Interview with director Inna Knaus


Inna Knaus was born in Soviet Russia. Her family moved to Germany when she was 10. She learned classical piano from 8 to 21 years old. She took part in the first edition of the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2003. Inna studied film with professors Wim Wenders, Fatih Akin and Pepe Danquart. During and after the studies she worked on numerous film sets in several positions. In the years after the diploma she has been working as an online producer at the online editorial of Germany’s biggest news station: On the side she supported the International Filmfest Hamburg as guest coordinator and had a teaching assignment for filmmaking at the University of Bremen. She directed and shot image films for artists, comedians, musicians. But the most recent accomplishment is that she accidentally made her father famous on Youtube with her short documentary about his self made hifi speakers.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

Yes, I can clearly remember that moment. When I was finishing school I’ve already been fooling around with editing, that was about 2002. So I had no idea of digital editing yet and I was doing it with two video recorders. Playing my material on one and recording on the other. Of course that was not very precise, but I had fun doing it. And later that year, when I did my first apprenticeship in a production company, I did my first editing with a computer program and I couldn’t believe, how easy it was to tell a story! That’s how I started to make my first 1 minute films.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

No, I don’t think so. All you have to do is to have enough fire to try things out, maybe read some books and watch some YouTube videos (there’s so much knowledge out there!). You  learn a lot by realizing your own projects, making mistakes. But of course you need some kind of a network. So it’s important to find likeminded people, to get honest feedback from.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Well, with time I find it a lot easier to get started, than to keep going. The start is always fresh, you’re inspired and have a certain drive. But when you continue, there’s always going to be obstacles. Things don’t turn out the way you imagined. People don’t come on board that you hoped you could work with, your confidence seems to vanish. I’ve fought against lots of creative blocks. Some lasted for years. And it’s very painful to drop a project, that you used to believe in. Sometimes it’s hard to reanimate the fire. But I learned, that you have to pick it up again and fight for it, even if you don’t believe in it anymore. Even if it doesn’t feel good. It never feels good to go out of the comfort zone. And it’s very uncomfortable to face your own failures. But it’s the only thing that will bring us forward. I learned that by finishing my last film „Queen for a Day“, which cost me lots of nerves and my peace of mind.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

It was one week before shooting the finale on the roof. The date was set and could not be moved anymore. But I absolutely had nothing ready yet. I didn’t have the roof, I didn’t have a band or the film team. I felt helpless and scared, that in just one week I would not be able to make it. But then I just surrendered. I am usually not very religious. But I felt so lost, that I sent a prayer to God, saying that I didn’t know what to do. And I think, just by letting go of control for this one moment, I was able to see the next step, which was to ask a guy I knew to be my production manager for that one shooting day. He said yes and from then on everything else seemed to fall into place almost by itself. That guy, Max, he organized so many of the things for the shoot that I didn’t have to take care of anymore and I could just take care of the creative process. So, the lesson is, I guess, to breathe in and out deeply and to let go of fear and control. Then the magic can happen!

  • How do you find or generate ideas for documentaries or is it a different process for every project?

Since I have been working mostly autobiographically there’s always rather too many ideas than too little. Whenever I am moved emotionally by something I experience or when I feel that I have made important progress in life or I’ve learned a lesson – I have the need to share it with the world. So there’s always more than enough material for me. The problem is rather to decide – which stories of all those I have in mind are worth telling, worth the time of searching for materials inside my archive, of looking through my photos and tapes to digitize exactly what I need.

  • Can you describe your approach to writing treatments?

When I want to tell personal stories, from my own point of view, it is important, that it doesn’t get too private. I have to find a universal truth in my own experience, so that I can tell a story in the way, that others can relate to it, no matter how specific that experience might be to me and my life. So in a treatment I go from detail to the bigger picture. My reader has to see the greater value in me telling my personal story. But I don’t find it hard to find a generalized truth in any of my own experiences.

  • Do you ever use the camera yourself?

Yes, I’ve always been filming everything around me. So a lot of my stories consist of my own material. I also use the material that my father filmed in the 90’es, for example. But I love to broaden the visual texture by adding fictitious scenes shot by professional camera people as well.

(If you’d like to see more of my work, check out my YouTube channel „A Life in Music“)

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

No. I don’t think so. I think our main goal as the filmmaker is to tell some sort of truth. And it doesn’t matter, if it’s fiction or documentary or experimental. If I can tell my own personal truth in a convincing way, I will make somebody feel something and that’s all that matters. If somebody can feel my truth, maybe they will be more open to feeling and sharing the truth of their own existence. And I think the world could be a better place, if we allow ourselves and each other to be more authentic and truthful with each other.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

At film festivals you can experience a whole width of modern day filmmaking, which is very inspiring, I think. If it’s an international filmfestival, you have the privilege to see, what moves the (creative) people of the world in the given time and moment. You can see parallels and differences between cultures and continents. This is very enriching. Also, of course, to be in contact with other filmmakers, watch films together, talk about them – this is something I’ve been missing since finishing film studies. Just completely and intensely diving into all that film stuff.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

Again, I think the most important thing is WHAT you have to say. If you believe in your message, vision or idea, you can use whatever that is needed, to tell the story accordingly. Of course it can be refreshing to display new visual styles, shooting or animation techniques. But if there’s no substance behind it, it remains shallow and -for me- useless. It should never be style over substance, like we see in advertisement. Auteurs should figure out themselves or with the help of their director of photography or the editor, what style will suit their story best.