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On the boundaries of what is permissible to show

Christian Beetz, Hendrik Rohlf

Catalysts of Radicalization
Questions to the producer Christian Beetz

Published: 18.10.2018


You’re very successful and very active as producers of documentaries. Can you say something briefly about how your company sees itself?

As a film scholar who studied with Thomas Macho, Christina von Braun, and Friedrich Kittler, I’m primarily interested in the world’s connections—and the world is large. We feel committed to the project of enlightenment and position ourselves as cosmopolitans within the world. With documentaries, the role of the producer is relatively complex. The general public always assumes that he just provides the money, and the genius director is responsible for the story and everything else. But film is primarily teamwork, with many shared roles. The producer is the creative motor, and is ultimately responsible for all parts of the film, financially, legally, for its content, and above all its cinematic narrative.

You have produced films like Inside Mossad, Digital Dissidents, or about the Swiss Leaks. Research and conversations with informants and quitters are thus very important. How are you able to access controversial information?

The basis of such projects is trust. We operate a kind of “transaction of trust” with our protagonists and informants. With the Swiss Leaks film, Falciani’s Tax Bomb, I built up a relationship of trust with the whistleblower Hervé Falciani. This was very difficult, as he was on the run from the authorities and terribly afraid of being murdered by the Mafia and all kinds of dictators because of his knowledge of Swiss illegal earnings.

We worked with a lot of whistleblowers for our documentaries Digital Dissidents and the interactive live broadcast of Angela Richter’s theatre piece Supernerds. I remember how strange it was at the preliminary talks, as all the phones had to be put in the fridge. There’s also a “transaction of trust” when you work with secret services. This means that we establish very precisely in advance what the protagonists are willing to make public and what they aren’t. We would never release something that was against our agreements. And during the editing we make sure not to show our protagonists up. Through editing it’s very easy to put things in a different context. People surrender themselves to us and the general public, and in well-prepared recordings they sometimes disclose more than they care to—but still we would never give a protagonist editorial control over the material.

How did the project The Cleaners come about? What was...

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Christian Beetz

Christian Beetz

with his production company gebrueder beetz filmproduktion, is one of the most important independent documentary producers in Germany. The films, which focus on topics relating to politics (Falciani’s Tax Bomb, Turkey on The Edge), society (The Cleaners), and culture (Before The Last Curtain Falls), have won numerous awards (e.g. three Grimme Awards, Cinema for Peace Award, an OSCAR nomination in 2013). The company complements its cinematic content with cross-media formats (The Master’s Vision, VR series) and television series  (The Art of Museums).