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Christina Stuhlberger

Joy, an elderly woman, confides in cebuano to her daughter Sarah, sitting beside her holding her hand. Vivan, also filipina, translates her friend Joy’s words to her own daughter Christina, who does not speak cebuano. Tenderness shines through the gestures and looks, and we see these women who are unfamiliar with the cinematic shooting apparatus appropriate it as they confide in each other. Two mother-daughter relationships, two exchanges across languages and generations. From one to the other, a portrait of a deceased woman and her history, of language as a legacy either transmitted or omitted, of words elicited and of the conditions necessary to welcome them and pass them on.

Nathan Letoré

Christina Stuhlberger

Your film is based on the story of two women, your mother and one of her friends. How and why did you decide to tell their stories?

Joy was my mother’s best friend. She studied theater in the Philippines and worked as a choreographer before coming to Germany, a very different background from the other Filipino women in my mother’s social circle, most of whom were domestic workers. Joy’s confidence and outspokenness impressed me a lot since I was a teenager. Her daughter Sarah, who is also in the film, is the first child of mixed heritage in our community who learned to speak her mother’s language. I admired and envied her for that, as my parents decided to raise me exclusively in German.

You spend a lot of time not only on what they say, but also on how you gathered their stories (two daughters asking their questions, the physical contact, the translation…). Why was it important for you to show this process?

Both women, my mother and Joy, speak German and English in a way that is termed as ‘broken’. Their Cebuano, however, is perfect. They each raised a daughter who has her own ways of speaking. As we often associate a person’s competence and social status with the language they speak and how they speak it, I made this double portrait with the intention to shift the perspective on proficiency and the meaning transferred by language.
I am also an artistic researcher and my current research project concerns the documentary interview as site of encounter. It’s about entering a dialogue in the literal sense as well as a method for documentary filmmaking in the sense of Bakhtinian dialogism, where meaning does not arise from words themselves but from dialogue and context. By approaching life, and thus filmmaking, as a shared event between multiple voices, I make films through a collective process that nevertheless acknowledges the presence of an author.

One imagines the title is related to this importance of the process.

The title was inspired by philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas who distinguishes between Saying (le Dire) and Said (le Dit), emphasizing a dialogical dimension of speaking (Saying) versus a semantic level of meanings (Said). This distinction highlights the relational aspect present in every act of speaking.

Your film is structured in two parts, with the second revealing that the interpreter is your mother, and showing images of moments other than the two conversations. Can you tell us more about these images? Why did you decide on such a structure?

In the film, I create dialogue on several levels: between mother and daughter, between the two pairs, and the two situations. While certain aspects become comparable, placing them side by side also emphasizes their singularity.
Instead of working from a script, I arrange situations from which events can arise, very much like letting water flow down a hill. That means carefully selecting a location from where to incite action but what exactly happens, we’ll only know once the events unfold. The filmmaking process then consists of creatively responding to the twists and turns of the action which in turn influences the course of events, hence creating another level of dialogue. This vibrating rhythm of ceding and reclaiming authority, to allow oneself to be changed by the other and to acknowledge our impact on them, is an aesthetic of the real I am interested in.
As my mother moves on from translating her friend’s story to tell her own, the film leaves the indoors for her garden and the fixed camera setup switches to a more organic visual style. Her story has its own space and visual language, so it exists side by side rather than in function of the earlier parts of the film. Also, I wanted to conclude the film with a sense of openness and possibility, to break away from the controlled setting of interviews. In the end, the film cycles back to the beginning by repeating the first words of Joy and Sarah’s conversation. However, the context is very different by now so their words flow down a different path.

Interview by Nathan Letoré

  • Other gems
18:3028 June 2024Vidéodrome 2
11:4529 June 2024Vidéodrome 2

Technical sheet

Austria, Belgium / 2024 / Colour / 18'

Original version: Cebuano, German, English
Subtitles: English
Script: Christina Stuhlberger
Photography: Christina Stuhlberger
Editing: Christina Stuhlberger
Sound: Christina Stuhlberger

Production: Rebecca Jane Arthur (elephy)
Contact: Isabelle Piechaczyk (sixpackfilm)

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