Toronto-based outfit Syndicado has acquired world rights for Daniel Kötter’s “Landshaft,” which is competing in the Burning Lights sidebar of Swiss international documentary film festival Visions du Réel. In Germany, the film will be distributed by Arsenal Filmverleih.
Shot in the form of a road movie as the director travels across Eastern Armenia in an old Lada, the film offers a striking contrast between the region’s peaceful-looking mountains and the voice of his passengers, its inhabitants, who live in the shadow of the threat of war.
They speak about the six-week conflict waged in 2020 by neighbouring Azerbaijan over control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Although this disputed region is located further to the south, the conflict has now moved further up the border, and runs through the Sotk gold mine, whose concession has been granted to a Russian company by the Armenians.
Kötter shot the film between the spring of 2021 and April 2022. He enlisted the help of local fixers and an Armenian ethnologist, who played an essential role in building trust with the locals. He explains how he discovered the car early on while filming through a chance encounter, and decided to make it the key character.
“I don’t want to tell their stories, because who am I as a German filmmaker to go there and tell their story? So, I needed to find the kind of dramaturgy that reflects my position as a visitor. This is how the road movie came up: I [travel] through the landscape and have encounters with these people.”
Kötter, who previously worked on a trilogy on urbanization on the peripheries of Tehran (“Hashti Tehran,” 2017), Cairo (“Desert View,” 2018) and Addis Ababa (“Rift Finfinnee,” 2020), says that while his work remains anchored in concrete case studies, his films are a kind of allegory: his goal is to create empathy with what he calls “psychogeographic situations” in different parts of the world.
“If you use a border to divide places, that creates spatial situations, and if the military is involved and extractivism [mining] is involved, this creates feelings within the human-beings living there.
“In this case, the prevailing emotion is fear. The fear is inscribed in the landscape because they are surrounded by mountains, controlled by the Azerbaijanis,” he explains.
The filmmaker kept his camera at eye level to create a feeling of empathy with the protagonists.
“The film does not show war or military equipment or the mine: sometimes what is not seen is more important than what it shown. I do think it’s a film that tries to create empathy with human and non-human actors on the ground, and it’s a very deliberate decision that the camera stays on the ground,” explains Kötter, who chose not to use drone shots he had made during filming.
Kötter, who is also a theater director and is currently working on a theater project called “Shared Landscapes,” is the producer of “Landshaft.” The creative producer is Jana Cisar.
The film has its world premiere at Visions du Réel on April 23. The festival runs in Nyon until April 30.