Call to Bevagna in Umbria. The Swiss filmmaker Clemens Klopfenstein has lived in Italy for almost 40 years. The native of Zealand appears on the screen with a dust mask on his head. Construction break. Klopfenstein is currently renovating his house. Then he starts. This fire. Even at 77, Klopfenstein is a bond of energy and passion. A sore thumb, eloquent and self-deprecating.
“I was emigrated,” he says. 1971 it was. Klopfenstein, a student at the arts and crafts school, was lying in a workers’ house in Kleinbasel with a high fever, reading Jan’s book “The Saragossa Manuscript” with half consciousness Potocki. “I dreamed of delusions of deserts, mountains, ruins,” he remembers, “and when I got back on my feet, I had to draw these pictures immediately.”
I liked his work. In any case, he won the Federal Art Scholarship. «Since I had drawn ruins, I got into another group, the ‘Rome Round’, and then the President of the Federal Art Commission shouted: ‘He has to go to Rome, the drawn ruins!’». Incidentally, this caller was the great artist Hans Erni.
Klopfenstein came to the Swiss Institute in Rome, the plan was to stay for a year. It quickly turned into three years. Among other things, because he realized photo reports for Swiss journalists.
“It was a crazy time and I didn’t want to go back to Switzerland, which was boring for me at the time,” says Klopfenstein. He stayed and because Rome was too expensive, he ended up in Umbria. That was almost four decades ago. During the corona crisis, he hardly ever left Bevagna for a year. That doesn’t bother the well-traveled. “I can travel again when I’m dead.”
Swiss film is like yogurt
“I was also expelled to study abroad and that is also true in a different way,” explains Klopfenstein. Because he wanted to study the architecture in Rome in peace, which was only possible at night in the empty city, he began to take photos with new types of material. “This gave rise to the idea of trying this out on film so that I can finally shoot as I imagined: without artificial light, without a team,” says Klopfenstein.
His entry arrived. The Solothurn Film Festival was enthusiastic, as was ZDF. And so Klopfenstein jumped over Switzerland and went to Berlin, equipped with another scholarship. “The Germans know me, the funny, little Swiss-Italian with the southern recklessness.”
Klopfenstein continued to develop his style and was supported by Germany. “That forced the Swiss authorities to go along with it, so to speak.” The Federal Film Commission in particular was then downright upset, “at first they found my night experiments a nice shit”.
Klopfenstein has a relaxed relationship with local filmmaking. He once compared the Swiss film with a yogurt. «It is neither bread nor cheese nor ham. It’s on the side, not uncomfortable. It’s in the fridge and sometimes you forget about it. It doesn’t hurt and the finish is very easy to digest. ” Klopfenstein still stands by this statement today.
What should be changed? The Swiss film lacks its own signature, branding. That would still be possible domestically, but abroad, the Swiss films should perhaps show at least five minutes of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in the background, according to Klopfenstein. “Or deal with a big Swiss topic like Heidi or Wilhelm Tell right away.”
Hip shots and TikTok
Filmmaking is still a kind of dream job. Often, however, it is simply a phase of development that often passes after painful experiences, says Klopfenstein. Much is too laborious, too insecure. “But you can’t go beyond bankruptcy.” Then it flashes again, this Klopfensteinian joke primed with pragmatism.
And so he continues to advocate “hip shots”. That means: a good idea, a lean team, little technology. Turn fast, direct, honest, just get started. It is also not surprising that Clemens Klopfenstein has found a new field of activity with TikTok. He calls it new experimentation, without bureaucracy and without administration.
The 77-year-old never runs out of work: he has now finished the film “La Luce Romana vista da Ferraniacolor”, which was made in the 1970s, and would like to show it soon – notably the premiere. “The bells of Santa Chiara” is in production – “a Tiktok-style prelude as a supporting film for the new feature film” The Groan of the Ashes “, which I will be making with my son Lukas Tiberio”. He initially emigrated to Canada and now he works in the home office in Bevagna for films on Californian platforms. “Hiking is getting complicated.”
In addition, Klopfenstein continues to paint tirelessly and creates the fifth fresco about Francis of Assisi in Torre del Colle, puts together retrospectives for various platforms together with his two sons and every morning fetches his “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” from the kiosk.
Is he missing anything in Italy at all? Klopfenstein laughs: “Mashed potatoes and chügeli, veal sausage”, that doesn’t exist in Umbria.
About Clemens Klopfenstein
Clemens Klopfenstein (1944), born in Täuffelen on Lake Biel, attended art schools in Basel and Zurich. He has been a painter, filmmaker, photographer and author since the 1960s. He is considered to be the «veteran of Swiss film». In 1998 he was awarded the Swiss Film Prize for the best feature film for “The Silence of Men”. (sda / cbe)
This text by Raphael Amstutz, Keystone-SDA, was realized with the help of the Gottlieb and Hans Vogt Foundation.