Sebastian Meise & Thomas Reider in an interview about OUTING



«Statistics have come out only recently saying that in Germany alone, there are around 250.000 people with a pedophilic inclination, who do not want to act on it. Those circumstances gave us the idea to focus on a person who is as confusing as the subject itself.» Sebastian Meise and Thomas Reider on their documentary OUTING.

During your research for Stillleben, did you get so engrossed in the subject that you decided to follow it up with a further project, a documentary? How did you find your protagonist?
Sebastian Meise: Our research began with a project at the Berlin Charité for people with a pedophilic inclination who don’t want to act on it. Initially, the project inspired our feature film Stillleben, which is also about a man who tries to control a pedophilic obsession throughout his lifetime. Conducting extensive research, we managed to get into contact with pedophile men, three of whom spontaneously agreed to talk to us about their problem. Quite soon after, we started filming those conversations.

Thomas Reider: After every shoot, we came back with even more questions because we had never before had the opportunity to talk about the subject in such depth with a person who is himself affected. Thus, we returned to our protagonist Sven time and again, so that our cooperation ended up lasting four years. We wanted to record that research-like procedure and let it reflect in our film. That’s why we included a lot of Sven’s own material ? his camcorder-recordings, his short stories and video-diaries.

You received replies from three people. Did you know from the beginning that Sven would be your protagonist?
Thomas: Yes. He was the most eloquent and open respondent; he had spent many years reflecting on the subject and genuinely wanted to be heard.

Did you have second thoughts about showing this material in public?
Sebastian Meise: Of course, we discussed it many times over the years ? between us and together with Sven. The problem is that we don’t even want to imagine the contents of his fantasies. That’s what makes it so difficult to deal with this subject. And it’s probably the reason why we stigmatize people like Sven. Yet, one should try to approach the subject in an unbiased manner in order to allow a personal and a social discourse to happen in the first place.

Thomas Reider: For us, the deciding factor was Sven’s wish to be perceived by the public as the person he really is. It wasn’t always easy for us to deal with such content: what he has been through in the last ten years, possible ways to compensate his inclination, feasible alternatives, and the potentially obsessive character of the issue. However, the message was more important and took priority over our doubts.

Was it difficult to construct a filmic narrative around this protagonist?
Sebastian Meise: Once we had decided to make a film with Sven, it was clear that it wouldn’t be a documentary on a theme, but a portrait. We wanted to convey the subject through Sven and his story. A decisive factor here is the sequence of events. Thus, his life made up our narrative.

Thomas Reider: We wanted to show such a person’s everyday life, as difficult as it may be. We also found out that there is a wide range of varying expert opinions on the subject. There are different stances as to whether it is an illness or not. It’s quite a novel approach to try and differentiate between the inclination or disorder and an actual transgression. Statistics have come out only recently saying that in Germany alone, there are around 250.000 people with a pedophilic inclination, who do not want to act on it. Those circumstances gave us the idea to focus on a person who is as confusing as the subject itself.

How did your relationship with the protagonist develop - between sympathizing and inevitably rejecting a part of his personality?
Sebastian Meise: On a personal, human level, we got along very well. Of course, you can’t judge him for an inclination that developed for unknown reasons in his youth. Furthermore, Sven is genuinely trying; he wants an outside perspective, so as not to risk euphemizing his problems. However, we keep catching ourselves questioning him, analyzing what he says. That unsettled us; here is a person prepared to expose his inner self, almost obsessively honest, and in return we remain skeptical. That’s when one becomes aware of one’s own limitations.

Thomas Reider: For a long time, Sven speaking about himself and his fantasies in such a reflected way was disturbing to us. But over time we came to understand that, having confronted the subject permanently for 15 years, he was able to express himself to the point. He wasn’t telling us momentary thoughts, but recurring thoughts that were haunting him all the time. He never refused to answer any of our questions; he laid everything open and kept initiating a dialogue. Thus, Sven’s genuine desire to confront things made it easier to deal with those facets of his personality.

The home-video sequence at the beginning is a kind of prologue, which also addresses the right to protect one’s own image. In photos and film sequences, people around him are often made anonymous, which emphasizes Sven’s isolation from his surroundings even more.
Thomas Reider: Sven agonizes about people not knowing him or anything about him. His secret always makes him an outsider, no matter who he meets. By not being able to talk about such an important inner conflict, he never reaches a genuine interpersonal level of communication. In this sense, his isolation is also linked to his inclination. In our film Sven tries to express something, which he thought would have to remain unmentioned his whole life.

Sebastian Meise: His permanent confrontation with himself and his desires is a lifelong task he has set himself. It is necessary in order to find people, who are prepared to go the journey with him, who accept him and deal with him. Be it therapists, family or friends?

Interview: Karin Schiefer
March 2012