INTERVIEW: German Filmmaker Documenting 'Metal Politics' in Taiwan

INTERVIEW: German Filmmaker Documenting 'Metal Politics' in Taiwan
Photo Credit: Olivia Yang/The News Lens

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'It’s exciting for me to be part of a historical process. That’s what our job is for. We are documenting history.'

“I’m always very interested in extraordinary personalities that have an impact on society.”

Marco Wilms is nestled comfortably in an old sofa and dressed in black from head to toe when he meets with The News Lens International in his Taipei office-cum-apartment.

The Berlin-born film director was in Taiwan screening his 2014 documentary on the Arab Spring, “Art War,” in the 2016 Urban Nomad Film Festival this March when he first heard of the name “Freddy Lim (林昶佐).”

“I think I went to see him in the parliament the next day,” says Wilms.

Lim, an internationally renowned lead singer for heavy metal band Chthonic, is also a civic activist and member of the New Power Party (NPP). Along with four other NPP members, Lim was elected as a legislator in Taiwan’s January general elections for a four-year term.

“When I met him I introduced myself, and he was like, ‘Oh yeah okay, let’s do the interview. I have five minutes,’” said Wilms, who somewhat looks like a member of a heavy metal band himself. “I said, ‘Oh no. I’m not a journalist. I want to do a long documentary. Would you like to do that?’”

Lim agreed, as long as Wilms “didn’t disturb him.”

So began the filming of "Metal Politics Taiwan," without any money or a commitment from a television network. It was also a week before Lim’s last concert before his entry to politics, so within the short time span, Wilms had to fly back to Germany to gather his equipment and find people in Taiwan who were willing to assist him.

A week later, he was filming what would possibly be Lim’s final concert for years. “Thank God I have it,” says Wilms.

But that was just the beginning.

“I have to react very fast all the time because Freddy is very fast. He’s like a rocket. He's very passionate,” says Wilms. “In the beginning, it was really hard for me to keep up with his speed and I was very frustrated because I thought it was not good for a cinema documentary. Everything was too active. Now I’m thinking maybe it’s the style of the film.”

Photo Credit: Kyoto Sanda
Marco Wilms filming Freddy Lim.

Keeping up with Lim’s tight schedule is one thing, but Wilms says the biggest challenge is "to understand what’s going on in Freddy’s life, deep inside. What’s his transformation as a human being? What is really going on?”

"I call it the ‘inner truth,’ and sometimes you have to work very hard to get it. It’s like digging in the earth for gold.”

The director says he has followed Lim to many speeches and most of the time he finds them quite boring and repetitive. However, Wilms has realized that the important content is often not delivered on the stage but takes place backstage or while Lim travels from one place to another.

Wilms uses tagging along on a trip to Lim’s old elementary school as an example. It was the school’s anniversary and the legislator had been invited to give a speech.

“His feeling was very good. You could see it in his face that he felt excited to go back to his childhood school,” says the director. “This is actually a classic way of documentary filmmaking. It’s observing something. And through observing something you understand what’s going on. You understand the deeper meaning. And the deeper meaning is very complex. It has many layers and my job is to make these layers clear for the audience.”

Photo Credit: Provided by Marco Wilms
Marco Wilms at the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament.

Though the director has an idea of what he wants the film to look like and convey, he says most of the time he’s still following his intuition because “a documentary goes its own way.”

In 2011, when Wilms was filming the Arab Spring unfold in Egypt, he says he was initially very focused on politics. But then the director got very confused about what he was filming because he realized everyone was filming the same thing and it was in the news every day. By chance, a graffiti artist called Wilms on the night of the elections to tell him he was painting a piece of graffiti. So the director went out at 3 a.m. to film a group of artists painting a huge portrait of a fellow artist that had been killed in the revolution. That was the moment Wilms realized that was the picture of the revolution and what transformed into the documentary “Art War.” It has been screened in more than 130 film festivals around the world and has received seven awards.

“I’m doing something similar here [with Freddy]. I’m trying to find the right picture of what’s going on,” says Wilms. “I want to follow the development of Freddy as an artist and politician. And this takes time. He has changed already. He’s also becoming a father and it’s going to change a lot in his life, I guess.”

Though Wilms does not understand a word of Mandarin and only has a small team of four, he has observed how Lim works as politician, which he says is something he has never seen before. Wilms believes a lot of it comes from Lim’s “artistic experience.”

“In a way, he’s doing ‘rock-star politics.’ He creates a crowd, followers,” says Wilms. “I think he’s picking up the real way of communication, for example, using social media, and he has even hired someone who films him every day.”

The director says that he is trying to see Lim’s world through his eyes and let the audience feel what it is like to be a politician. His subjects are like a mirror for him, in which Wilms sees himself but also learns from them.

“I think it’s an obsession to be a filmmaker. What Freddy’s doing is also an obsession. That’s why I think I can understand him,” says Wilms. “It’s exciting for me to be part of a historical process. That’s what our job is for. We are documenting history.”

"Metal Politics Taiwan" is scheduled to be released in 2017.

Editor: Edward White