18th ÉCU Film Festival 2023
Once I Passed
Once I Passed is dedicated, on the one hand, to the obviously autobiographical context with all its personal drama, and on the other hand to the content of the poem itself, the profoundly quiet, yet powerful story of two lovers.
Hi Martin, it is a pleasure to talk with you, how has everything been going?
I’m fine. Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my film Once I passed.
Once I Passed won the Golden Reel Award at the 2022 Tiburon International Festival, what has it meant to you to see your film get such a great reaction?
I’m very happy that the message of the film gets so much positive attention since its finalisation last year. It was a long journey to get it done. And I hope people are moved by the poem of Walt Whitman as I am moved by it for several years now.
Congratulations on having Once I Passed part of the 18th ÉCU Film Festival 2023 in Paris, how does it feel to be part of such an incredible line-up of films?
It’s a big honour to be part of such a wonderful festival. I appreciate it a lot.
How essential are festivals like ÉCU in creating a genuine platform for independent films and filmmakers?
From my perspective, it’s very important to have festivals like ÉCU for us independent filmmakers. They help to reach an audience especially for experimental films.
Can you tell me how Once I Passed came about, what was it about Walt Whitman’s Once I Passed Through a Populous City that interested you so much as a filmmaker?
Walt Whitman is one of the most important poets in American literature. Many have speculated about his private life, to this day. Whitman never wrote publicly about his personal relationships. In 1860, he published his poem "Once I Passed Through a Populous City," an aphoristic account of a romantic relationship with an unknown woman. In 1925, the original handwritten copy of the poem was discovered, in which Whitman writes, however, not about a woman but about an affair with a man in an anonymous city, which may have been his first physical experience of love. Whitman did not dare to publish the original version of his poem, because of the social prejudices of his time. To this day, only the altered version is printed in most anthologies.
I came across the original version by chance many years ago. I was touched by the unexpected turn of this love story, but also depressed by the tragic self-censorship. I was cautious about creating a film from the text. I hesitated for many years before working on it. Whitman circles around the inescapable affection of two male lovers. The depth and intensity of their love are not revealed in direct descriptions, but only through the approaching loss of this love. A recurring awareness tears the viewer apart emotionally, and yet, only through this, frees its inner beauty and truth.
"Over the years I also created several audiovisual compositions for multimedia events."
Did you have any apprehensions about adapting this piece into your short film?
Yes, definitely. For me, it is always essential to do justice to the quality and uniqueness of another artist's work when I incorporate my own ideas. This was not different with the adaptation of Whitman's poem.
What was the biggest challenges you faced making Once I Passed?
During the creation of the individual scenes, my focus was not only on the narrative perspective, but above all on the visual details and the rhythmic alignment of the animations. In this context, it was not easy for to write the music for the film. There were several frustrating attempts that were close to the mood but not close enough to the emotional aspects of the poem. It was only after I managed to free my mind from self-imposed expectations that the music emerged, as if by itself, a mixture of tonal and experimental musical sequences for string quartet, interwoven with text spoken by three voices. I deliberately wrote music that is exclusively dedicated to and subordinate to the poem.
When making a film like Once I Passed how flexible did you allow yourself with the story you wanted to tell?
The poem itself is not linked to a specific city. So I allowed myself to use a vintage setting of New York to tell the story.
Looking back, what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you have taken from making Once I Passed?
The adaptation of the poem seemed impossible to me for many years. Making the film reminded me again that you should always believe in your visions and ideas in order to make them come true.
Will you explore other Whitman works in future films?
Yes, that’s very likely. There are still many treasures to be discovered in Whitman's complete works.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
No. I’m actually professional composer of contemporary music. Over the years I also created several audiovisual compositions for multimedia events. A few years ago I submitted one of those works to film festivals. And I was very surprised by the unexpected continuous success. Since then I also focus on making films besides my music commissions.
How different was your approach to Once I Passed compared to your previous short films?
Not too different. The visual technique is a bit different because of the animations, but still I think I stayed true to my basic style. From birth I am a synaesthete, so I basically construct music and visuals according to synaesthetic forms and colours. However, the collaboration with collage artist Nikola Gocic was an exciting and new experience for this project.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
Definitely! I think this is one of the most important matters for any artist or filmmaker.
What top 3 tips would you offer a fellow filmmakers?
I'm not sure if it's my place to give tips to other filmmakers. But maybe maintaining your own persistence and style is important to find a good way into the business.
And finally, what message do you hope your audiences will take away from Once I Passed?
I hope that the viewer will be touched by this story about universal love. To get rid of prejudices about other forms of love, which are still not fully accepted.