DocPoint Masterclass: Heddy Honingman

Illuminating Characters

“I flourish when I film.”

The oeuvre of the Peruvian-Dutch film maker Heddy Honigmann (b. 1951) is divergent but intimate, determined but tender, thoughtful but loving. This was more than a good reason to grant her with the Living Legend Award at IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) in 2013. Fortunately Honigmann tells us not mere legends but true stories about real people whom she portrays in her documentaries.

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Honigmann’s documentary career started over two decades ago with Metal and Melancholy in 1993 in which she returns to her birthplace in Lima, Peru. In this film, Honigmann shares rides with the city’s many freewheeling taxi drivers who try to earn some extra money during the economic downfall in the early nineties. On the passenger seat of the sometimes wrecked cars, we are carried along the lives of the people who still have hopes for a better future.

From this moment on Honigmann manages to come up with a new documentary almost every year. Oftentimes her films feature a carefully casted scale of people through whom she constructs a strong and growing narrative structure. At first her films might seem to be just a collection of people. But then, slowly but surely, their stories fall into place and reveal the meaning of the film.

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In The Underground Ochestra (1997) for instance, a nationally diverse group of musicians, whom Honigmann casted for their magnificent musical performances in the Parisian underground, are filmed also in daylight. This inversion is essential; literally, because it was illegal to film in the Parisian metro and figuratively, because the characters uncover their reasons for leaving their home countries and describe their alienated and banned live in France.

Masterclass Lecture: The process of casting

Casting the characters for a film is a versatile practice, Honigmann states as we talk about her masterclass at DocPoint 2017. Finding the people to embody your idea for a film builds the basis for your documentary. Therefore, the research process is very important when one is searching for a right flow to tell the story. Honigmann tells that the casting of the characters can be intuitive or deliberate but that she will always look for a certain glance that captivates her at first sight.

Heddy Honigmann Documentaire en filmmaker
Heddy Honigmann

Honigmann is renowned for the intimacy she gains with the characters in her films. Because she has a passionate and honest interest in her characters’ stories she is able to catch on film those important things that help people survive through life. Even though the ideas and themes in her films are embodied by the characters, the stories come from within her. Fascination for the world outside her own inspires her and motivates her to continue filming. “I flourish when I film!” she exclaims. Hence filming is to her a vitamin for life.

Honigmann is fully convinced that the characters you choose for your documentary should be unique and outstanding, and on her lecture she will deal with this issue to show how to advance the casting process in documentary film making.

Text and interview: Roos Hekkens

Photos from the films Metal and Melancholy and The Underground Ochestra.

See the full Masterclass programme here.

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