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KARLOVY VARY 2022 Proxima

Andreas Horvath • Director of Zoo Lock Down

“I like to explore the world beyond words”

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- In his new film, the Austrian director shows the pandemic from a four-legged perspective

Andreas Horvath • Director of Zoo Lock Down

Shown in Karlovy Vary’s new Proxima section, Andreas Horvath’s latest effort, Zoo Lock Down [+see also:
film review
interview: Andreas Horvath
film profile
]
– directed, produced, lensed, edited and scored by the Austrian filmmaker – focuses on animals, and animals only, surviving lockdown in Salzburg Zoo. While their lives go on as they always did, there is a minor difference – for once, nobody is looking at them. Except for one man with a camera.

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Cineuropa: In a way, by making this film, you became what these animals had suddenly been deprived of: a spectator.
Andreas Horvath: I was less intrusive, I think. I was able to watch them in a different way and get different perspectives from the ones you would get at a full zoo, where you get a couple of thousand visitors on a sunny day in the summer. Without all that, you get this Brechtian moment of alienation. Something is off: the animals are there, but there is no one to watch them.

Many people were talking about nature during the pandemic – how the world suddenly got this moment of brief relief. Which, obviously, is now pretty much over.
I wanted to lull viewers into this meditative atmosphere – with the sound design, for example. When the visitors come back again, it’s almost shocking. At first, you might miss that in the film – the dialogues, the words – but my hope is that you get into the rhythm of the movie. And then, yes, it goes back to normal. Look at us now, at what we’re doing: we are at this festival, the cinemas are full, and nobody is wearing a mask.

Usually, these animals are like actors on a stage. But they are not performing, that’s the thing – they are just being themselves. When this other side is suddenly missing, when there is no us, watching, something new happens. It took a long time to edit this film, and one of the reasons was that nothing happens in it. When nothing happens, you need to create something – that’s where the sound comes in. It allows you to get into these little stories playing out in the zoo. You return to the same animals, again and again. I would watch this caiman, and he would just stay there in one position, for hours. It’s a real microcosm. You wonder if they miss all those people or if they are relieved. I don’t know the answer. I asked the zookeepers, and they could also do nothing but guess.

Thinking about your previous work, Lillian [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Andreas Horvath
film profile
]
[about an emigrant in New York deciding to walk back to Russia on her own], you seem interested in just looking and embracing the silence. Why do you like it so much?
I like to explore the world beyond words in my films. I don’t trust words. Whenever I’ve made films with a lot of dialogue, like in [the short] Views of a Retired Night Porter, he is talking all the time. But I question what he says by juxtaposing it with other images. There is so much more ambivalence that can be gained from images, sounds and music.

This year at Cannes, Jerzy Skolimowski won hearts by thanking all of the donkeys who played in his film Eo [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, mentioning all their names. You do the same thing here, in the credits.
It’s on my to-watch list! I love his films. At a certain point, it became so clear that they were the stars. It’s about them, and they have names. A lot of them have died already; I marked that with crosses. It makes you think, you know? They were very well looked after, but their life span is different to ours. So many of them, as they grow older, would probably be left by their pack or eaten by other animals. Others are endangered by humans. In the zoo, they are protected – it’s all very ambivalent. For some animals, a zoo is like a safe haven or a home for the elderly. But they are still imprisoned, and you can’t deny that.

Whenever people talk about lockdown, they mention how scary it was, how unnatural. You would think that would make them more sympathetic towards these animals. After all, they are always in lockdown.
Maybe so if they see this film? I was there on the first day of re-opening, and it was cold and raining. But still, there was a crowd of people, ready to come in. All of those elderly couples who have their annual passes and go to the zoo every day. During that time, they would call them up, asking about their favourite animals. They missed them.

Were you ever tempted not to show humans at all?
A lot of friends asked me why I decided to do it, but it wouldn’t have worked otherwise. It’s the people who keep it all going. They are responsible for the lights being turned on and off, for the humidifying system. I had more humans in the film at the beginning, but then I focused more on their hands – I didn’t want to show their faces too much. You do have a chance to fully concentrate on the animals, still. I was never a fan of zoos, not even as a child. But I was a bit sad when it ended.

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