Interview with Filmmaker Holger E. Metzger & Subject Dirk Bürklin (THE USELESS GLASSBLOWER)


Directed by Holger E. Metzger
A fascinating short documentary on a traditional glassmaker deep in the southern German Black Forest, and his thoughts and feelings about what this 7000-year-old craft has taught him about life.

Get to know the filmmaker and doc subject Dirk Bürklin

1. What motivated you to make this film?

l HOLGER: I spent 30 years in China (that is, my whole adult life so far) and only returned to live in Germany again (my home country which I left during my youth) a year ago. Apart from a plethora of culture-shock-inducing elements, I find today’s Germany to be hopelessly behind a much more future-oriented Asia, and with the speed and depth of digitalization representing only one issue among many. I also observed a sort of ideological clash between a “preservation” mindset, with people on the one side of the divide wanting to preserve (or return to) those “golden times” of yesterday, a rose-tinted “Made in Germany” heritage in thought, craft and economic might. Those times are long gone, of course, and thus on the other side you have another set of (younger) people who reject the past, who are eager to think differently and actively create a different tomorrow, a future that is digital, futuristic and completely different from yesterday or even today. I have known Dirk for a while and admired his craft, he operates a glass furnace close to where I live now, somewhere deep in the southern part of Germany’s black forest. He’s a guy who doesn’t see the need for owning a smart phone (imagine that, in 2023…), who has been engaging in traditional glassmaking for all his adult life, who uses a glassmaking recipe that is 7000 years old (the epitome of “yesterday”) and who, in a profession that hardly anyone would see as a “future vocation” in our increasingly automated, perfectionist and AI-supported modern times, has some very interesting and inspiring thoughts to share with a world that seems increasingly paralyzed by a sense of uncertainty. That’s why I approached him about doing this documentary, to start with exploring his thoughts and feelings and experience, to then allow a narrative to take its natural shape while at the same time visually exploring his unique glassmaking process.

l DIRK: When Holger asked me to do a film project about me and my glassmaking, I thought it would be a funny and interesting experience, and I was expectant as to what would happen. I never imagined that anyone would want to hear what I had to say, but apparently, I was wrong. 

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

l Holger: Overall, it took us around six months in terms of calendar time, with 1) idea sharing, “interview” and narrative exploration, 2) production time and 3) post-production work adding up to a solid month or so.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

l HOLGER: “Future-proof Tradition”, or “Traditional Future”

l DIRK: “Magnificent Uselessness” or “Heart/Mind-warming Uselessness”

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

l HOLGER: Constantly changing natural light conditions, as we filmed right during seasonal change, and how to best supplement it with lighting equipment.

l DIRK: Since it was a very pleasant collaboration with Holger, making the film was like meeting for a chat, and at the same time it provided the opportunity to self-reflect, given the amount of time involved.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

l HOLGER: relief that the audience observed and felt inspired by the metaphorical connection between Dirk’s glassmaking art and his thoughts and feelings about life…relief that we somehow managed to convey that.

l DIRK: I feel flattered, thanks for everyone’s attentive thoughts.

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

l HOLGER: I have been an avid movie fan all my life, and an ardent consumer of literature. 15 years ago I started to write short stories, then I decided to complete an MFA in filmmaking (as a side hobby, I am a consumer psychology and branding professional in my day job) with a focus on screenwriting and directing, after which I wrote and produced several short films and web-series (in China), and even a TV-like drama series for a global educational institute, and now back in Germany I want to “narratively explore” this country and culture that I have to “re-learn” and fuse with my China experience, after so many years in Asia…funny.

l DIRK: Holger is the filmmaker, he wanted to make this film, and I was curious as to the result, so that’s why I was happy to participate. And it was quite an experience, the process, the result, everything.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

l HOLGER: I presume the question is what sort or genre of film? A wide range, actually, for one I like well-told documentaries, because they too require a solid narrative shape, for the sake of coherence and audience engagement and because you want to get a certain point or “angle” across (the same in narrative storytelling, your viewpoint or “angle” is key), then I love drama, action, comedy…and even one or the other classic Western. As for individual films, I guess “Some Like it Hot” and “The Godfather”, and also the Korean movie “Memories of Murder” I watched repeatedly; as a young adult in China I immersed myself in Chinese and Hongkong ghost and (classical/literary) martial arts movies. During the last decade or so (or perhaps since “The Wire” and “Sopranos”) I have mostly been watching (and learning from) TV series.

l DIRK: “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” and “Pulp Fiction”, perhaps one can tell from my sense of humor…

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

l HOLGER: I am already deeply impressed by the active and genuine “care” that you show filmmakers, there are not that many festivals that I know of which provide, for instance, audience feedback videos or all those peripheral marketing-related services that you guys offer. Perhaps you could consider getting corporate or other support to offer grants to screenwriters and producers.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

l HOLGER: no complaints there, clear and focused service and communication.

10. What is your favorite meal?

l HOLGER: 兰州拉面 (Lanzhou La Mian), street stall noodles from Lanzhou city in China, based on a famous historical Chinese noodle recipe

l DIRK: Vitello Tonnato

11. What is next for you? A new film?

l HOLGER: As for my next film project, I am thinking of doing a dramedy web-series set in a small hotel/B&B or small shop/supermarket, a sort of social satire.

l DIRK: I shall continue with my work, meet people and, along the way, learn even more things about glass and life. And I shall not forget to be idle and just ‘be’.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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