WIM WENDERS


September 2021


Born in Dusseldorf in 1945, Wenders has been the leader of postwar Germany independent filmmaking. His vision as well as the stories he told made him the most visible representative of the "New German Cinema" taking after the French "New Wave". His path to filmmaking is quite unconventional, as his first interests were Medicine and Philosophy. He gave up both and moved to Paris 55 years ago with the ambition to become a painter. Fascinated by movie making, he enrolled in the Paris Film Academy but failed to pass the test. His interest in everything connected to movie making from the equipment to the stories and processes grew bigger. Undeterred, Wenders went back to Germany, worked briefly for "United Artists" before getting into the "Film and Television school" in Munich. While studying in Munich, Wenders worked as a film critic for various publications, completed a few short films and graduated with his first feature: "Summer in the City" in 1970.

Wenders did not focus exclusively on the feature film format. While he is known for films such as "Paris, Texas" Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984, he is also the Director of the acclaimed documentary "Buena Vista Social Club" released in 1999 and depicting the recording of traditional Cuban music with American guitarist Ry Cooder. A slice of traditional Cuban culture was kept alive thanks to this documentary. It has been nominated at multiple festivals and was recently selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Ry Cooder, a good friend of Wim Wenders got in trouble for violating the Cuban embargo. Wenders directed music videos as well such as Cole Porter’s classic "Night and Day" sung by U2 for the "Red Hot and Blue" album and others for "Talking Heads". He has done commercials as well.


Wenders’s spirit and outlook on the world is greatly shaped by his childhood in Dusseldorf, a city which was 90% destroyed during war. The city was flattened by bombs and his first notion of life before the war was watching paintings. While kids would have posters of their favorite singers in their rooms, Wenders had prints of Van Gogh. This is where his desire to be an artist comes from. The world seen through paintings was a much better one than Dusseldorf in the late 40s and early 50s. Wenders recognizes that he learned more about painting and its history than about filmmaking. The camera gave Wenders a great deal of flexibility and freedom though. Putting the camera in a car, taking a trip somewhere and documenting the journey did trigger his passion for road movies, where the Director would follow the natural flow of time and space in a chronological way. Wenders is notoriously hands off when it comes to actors playing a role and he likes what they bring to the story through body language and facial expressions. One of his most important skill is framing, whether shooting a film or a photographic composition and it is an obsession for him. He does not like using zoom lenses, so if he needs to get closer to a subject, he will move the camera instead.

The same goes for Wenders’ photographs, he rarely uses zoom or wide-angle lenses and wants to remain true to what his eyes see. While photography has always been in Wenders' life, his life took another dimension after the recognition of "Paris, Texas" in 1983. The colors of the American West, its landscape and nuances forced him to take color pictures and discover a land he only dreamed of. Since then, photography has been as important in Wenders’s life as filmmaking. "Paris, Texas" has been the crucial landmark which changed his career. After the Cannes Film Festival, everyone had expectations about the next film. It must have been very difficult for Wenders to overcome the pressure and do what he wanted as opposed to what others wanted, so it may be why he focused on documentaries shortly after. Wenders acknowledges that his fascination for images was a trigger. He realized that images placed one after the other were telling a story and he came step by step to storytelling. He would not hesitate to sacrifice the beauty of some images for the good of the story. Once a film is done with post-production, Wenders enjoys being part of selling it. It is key to be involved in marketing to create the right "poster", convey the right message explaining the Director vision. During Q&A with audiences and especially young filmmakers, Wenders often mentions how easy it is today to make a film. Technology allows just about anyone to make and produce a film, but there is a danger: Because everyone can make a film, you want to make sure your film can only be done by you. The relevance, originality and story need to be told by you as a unique filmmaker.

Before telling a story, Wenders creates an atmosphere which gives substance to the story, often about human nature, uncomfortable situations and existential questions. Wenders’s movies are not meant to be entertaining you as much as make you think. At 76, Wenders is still active filming and producing for others. Not all his films have been box-office successes, nor have they got the favor of critics, but he remains true to how he sees the world and the stories he wants to tell.