Interview with Harald Hutter, Aesthetica Short Film Festival Filmmaker

Paris-based filmmaker Harald Hutter returned to the Aesthetica Short Film Festival in 2015 with L’Esprit de l’Escalier (Hindsight); an enlightening new work that reflects on the nature of memory and remembrance. Winner of Best Experimental at ASFF in 2014 for short film Léthé, Hutter’s latest work showcases the filmmaker’s talent for delicate and subtle storytelling. We speak to the director about his progression in the industry, the importance of the experimental genre and his projects for the future. Hutter was one of our 5th Anniversary speakers in 2015, where he joined an expert panel of previous winners for a discussion on the power of short film. L’Esprit de l’Escalier was selected to screen in a specially curated line-up of film in the French language at ASFF’s 5th edition.

ASFF: Your most recent work, L’Espirit de L’Escalier (Hindsight) was screened at the festival this year. What do you hope audiences gained from the film?
HH: It’s always hard to tell what audiences will gain from a film given that the experience of cinema is so dependent on one’s current situation and mood. I can think of numerous films that I once liked, and felt were interesting, which I now don’t like, and find boring – and inversely. I find that this is also the case when viewing my own films. As such, I’m not sure what I hope they gained, but at the very least, I hope that they were captivated and that they were left asking questions about the nature of memory.

ASFF: L’Espirit de L’Escalier (Hindsight) portrays poignant themes of remembrance of past times. Where did the inspiration for this narrative come from?
HH: The main inspiration was Diderot and the feeling that he called having ‘l’esprit de l’escalier,’ which literally translates as having ‘the spirit of the staircase.’ In his essay, Paradox of the Actor, he coins that expression to describe the feeling that one gets when thinking, after it’s too late, of the things one should have said or done (in the case of our film) but didn’t say or didn’t do. This feeling then led me to ask questions about the nature of memory and the paradox that is the process of remembrance and recollection itself.

ASFF: How does the piece compare to Léthé, which won Best Experimental at ASFF in 2014?
HH: Both films are about travelling ‘the wide undiscovered land of the self.’ Léthé externalises the emotive topography of the main protagonist and transposes it onto a desolate landscape, while l’Esprit de l’Escalier internalises the process and invites the viewer to ponder a specific memory as seen through the eyes of Lou Castel (the main character in the film). In a lot of ways however, I feel that l’Esprit de l’Escalier is more hermetic and opaque than Léthé – perhaps a bit like the way distant memories can seem when viewed from the present.

ASFF: This was your second time at ASFF. What films stood out for you in 2015’s selection?
HH: There were numerous films that piqued my interest. However, I particularly enjoyed the film essay Christmas is Dead by Alisa Wimmer that featured some stunning images and had quite a bit of food for thought. I also liked He’s the Best by Tamyka Smith which was short, sweet and to the point.

ASFF: In your opinion, what makes short film, in particular the experimental genre, a unique art form?
HH: Short films are the place where experimentation is allowed and welcomed. This is particularly the case in the experimental genre that permits all types of narratives, and non-narratives, to be explored, reworked and exploded. Its shortness also makes it particularly suited to the Internet and to new modes of distribution. This being said, it’s great that festivals like ASFF exist to offer audiences the chance to experience these morsels of cinema on a big screen

ASFF: What’s next for 2016 and beyond?
HH: The New Year is shaping up to be exciting film wise. I am in the midst of founding a production company, No Wave Films, whose aim will be to promote emerging filmmakers. I have also completed my first feature film, Streams in Blue, which we have started submitting to festivals. I’m also in the process of writing my next feature film and I’m about to shoot another short film in January.

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1. Still from l’Esprit de l’Escalier.