15th LICHTSPIELKLUB
SHORT FILM FESTIVAL 2022 
Interview

Gabriel Böhmer 
Push This Button if You Begin to Panic
Animation Special & Audience Award Ceremony
Wed 26.1. 20:00 / City Kino Wedding

thingsbygabriel.com

Bartholomew Whisper went to the doctor today. There he met administrators keen on experimental surgery, and lonely MRI machines. At least the growing hole in his head was becoming quite beautiful.

Hi Gabriel thank you for talking to The New Current, these have been some very strange times, how have you been holding up?

I’ve been mostly very good, thank you so much for having me. I’m currently on day six of self-isolating though, and I’m beginning to get a bit of cabin fever!

Was it easy to motivate yourself creatively during the lockdowns?

I’d luckily started a number of projects before the first lockdown. So, I’ve just been following through on those. My next film is based on a story I wrote almost seven years ago. It’s been a good reminder to myself to catch ideas when they’re floating about. You never know what’s around the corner. That way there’s a savings account of creativity I can draw from.

What was the experience like for you premiering Push This Button If You Begin to Panic at the Locarno in 2020?

That was definitely a lovely moment. I remember the excitement about the news. I’d slept little that night because I’d been up with the baby, but it was a bright and happy morning outside, and in too. And then there was the challenge of preparing everything in a lockdown. As well as trying to get ready to speak to people about the film. I always struggle at the beginning to compress one to two years of work into concise and coherent answers. The first interviews are probably as confusing for me as they are for the poor people listening!

Of course being 2020, I wasn’t there in person. So, sometimes it feels like I invented the whole thing. A little fantasy to pass the time. Really, that’s a more likely scenario.

Push This Button If You Begin to Panic has gained multiple awards and nominations including Special Award for Outstanding Artistic Value at the 2021 Animator (International Animated Film Festival), did you imagine you would get the type of reaction for your film?

It’s been especially amazing hearing how some people have connected to it on a personal level. Which I definitely did not expect. And I am really grateful for the recognitions the film has received. If I strive for anything, it is artistic value. I feel incredibly lucky that someone should think that applies to my work in any way. I can’t really get my head around it, though. I suspect there’s been a mistake! They’ll catch on soon enough. But, until such time, I will just be incredibly thankful.

With everything that is going on due to Covid how essential are festivals like British Shorts Berlin in continuing to provide a platform for Independent British short films?

I think it’s vital. It’s such an important aspect of exposing people to this particular art form. I make short films, and festivals are the only way I manage to see them! There’s so much programming available these days that it’s difficult to cut through.  The curation process of festivals like British Shorts Berlin is key to direct us. I’m very grateful for it as a maker, and audience member.

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"I think feeling out of one’s depth is really good for personal progress, and that job forced me to experience it all the time."

Congratulations on having Push This Button If You Begin To Panic selected for British Shorts 2022, how does it feel to be at the festival and part of such an amazing line-up of short films?

You know, it never stops feeling like an amazing surprise to be part of a festival. I’m always inspired by other people’s work, and a little confused about how my film has been allowed to be there. The work at British Shorts 2022 is really wonderful, and I’m so happy to be a part of it.

How did Push This Button If You Begin To Panic come about and did you have any apprehensions about writing and directing a film that came from you own experiences?

I had an experience with an MRI, which is the medical scan at the heart of the film. MRI’s are completely white on the inside, and they scan the body in layers. Which is why the film is told in these white on white layers. As I was being fed into the machine, the technician said to me, “push this button if you begin to panic,” and in that moment I thought it was the most beautiful sentence I’d ever heard. From then on I began thinking about the experience as a film.

I always find the idea of putting my own life in the films a bit embarrassing. But, then I think of cave paintings, and the people that made them. And about how they probably painted what they saw in their day, or what occupied their thoughts. And I realise I’m really just doing the same thing, and then I’m ok with that. I’m just painting my cave.

What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from this film experience?

There’s much I’d do differently, if I could have another go. But, perhaps the most valuable lesson learned is to listen to my intuition a bit more. This film follows my inner dialogue, and timing, more closely than my previous ones. I wasn’t sure how that would be received. And if people are going to be subjected to my work, then I don’t want them to have a horrible time! So it’s been lovely seeing a good reaction to my slow meandering thoughts, and bits of silliness.

Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?

I think it’s nice to have something that’s a bit different. Not just a repetition of what we’ve seen. I do love experimentation, and new takes on form and narrative. But, equally, some of my favourite films are just two characters speaking. There’s something incredibly human about just listening to an interaction. It can get a bit much when we’re always trying to be innovative at every turn. At the same time, knowing how a conversation ends when it’s only just begun is not engaging either. I suspect there’s a balance, but I certainly don’t know what it is!

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Where did your passion for filmmaking come from and how much has your approach to your writing/directing since your debut film?

I’ve always enjoyed film, but I came to filmmaking quite late. I just had a feeling of awe and reverence towards it. I was engaging in all the other parts of it: writing, painting, and music. But I thought making films wasn’t really something one could just do. At some point, though, I realised those three elements could talk to each other, and then there was no turning back. There’s something unexpected to film that I love. If you change the music, visuals, or words just a little bit, you can end up saying something completely different! I really like that surprise. Ultimately, I think it’s a good filter for the subconscious. Because whatever is swirling around in the back of your head, seems to have a way of coming out.

I think the biggest way my approach has changed is in my dealing with the visual side. In my first film, Beetle Trouble, I took paintings and just animated them a little bit. Usually creating a loop that could serve as the backdrop for some narration. I think this was a great way of starting out, but right now I’m more interested in creating a cinematic movement than repetition. And I’m sure that will change in the future as well. This is the other part I love about filmmaking - it’s a practice that continues evolving. And I’ll never be finished.

Any regrets leaving your career in management consulting?

I do miss learning about a new industry with every project. That was really engaging. I think feeling out of one’s depth is really good for personal progress, and that job forced me to experience it all the time. Now, I’m the only person in charge of teaching myself new things. And, of course, I’m focusing that very differently. Mostly on experimenting with new techniques, and ideas for films. Which is  more interesting to me, but it also has some side effects. I’m not engaged in the ‘real’ world that much anymore, and find little things a bit difficult as time goes on. Like speaking on a phone, or filling out a form - which I’m generally convinced is near impossible. I sometimes miss being able to do that!

Do you have any advice you could offer an emerging filmmaker?

1. Really listen to your own thoughts, and voice. I think we’ll always find the unique inner workings of another person interesting. 2. Edit. Some people can get the first draft perfect, but I can’t. So my approach is to do way too much work, and then edit heavily. And 3. Please share your work! Send it to friends, festivals, and mentors, and then talk to them about it.

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Push This Button If You Begin To Panic?

I hope we can have a dialogue about it. But, if I have to leave people with one thing, I'll go with a line from the film:

What a beautiful orchestra the world is, if one is only acutely aware.