to move within the filmic space could be something extraordinary, especially for young people.

M. P.: One last question: are you currently working on any new projects?

M. A.: Yes, I am working on a project called Fuckability. It’s about something that makes us see the differences between love and sexuality, particularly in terms of the use of our bodies and our potential, also in relation to new technologies. However, the project is still in its infancy.

Info: the page of Maria Arlamovsky on iMDb