For many years, the world of politics was Dutch director Klaartje Quirijns’ filmic forte. From war and gun runners to human rights lawyers, she used documentary filmmaking as a means of shedding light onto the complexities and hypocrisy of the political world. But when she met fellow Dutchman and renowned photographer and filmmaker Anton Corbijn, her interest was piqued immensely. Soon after, she began the three-year filming of a documentary that delved into the psyche of the man of few words whose images and videos are amongst music’s most iconic. Klaartje’s documentary, Anton Corbijn Inside Out, will screen at Brisbane International Film Festival in November.
What was your childhood dream?
I always wanted to go inside the houses of people who I didn’t know. I remember that, when I was seven or eight years old, I really wanted to go inside these houses but I didn’t know how to do it. So I had a notebook and I started to interview people – I would ring the doorbell and say that I was writing a book and that I needed some stories. I think I wanted to be a writer actually, but I became a documentary filmmaker instead.
Documentary filmmaking is very much about the observation of human beings – has this been a common theme throughout your life?
Definitely. I’m really genuinely interested in human beings. My first film was about a gun runner, my second film was about a human rights lawyer and then there was Anton in Inside Out, but really I think I approached each of those people in the same way – as human beings. I guess Anton was the exception to the others, as they were all really politically motivated and he isn’t. This film actually only happened because Anton had asked me to advise him on a documentary – and it then really happened very organically from there. I never planned to make a film about him and I didn’t even know his work very well. In the end I found his world very interesting because it’s a world I didn’t know – I’d always been more interested in political things than the world of rock stars.
You’ve said you connected to Anton by tapping into the war in his own head. How so?
When I was first starting the film, I really didn’t know what it was going to be about. Then, suddenly, I made a connection with my other films, which had all been about war. I realised that there’s this internal war going on inside his head and the only way to explore that was to have conversations with him in the film. And he’s not really someone who likes to talk; he articulates better in a visual language than he does through speaking words. But I think those conversations, in the end, were the most interesting ones in the film. I thought it would be such a challenge for me to go inside his brain and see how he looks at things and what he sees in certain things. For instance, when we were filming the shoot with U2, you can really see how far he goes to look for something like a long, ugly and insignificant wall, which then turns out to be the background for their next album cover.
What surprised you about the world Anton occupies?
I actually found the world of music more interesting than the world of movies. To me, the filming of his movie The American wasn’t really that exciting to be very honest. But I found all the musicians to be very interesting and it was really nice to get to know that world. That said, it’s all pop culture, and I’m much more interested in the political side of things. If you asked me whether I’d prefer to go and spend time in beautiful hotels with George Clooney filming a movie in Italy, or go to northern Uganda and have cockroaches in my hotel room, I would say that Africa is more exciting because it’s what I think is more interesting.
You say that you prefer to show rather than tell in your films. How do you go about doing this?
Well, it was definitely true for Anton, because he’s not a natural talker, so we looked for another way to do an interview. I gave him his own camera and called it a visual interview, where he could tell the story through images rather than words – which is always what you want to do as a filmmaker anyway.
What has been the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
The most important thing I learned from making this film about Anton is that I’m always very focused on the content of a film and on finding really serious stories. I’m very analytical and think about things, whereas Anton is more intuitive and, for him, it’s more about the form. What I learned from him is that you need to trust your intuition and be a bit less analytical.
What has been one of your greatest achievements?
I’m most proud of my two daughters, who are eight and 11. I think it was Camille Paglia who wrote that feminist book in the eighties where she said that a woman’s ultimate creation is giving birth. I think that’s really true. I don’t have a drive to be recognised like Anton does; it’s great if there’s an audience but, for me, the process is much more interesting than the product at the end. And maybe that has something to do with the fact that I have children.
Who inspires you?
It always depends. I was always very much impressed by writers but I’m also very impressed by Michael Haneke who is an Austrian filmmaker. He is very politically engaged and I’m a big fan of his. But then I’m also always inspired by the people I work with, like the editor on the Anton film who also makes films and is really a great inspiration for me. I think, in life, you bump into people and they inspire you and then they disappear and other people come along. The same goes for Anton – he appeared in my life and now he’s disappeared again. We’re still really good friends and we’re still in touch, but I basically don’t see him as much as I used to. And that’s life.
What inspires you?
It could be my curiosity – I’m a very curious person. And I really want to understand the world I live in, including unclear political systems where on the surface you see one thing but if you really delve into it you’ll see something completely different. There’s always something else that comes along that I want to delve into and become a little bit wiser about the way the world is.
Do you believe in a god and, if so, which one?
I didn’t have any religious upbringing and my beliefs in things are very vague. I can’t really tell you anything, but I’m an atheist, I would say. If I do have a belief, it’s very private and deep down and I don’t even know how to access it.
What are your words of wisdom?
My wisdom is that you have to look at people as human beings and really try to see their beauty. And that’s very cliched, but it’s very important to me. Coming from the Netherlands, I was very much raised on the fact that your garbage man and your political minister should be treated the same way. It’s a very egalitarian approach but I think it’s a very beautiful one and when you can approach people like that, we will live in a better world.