Her parents were never really a couple, but one filmmaker endeavored to find out why. We spoke with director Carlotta Kittel about what pushed her to share such a personal story.
“My parents were never really a couple” is the fantastically blunt note the documentary HE, SHE, I (ER, SIE, ICH) opens on, as one daughter explores the lack of a relationship between her estranged parents. Filmmaker Carlotta Kittel enables the conversation that was never had, allowing her parents to discuss the unexpected conditions of her existence, as they recollect the decisions they made to keep the baby, but not their relationship. Did they love each other? What did they expect at the time? How do they view their decisions in retrospect?
Taking the form of recording both sides of the story, then showing the other, HE, SHE, I explores the shifting nature of damaged relationships, the unreliable nature of memory, and how the past impacts the present. An endlessly personal and, at times, a deeply uncomfortable journey, we sat down with the filmmaker to discuss the entirety of the process.
The Big Smoke: The subjects of your film, your parents, are separated. What made you want to bridge that gap and put it on film?
Carlotta Kittel: I think the main idea was a confrontation between the two of them, to kind of let them experience what I experienced as a child, with their differing opinions on basically everything. There were those moments as a kid, but even more, as I grew up, where I thought, Wow. If the other one could hear what they’re saying about them. I was always sure it wasn’t about one of them lying to me, it was more about their perceptions. So, that was the main idea I wanted to make the film about. It’s not about truth or lies, it was how they saw it.
Did you have an even amount of contact with both parties growing up?
No, I had more contact with my mom, I always lived with her. But I almost always had contact with my dad, mostly twice a month for a weekend or so. There were only two moments in our lives where my dad and I didn’t have contact, one of which is in the film.
Prior to filming, had either of your parents broached the topic with you?
A bit. With her, we never sat down and had a long and real talk about it, but many things weren’t new to me, occasionally she had mentioned some things. With him, we had one long talk. When I turned 18, we visited Copenhagen for a weekend. One evening we discussed everything. For him it was important for me to get his perspective, his side as well. He was guessing that the story I’d been told by my mom would be very different. It was. From there, eventually came this project.
Was it hard to get them to both agree to the project?
Um. [Laughs] I think we have different opinions on that. I have the impression that they kind of really wanted to tell me the story, just not in front of a camera. Although they both really didn’t like the idea of it being a film, wanting other people to see it. I think they both kind of agreed, because they loved me, and they really wanted to discuss what happened.
What was their reaction to the film?
Well, the first time they viewed it, it was in separate screenings. That was, as one would expect, really emotional, not only to the other person, but to themselves on screen, primarily because we shot the first interview years before, so they rediscovered what they had said at the time, and since forgotten. Following that, we had a premiere for everyone involved, and they were both there. Which was really hardcore for me [laughs], and everyone else on the team. What was best, I think, was that people sought them out after the screening, and thanked them, emphasized with their story, even if they didn’t know them. Strangers recalled similar experiences with their past partners, which was nice to see. That they weren’t sitting there judging what they saw, they were reflecting on themselves also.
The first and second interviews are four and a half years apart, how did that impact the film?
Well, I didn’t want it that way, because I originally wanted it to be about 30 years ago versus now. I thought it would be confusing to the audience to have two “nows.” But at a point in the editing, we realized that it worked really well, because that’s what the whole film is about, how memory and everything else memory and perception changes over time. There are some topics in the film that have two different answers from the same person, which was really nice to see.
Has their relationship changed since the project?
There was a slight moving toward each other around the time of the premiere, they even shared a hug! But, I don’t think there’s been a massive change. They still live close to each other, they still occasionally bump into each other on the street, and they still have some of the old issues, but I feel they’re a bit more at peace with everything. Maybe the big goal is not total harmony, finding a solution to all the problems. Maybe that doesn’t exist. But, they’re good for themselves, coming to terms with their role in what happened.
We all make mistakes, but we also have to accept that they’re part of our lives.
HE, SHE, I is part of the DOC LA Los Angeles Documentary Film Festival, screening at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 21 at Raleigh Studios.
Tickets are available through the DOC LA Los Angeles Documentary Film Festival.