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Wim Wenders Reconnects With God, Praises 3-D Movies: Interview

Wim Wenders
Filmmaker Wim Wenders. The photo is part of an exhibition of his work at London's Haunch of Venison Gallery through May 15. Photographer: Donata Wenders/Haunch of Venison via Bloomberg

Wim Wenders clips a microphone onto his zip-up sweater as he gets ready for an on-camera interview.

The 65-year-old director is dressed like a teen, in skinny jeans and sneakers. A thick gray fringe flops across his brow. The Bloomberg video producer asks him to say a few words for a sound check.

“Words of wisdom or of foolishness?” he deadpans, looking wearily through blue designer frames.

Germany’s best-known filmmaker -- whose “Wings of Desire” (1987) showed an angel wandering around Berlin -- likes to fuse philosophy with everyday life. His films, documentaries, and photographs all seem to ponder the meaning of existence.

Wenders is in London to present “Pina,” a 3-D tribute to dancer-choreographer Pina Bausch, and promote his photography show at the Haunch of Venison gallery. His often desolate images -- an abandoned Ferris wheel in Armenia, the remains of the East German parliament, a dormant volcano in Sicily -- cost 3,500 euros ($5,182) to 25,000 euros a piece.

I wonder how it feels to have a selling exhibition. “As a filmmaker, you sell tickets too!” he says. “You’re happy if people come, and the theater’s full.”

Wenders was born in Dusseldorf in August 1945. He lived as a boy at his grandfather’s, about the only house standing. His first memories were of rubble, and it shows: Wenders’s camera often seeks out places where life seems to have come to a standstill.

‘Pina’ Death

The subject of “Pina,” choreographer Bausch, died two days before filming was to start. The mesmeric 3-D documentary shows dancers of all origins, ages and shapes performing Bausch’s dances in factory yards, tunnels, monorails or fields.

“I found in Pina the big sister I never had. We felt very close,” Wenders remembers. “We were born four years apart, but almost in the same area.”

Professionally, “we both realized that we couldn’t build on anything, that we had to start from scratch.”

Wenders is keen on 3-D. He labels it a “fantastic new tool” which -- except in the case of “one giant masterpiece called ‘Avatar’” -- is “not taken seriously.”

“You have a new language, 3-D, that can heighten reality in incredible ways, and can take you into real places, and what the studios have done so far is take it out of this world,” he says. “That’s sort of a pity.”

Wenders is more drawn to documentary now. Fictional films take longer than they used to: three or four years “if you’re lucky.” His last, “Palermo Shooting” (2008) -- a stylish but clunky tale of a tormented photographer -- was panned at the Cannes Film Festival.

Film Freedom

I ask how he fits in with the film world. “I don’t fit in! I never wanted to fit in,” he replies. “I very often refused big budgets and offers, because I still feel today that the more money you have, the less you can say.”

“If you have $100 million, your ability to say something is very limited. If you have 10 percent of it, you have much more freedom, and if you have 1 percent of it, you can say whatever you want.”

Wenders reluctantly lists recent films he likes: “Gomorrah” (2008), an Italian organized-crime movie; and “Of Gods and Men” (2010), a French story about monks in Algeria.

We turn to Wenders’s new belief in God. It “was the case when I was a little boy. I got sidetracked in between,” he says. What made him come back? “Life. Death. My parents’ death.”

“Like everybody else, I was a socialist student, and of course an atheist, and I looked into psychoanalysis and Buddhism and what not,” he explains. “I came back and realized the best thing that ever happened to me was still what I believed in when I was a kid.”

Though the walls behind are covered with photos, film is still his main medium, and his future.

“People need movies more than ever,” he says. “People need to see better lives.”

(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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