Andy Goldsworthy (left) and Thomas Riedelsheimer (right)

ScreenPicks recently posed questions to Thomas Riedelsheimer, the director of the intriguing new documentary Leaning into the Wind.

The film focuses on artist Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor and photographer who often uses elements of the natural world (tree trunks, streams, etc.) in the creation of outdoor sculptures. Riedelsheimer previously had made another documentary focusing on Goldsworthy, Rivers and Tides (2001).

This is the second film that you have directed about Andy Goldsworthy. What about his work appeals to you and why did you decide to make another film about him?

Thomas Riedelsheimer: I guess it is primarily Andy´s personality that keeps me attracted. This man is so full of passion and ideas but also driven by a strange imperative to find out about the human condition and our relation to nature. This intrigues me. But of course, there is also his work that is so full of different layers of feelings and thoughts. I love his orientation towards a kind of performance in nature where his body moving through the land is really the artwork. This was new to me and a lovely new aspect. Also, I guess his work, in general, moved more into a darker side. Digging into the earth, into the stone, lots of stuff dealing with roots and decay. I liked this shift from the airier and maybe romantic feel that Rivers and Tides had to the deeper and darker feel of Leaning into the Wind.

Other films that you have directed (Garden in the Sea, Breathing Earth) also deal with the theme of blending artwork with the natural world.  Is this a topic that especially appeals to you?

TR: I like an artist´s approach to very human questions and our relation to nature for sure is one of the most interesting to me. It is about origin, humbleness and our desire to overcome the division between us and nature, between subject and object. I think it is very much about our yearning to find salvation and comfort in what we might call our origin. And you can learn so many things when you start looking. It is also about awareness and beauty but also relentlessness.

You were also the director of cinematography on Leaning into the Wind. Was there a particular visual style you wanted to implement?

TR: I didn´t have a certain style in mind. For practical reasons, we used a lot of different cameras, bigger ones and smaller ones. I left a camera with Andy´s daughter Holly so she filmed things for me. In general, I  work in a small team, 2-3 people and I tend to have a “toy-box” with me that allows for all kinds of different movements. A light camera crane (which is basically a boom on a tripod), a small stabilized gimbal, things like that. For the shots following Andy up the little stream, I constructed a simple cable cam that was driven by an electric screwdriver. I love to invent these things and create special movements. But also I am very careful about any movement of the camera, it needs a reason.

I avoid special shots that are not justified by a strong reason behind them. In general, I always try to create several layers of meaning for a picture. There is the obvious thing, like floating leaves. But then there is a metaphoric level, like the dance of the leaves becomes a synonym for life. I guess I try to achieve this by concentrating on the essence of the scene and emphasizing it. I always was drawn to using the big screen as a place for poetry not so much for the information.

It is my understanding that you have directed only documentaries. Do you have any interest in directing narrative films?

TR: I am very happy with what I do. Sometimes people would ask: “When do you make a real film?” – meaning a fiction film. I guess a documentary is still regarded as a “little brother“ of a narrative film. I smile at this attitude. I know about the power and satisfaction the whole process of making a documentary can give you. And it is much more about this process than about the film. The whole journey is much more open, intuitive and interesting. As Andy puts it in Rivers and Tides:  Total control can be the death of a work. I totally agree with him and I think in documentary filmmaking you are much more on the out-of-control side of creativity. Fiction is too expensive to allow a loss of control. But that doesn’t mean I would not like to give it a try. I did write a screenplay many years ago, which has been a nice experience. It didn´t make it to a film but it was a great experience. And thinking of narrative I love the world and characters of Haruki Murakami.

What filmmakers do you particularly admire?

TR: I don´t have specific role models. I don´t even watch many films. I tutor films at Ludwigsburg Film School in Germany for 10 years now so I watch a lot of raw footage and rough cuts. There is not a lot of time left to go to film festivals or cinemas or watch at home. And then life is not all about film…

Is there anything, in general, you would like to tell audiences about Leaning into the Wind?

TR: Go watch it! And don´t wait for DVD, go to see it on a screen. I love the cinema as a space for a sensual experience. You can´t have that at home or on your Smartphone. You need the dark space around you, the sound, the image, the audience, the magic.

Would you like to share with us what your future projects are?

TR: For quite a while I am thinking of a film about “algorithms”. I am interested in the philosophical question whether we can predict future from data of the past. In the end, it is the old idea of the world being a complex “machine”. Of course, my view (and hope) is that there is more than just a machine. If I see the leaves on a tree moving in the wind, I can´t imagine we will ever be able to predict the movement of every single leaf. Quantum physics tells us that the observer is part of the experiment and influences the result. There is some magic in the background and I hope the world can never be mastered by a chain of mathematical equations.

Leaning Into the Wind opens in limited theaters Friday.