An Interview with Arne Birkenstock (Director)
Documentary Gives Me a Chance to Do What I Like the Most
Q: Why did you choose tango as your theme?
AB: I have been a student of music since my college days. I studied in Argentina for one year. That’s when I had a chance to get into tango and also started to translate the songs. Based on this experience, I published a book about the history and the background of tango. This book was put into the limelight and received high acclaim in the reviews in several countries. I am also a documentary filmmaker so I wished to capture tango as an image when I got a chance. Many people associate tango with the red light district, but I wanted to capture tango from another perspective. For example, I could have focused on the history of immigration in Argentina showing how people lived back then but that approach had a set of problems with it and I was troubled because of it. One day, my eyes fell on a picture in a news article. It was a picture of young Argentineans making long lines in front of an embassy to get visas for Europe. Two hundred years ago, you would have seen the same scene in Europe where many people were heading towards South America. When I realized that the descendants of those people are now trying to get back into Europe, then I discovered how I should film the “shape of tango, today.”
Q: I felt a contrast flowing through both the story and the scenes. How did you express the passion and rhythm like you did?
AB: I used different filming techniques to achieve that. For example, I used the Super 16mm film to film the dancing and music. I used a video camera for the rest. Tango is a result of various cultural expressions coming together in music and dance. The culture of tango was created through a history of hardships. The dance speaks not only of sadness but sometimes also about love, in order to give us a good time. All kinds of emotions have piled in together to make tango. I used many elements and images of tango to express the diversity of this culture. I wanted my audience to see a comprehensive picture of the tango that lives within people of all ages, the old, the young and the children.
Q: What is the relationship between the 12 tango tunes and the story of the images?
AB: It took a long time to choose those tunes together with the music director Luis Borda. We traveled to Buenos Aires, listened to many tunes and bought loads of CDs. If we had chosen the tunes to correspond directly with the storyline, we would have ended up making a narrative film. We were sticklers about making a documentary film, so we chose a variety of good songs rather than songs that would make sense in the storyline.
Q: What do you see in the future of Argentinean tango?
AB: It is impossible to predict the future, but there are two things I can foresee happening. The positive thing is that recently, tango is becoming popular throughout the nation among the youth. It would have been unthinkable back when I was studying in Argentina. It is a new phenomenon. The negative thing I foresee is the new generation of tango that the youth are trying to make. There is going to be a great divide between the new “electric tango” and the traditional old-school tango. I personally think that tango keeps its identity as tango because of its traditional form.
(Compiled by Tsukamoto Junko)
Interviewers: Tsukamoto Junko, Nishioka Hiroko / Interpreter: Imai Isao / Translator: Paul Mikaelsen
Photography: Takahashi Manami / Video: Takahashi Manami / 2007-10-05