Peter Krüger’s Films can be seen as fiction constructed from documentary or documentaries shot in the language of fiction. I’ve always been on the border between these genres,’ he says. ‘And I’ve discovered that it is a very interesting place to be as a filmmaker.

Text Ian Mundell | Portrait Bart Dewaele

nfimagA cinephile from a young age, he postponed going to film school in favour of studying philosophy. 'I thought: I need content,' he recalls. After graduating he skipped fi lm school once more, setting up the production company Inti Films with fellow would-be director Peter Brosens. Although Krüger's inspiration up to that point had come from fiction, his first projects were documentaries. 'I had the feeling that with documentary I could immediately start making films myself.' This made him to look at the possibilities offered by factual filmmaking.

'I discovered that you could have cinematography in documentary, you could work with sound and image in a creative way just as in fiction film, but by using reality.' His first creative documentary was Nazareth (1997), which looked at faith in villages bearing the same name in Israel, Ghana and Flanders. He followed that with documentaries shot close to home in Belgium or as far away as Mongolia. But it was in Antwerp Central (2011) that Krüger's desire to explore the limits of fiction and documentary really took off. This meditation on the cultural, historical and symbolic life of Antwerp's Central Station blended archive footage, documentary and performance in a highly creative way. Selected for numerous festivals, it won first prize at the International Festival of Films on Art in Montreal.

Restless spirit

nfimag2Krüger's latest project continues this development. N is inspired by the life of Raymond Borremans, a Frenchman who left Europe in his twenties to travel in Africa. Initially working as a musician, then running a mobile cinema, he became obsessed with the idea of writing an African encyclopaedia. He began work on it in 1934, but when he died more than half a century later in Ivory Coast, only the volumes up to the letter N were complete and had been published. When he died, a woman cast a spell on him. It is this peculiar biographical element that provides the fi lm’s narrative line. A restless spirit that drifts around West Africa, seeking to understand himself and the disrupted world that surrounds him.

In 2006 Krüger put on a stage play inspired by the story, but this still left a lot to say in the film. The film N begins with an old white man dying in a small hospital in Ivory Coast. He becomes a spirit, driven to retrace the steps of Borremans' life, not in the Africa of his time but in the Africa of today. 'The film is essentially about the confrontation of a western spirit, a western way of thinking, with Africa,' Krüger says. The spirit encounters people doing Borremans' jobs today, such as a musician and the operators of a mobile cinema. These are real people that Krüger met during his research. 'They are documentary characters, but they play a role within the narrative of the film,' he explains.

Krüger was also struck by the parallel between Borremans' encyclopaedia project, which aspired to categorise Africa, and the process of elections and establishing national or ethnic identities that went on in Ivory Coast after his death. The spirit also encounters these aspects of the modern Africa, and their violent outcomes. 'This is how the film becomes political,' he explains. 'It's not just a nice story about Borremans, but it's about how defi ning people can lead to atrocities.' We see how the encyclopedic mindset of drawing borders, defi ning and categorising loses its innocence when put to practice.

End of an evolution

nfimag4The situation in Ivory Coast was very fluid while Krüger was making the film, and he took advantage of elections, outbreaks of violence and the intervention of UN peacekeepers to gather images. Sometimes this was only possible with traditional documentary techniques, but where possible he used a more cinematic approach. 'We were shooting in a very fictional style, with a focus puller, with lights, with travels, with steady-cam, with helicopters,' he explains.

You can't just go somewhere and film like this. You have to prepare everything in advance.' This was particularly challenging in settings such as refugee camps. 'We were essentially there as journalists, but we were looking and filming in a way that has nothing to do with journalism.' In this context, staging events for the camera was the only way to reach a documentary truth, he argues. 'If you don't do that, when you arrive in a village hundreds of people run up to your camera and the feeling of reality that you want to create is destroyed.

The people in the audience see nothing and feel nothing. So somehow you need fiction to be able to shoot reality.' Having pursued this idea of blending fiction and documentary for so long, Krüger now thinks he has reached a conclusion.'I see N as the end of an evolution,' he says. 'I don't think I can go further. My next film will be a fiction film and, if I was to do a documentary again, I would go for something  completely different.'

Currently at the script stage, his fiction project is called Continental Drift. While a break with the past in some ways, the film will continue certain themes and ideas. 'It's inspired by the things I've seen in Ivory Coast,' Krüger says, describing it as a story about globalisation and economics, connecting Africa and Asia. 'A lot of elements will come from reality. That's something I don't want to lose. The big danger in fiction is that you feel that it's fiction! You have to believe  that it's reality.'

Peter Krüger, producer

nfimag3Since setting up Inti Films in 1993, Peter Krüger has followed a dual career as a director and a producer. 'I'm looking for films that will have a long life, that you can see in 20 years, maybe 100 years,' he says. That means choosing projects with a strong sense of identity as well as a story to tell, such as Episode 3: Enjoy Poverty by Renzo Martens. Shot in the Congo, this approached Africa's poverty as if it were just another resource for exploitation. 'It's a unique point of view, shot in a way no-one else would do it,' says Krüger.

The same goes for films he chooses to co-produce, such as Kinshasa Kids by Marc-Henri Wajnberg, or Thierry Knauff’s short Vita brevis. Apart from his own film N, Krüger is currently producing the feature film Drift by Benny Vandendriessche and Dirk Hendrikx. Following a death, the main character stops speaking and takes to the road alone, searching for a new way of expressing himself through physical action and rituals of his own devising. 'It is a film visualisation of different phases of grief,' says Krüger.

Published on Thursday 16 May 2013

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