Uisenma Borchu, who ultimately wins the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Film in Munich International Film Festival
A very beautiful and attractive young women, Hedi, takes a young girl of five years old to meet her grandmother, a very traditional Mongolian women, who lives in a yurt. This is the opening of the intriguing, enigmatic, and in a way revolutionary “Don’t Look At Me That Way” (Schau mich nicht so an), Mongolia-born writer and director Uisenma Borchu’s debut feature film, in which she also plays the lead role and even did the editing in collaboration with Christine Schorr.
Regardless of what the audience might think at first sight, girl Sofia is not her daughter. In fact, her protector, single mother Iva is actually Hedi’s neighbour. After Hedi finds Sofia in the backyard of the building, she introduces herself to Iva and the two young women soon enough find intimate interest in each other and become fiery lovers. Iva shows great passion and jealousy toward Hedi, who is not that crazy about her new friend and actually likes men too. Iva’s father is supposed to come one day to look after his granddaughter, so the two girls can spend private time together without interruption, but he doesn’t come. Hedi goes to look for him, and this is where the story takes a surprising twist.
The film has the look and feel of an inspirational indie project (a low budget one — 25.000 euro). It’s very creative, very innovative and also brave and daring. Although it does contain nudity and sex scenes, it is not provocative or sensational, but reflects the free-spirited Hedi, who is on the one hand very selfish and wants to own anything and everybody, but on the other hand breaks almost all society’s taboos, but not in the way of shocking. The film is also beautifully shot by Sven Zellner, in Munich and partly in Mongolia, in a way that looks sometimes very realistic, like documentary style. The film looks like it is out of place and time, and just gives an idea that this story is, in a way, isolated from the world outside. That makes it emotional but not sentimental, moving but not by the way of making one cry. Read more
-Uisenma Borchu’s Interview with “National Post” Mongolian daily newspaper-
Ariunzul Gantulga: When did you leave Mongolia?
Uisenma Borchu: My family and me live about 25 years in Germany. My mother studied in East Berlin, and later she continued working in the GDR. I am very proud that my parents made the decision to move to Germany even though the political situation was very delicate. But I think they wanted to get to know the unknown.
Ariunzul Gantulga: Your family moved to GDR before the Wall fell. How was life during that time?
Uisenma Borchu: Life during the upheaval 1989 and after was difficult. Our mongolian relatives always thought that we would have a good life and everything in the west is the best. But it wasn’t the case. Now I only can say without my family, the love of my parents, my big brother and my big sister I wouldn’t have made it out of this life. But it is hard to explain. We experienced humiliation since the very first beginning there. Violence and the feeling of being disgusted by the german society in this little town we lived was everyday life for us.
But no matter how much hatred came over us, in school, by police, by colleagues or just in the streets, our parents never told us to hate back.
They made us think about the political situation and the history of the human beings, they wanted to make us aware of it. I heard of Neo Nazis very early so I wanted to know what a Nazi is because I was so curious to know my enemy who would spit on me in the streets. In front our house there were Neo Nazis making riots very often like ’Go away, back to your country’ , and we heard from other towns that they set fire on houses.
I was so afraid, and I waited every night for my father until he would come home late in the evening. Neo Nazis gathered in front our door. So I hoped my father would take the other door entrance on the other side.
But he didn’t. I was so afraid, I was 8 years or something. I was watching from behind the curtains how he passed the Neo Nazis. My father never got hurt and he was always absolutely fine. After years I dared to ask him how he went through these Neo Nazis, how he made it.
He answered that he looked them right into their eyes, eyes full with life and resoluteness. I knew that this is a quality of a mongolian human being. I love that very much that my parents taught me mongolian way of living by heart and soul !!!
Without this strenght that my parents showed me I would have been scared too much.
Ariunzul Gantulga: When was the time you realized you have to become a film director?
Uisenma Borchu: I never knew or imagined that I could be a director. Since I was a little girl I watched movies, all kinds of films and I loved it, but I always confronted myself with writing. Writing poems, singing, dancing and reading. Now when I need to concentrate I sing or I read a book, then my thoughts are getting clearer. Filmmaking I discovered when I was 22.
Ariunzul Gantulga: What do you want people to walk away from the film feeling?
Uisenma Borchu: When people watch my film “ DON’T LOOK AT ME THAT WAY“ I would like that they start to reflect about theirselves. I think it is most important to know all your facettes before you start to talk about the bad sides of someone else. Start with yourself and learn to express yourself. Thats sounds maybe easy but it is a big thing.
Ariunzul Gantulga: Tell us more about the role of Hedi?
Uisenma Borchu: I play in this film “ HEDI “. She is a young woman who trys to find her way in a world between the cultures. The german one and the mongolian backround she also got.
She cannot fit into the boxes that society is offering to her. It is too small for her, Hedi is a person who is a free spirit and who crashes here and there, who plays also with emotions of other people while looking for love.
I think she is a strong woman character because she is not a woman but a human being. She refuses to put on the dress of a woman. A dress that patriarchic history developed for female persons. A dress full with opression and orders. She is in the process of freeing herself.
Ariunzul Gantulga: What was the perks of being a leading role and a director in the same time?
Uisenma Borchu: To act and to be also the director was very challenging to me. I wrote the book and together with this all I was very well prepared, I knew what I wanted, what kind of style and mood. But there must be a free space to let it also go, a space without control. Filmmaking has these moments, some say magic, I don’t know how to call it. But I knew this „magic“ must come or the film is crap- so I wanted the actors to improvise, that means no fixed dialogues, a natural way of acting. I wanted to force the natural element because we were, Catrina Stemmer and me, non actresses. In the scenes I could intervene as a director with my playing. That was a big game to me. I was of course afraid but I loved also to let it go and to let it happen.
For me to play infront of the camera gave me a big sense of filmmaking, I felt that I jumped over boundaries just for the film and that made me feel that I am very strong connected to filmmaking.
I am not a professional actress and Catrina is actually a good friend who inspired me to write this story about young women in our society. The only professional actor was Josef Bierbichler, he is a big name in Germany, a strong character. And he knew how to handle us and I had the idea to bring non actors and professional actors together like they did also in the neorealism periode in Italy. I love those films cause you can see the playing which is special, there is a pure natural element rising that pulls you into the film. That’ s important, to make people believe in what they see.
Ariunzul Gantulga: What was the audiences reaction after the premier of the film in Munich International Film Festival?
Uisenma Borchu: The people who watched the film were very moved, touched, or disgusted. There were big discussions after and people came to me and asked me how I could have created a figure like HEDI… I said, well you just have to watch the society then you can bring it up… So I told them not to ask me but to ask theirselves.
I can only reproduce what society is offering me.
All in all I was very surprised that people had so much affection about the film, that they felt the film. That is why I make films for. I don’t want people to say: Hey, that’s a nice film, but I want them to feel it, deep and pure. And to feel pain or helplessness is a good energy. It is not about entertainment.
Ariunzul Gantulga: Which scenes were filmed in Mongolia?
Uisenma Borchu:We filmed in Mongolia, in Ulanbaatar. I was looking for the role of the GRANDMOTHER so my brother Chingunjay Borkhuu, also a filmmaker, helped me to find a character like that. He works in Germany but also in Ulanbaatar. My brother Chingunjav Borkhuu and Sven Zellner made the film “ Price of Gold “. A documentary about mongolian goldminers in the Gobi desert. We work together. So Sven Zellner is the director of Photography in my film “Dont look at me that way“. We made several films together.
Ariunzul Gantulga: Tell us about the other documentaries you made?
Uisenma Borchu: I made 3 documentaries.
DONNE MOI PLUS is a film about two women getting to know each other, naked in one appartement. Naked because I wanted to get beyond the clothing. For me being naked and to see someone naked is the pureness. You see what it’s all about, it is just the human being. The beauty and the truth of the human being which is expressed in this way. That was the motivation to make this film.
HIMMEL VOLLER GEIGEN is a film about an old woman who teaches the violine with 89 years of age. She and me have conversations about life, love and death.
I sing with her “Zadgaan Zaraan“ ( my favorite mongolian song ) and she is trying to play it on the piano. An old german woman who lived in societies like the Third Reich, survived the 2nd world war as a young woman, then singing with me Zadgaan Zaraan…. how beautiful is that…!!? I love this contrast and I want to bring it together in my films.
KHUYAGAA is a film about a nomad boy. I made this documentary for german childrens Television KIKA. It was a serie about how other children live all over the world.
Ariunzul Gantulga: Do you think about moving back here in Mongolia? Will you make any movie in here?
Uisenma Borchu: I can imagine of course to live in Mongolia again. I was born here and my roots are strong.
Even though I was raised most of the time in Germany I am mongolian because this distance makes you aware of where you from.
Through the years my parents taught me and they are still teaching me about the life of a mongolian nomad, the mentality. I appreciate it. In general I could live everywhere because I do have my roots in my heart.
I come to Mongolia soon. We are planning a documentary here. And of course I have already ideas and projects for a feature fiction film in Mongolia. That is one of my biggest goals.
Ariunzul Gantulga: Do you think it’ll be a challenge to finance your film in Mongolia?
Uisenma Borchu: I don’t want to be opressed by money, we do have our everyday problems already. I mean paying the rent and so on. But in filmmaking I don’t want to bow down and change my thoughts just to get money. Especially in our capitalistic world you must reflect on the time you live in and make your art that is untouched by money or corruption. That is rare. Especially in the film industry. Good films are copied by others trying to be successful. But if you cannot find your own film language I can’t see success.
The film culture is so young and there are great innovative films waiting to be made but we must look for new ways and be open minded. If the Mongolian film industry is fresh like that then I am so curious to see these films and to be also a part of it.