Sebastian Brameshuber in conversation about AND THERE WE ARE, IN THE MIDDLE


...  becoming an adult, but also “standing between the chairs,” between demand and reality. » Sebastian Brameshuber in conversation about AND THERE WE ARE – IN THE MIDDLE.

What does your personal relationship to the town of Ebensee look like?
Sebastian Brameshuber: I grew up very close to Ebensee and I rode through Ebensee on my way to school towards Bad Ischl. Ebensee is no particularly beautiful town but, through its industrial flair, has a certain allure. Up to the end of the 19th century it was only accessible by boat or overland via Bad Ischl. That’s why a different dialect is spoken there than on the north shore of Lake Traun. There’s a rivalry between Gmunden, where I come from, and Ebensee, that is somewhat bizarre, but can be explained historically. Gmunden was always bourgeois and rich; Ebensee was a worker’s town and poor. Accordingly, the relationship was characterized by little mutual respect.

Was it the incidents that took place during the memorial service at the former Ebensee concentration camp in 2009 that inspired you to do this film project, or was it also your own memories of adolescence in a small provincial town?
Sebastian Brameshuber: In a way it was both. The incidents, which I found out about while I was abroad, were the initial spark in any case. I well remember growing up on the countryside, the boredom that one tried, or also did not try to escape from. Back then I was dying to get away from there; I didn’t necessarily get the impression from the young people I shot the film with that it draws them away. A personal connection to the incidents during the memorial service also exists because my father was a teacher in Traunkirchen, a town between Gmunden and Ebensee. At that time there was a so-called “foreigners’ class,” a class made up of pupils from various crisis regions of this world, since the town had a refugee home in a former hotel. At the beginning of the 1990s, an arson attack on this hotel was carried out by young neo-Nazis. One of the perpetrators was the son of a well-known family. It caused a great uproar that he had taken part in it. Prior to the attack, my father had often invited him over and tried to convince the young man to change his attitude.

One of the opening images is the view into a tunnel, into a black hole in the middle of the picture. It points to a blind spot, to something left in the dark. The film consciously does not look concretely back to this occurrence, or into Ebensee’s history with the Nazi concentration camp, but instead poses the question: How does the present look in a town if one blanks out its history? How does the history rub off on a place although or because one does not deal with it? Actually, an interpretation of history in the negative.
Sebastian Brameshuber: It’s a blind spot. In Austria, dealing with the past was not and is not fostered in many social classes. And the generations coming now have even less of a connection to National Socialism. Nearly all the grandparents of the young people I shot with were already born after the war. The distance of time is growing bigger. Through the concentration camp that was there, the task of a more concrete involvement falls to Ebensee, even it is a “negative” one, that is, an inverted one. I’m thinking of the teenagers standing in the underpass and making stupid jokes about the tunnel. These jokes came out of nowhere; I didn’t encourage them to talk about it. The taboo is a constant issue. The parents don’t want to address the issue; they rather object to it and don’t want anything to do with it. It is put into perspective (“There are also serious problems today.”) or pushed aside. Not only the people who live directly next to the former concentration camp, but also those who live further away from it perceive this work of preserving memories as bothersome. I myself was stunned when I realized in the course of my work on the film that the local gun club rents a tunnel, which is part of the concentration camp facility, and holds shooting practice there. I couldn’t believe that no one in town objected to it. After all, there is a contemporary history museum in Ebensee. Nothing that happens there is illegal, but it is utterly irreverent. If one grows up in such an environment, then the young people’s heckling during the concentration camp memorial service doesn’t particularly amaze me anymore. My film is not a whistleblower film. I captured things that I encountered.

In the film you show a form of working over the 2009 disturbance by a teacher.
Sebastian Brameshuber: I attended the court proceedings. There were four defendants; in addition, seven witnesses, all of whom were in the tunnel during this action, were called upon. That means at least eleven people were involved. I was still pondering at that time whether I should make this the topic of the film. Since eleven young people were involved, the conclusion for me suggested that it was not a matter of a social fringe phenomenon, which is the case with neo-Nazis, but that we were standing socially in the middle here. That was my starting point. I was less interested in what exactly occurred, and one doesn’t find out in the film anything else except that a serious disturbance took place in which the young people shouted “Sieg Heil!,” among other things. What interested me much more was the way the local population dealt with it. For me that was a mirror image of how unpleasant history is dealt with, namely not at all. Just as one knows from one’s own history how hard it is to realize that one’s own grandparents were a part of the machinery of destruction and this system of injustice, it is difficult for local people to see that young people from the town, who they know, who are perhaps classmates or children of friends, are involved in such a thing and, as a result, place themselves in a more or less immediate proximity to the biggest crimes in human history. It is very difficult to objectively keep the facts apart. Such an incident make things looks very bad. Especially in this region in Upper Austria, where a far-right scene has traditionally existed. Strong action has to be taken against an incident like that; nevertheless, for me the truth lies in between: in the press one speaks of a neo-Nazi action, in town of a boyish prank. If one keeps both extremes in mind, then both are attempts to hush things. On the one hand, by pushing the whole matter to the edge of society and saying those were neo-Nazis. In this way they are labeled and removed from the middle of society. Those who talk about a boyish prank try to push it into the sphere of childhood, which is not to be taken seriously. In my view, it is a phenomenon that occurs in the middle of society, where the culture of remembrance is pushed into the background through the basic negligence that is so typical for Austria, as well as through the increasing temporal distance to the years before 1945. That is indeed the really alarming circumstance here.

So the work of the teacher in the film seems to be an exceptional phenomenon?
Sebastian Brameshuber: The teacher is a religion teacher who discusses ethical questions in class. When I was there doing research, the topic of dilemma story was being covered, which had nothing to do with the incidents in Ebensee. I then developed a dilemma story concerning this incident, which was subsequently filmed in class. Many people had complained about the press coverage of the incident and about the tough dealing with the young people at the trials, but apart from exceptions, there was no discussion in town about the incidents, not even at school level. I didn’t want to make a film that leaves one feeling completely hopeless. One can hardly change families and their dealing with history; possibilities are rather offered by school. I was looking for a scene that opened a window to a possible way of working over the topic.

Twice already you have mentioned the middle of society as the core of this lack of dealing with history. At the beginning one hears the title of the film as a line in a folk song. Which other meanings does the term “middle” have in this film?
Sebastian Brameshuber: Towards the end of the editing process I was very dissatisfied with the working title Ebensee, because it not only has to do with Ebensee. Some things are more clearly perceptible in Ebensee, because the history and its denial, respectively, suppression, immediately take effect through the existence of the former concentration camps. I could have probably made a film about this topic in many towns in Austria. With the “middle” I also mean being young, being halfway between childhood and becoming an adult, but also “standing between the chairs,” between demand and reality. In this way I mean the demand from the institutional side to come to terms with history and the Nazi past, and then the reality that it does not take place in real life and in the families. I grew up in this region and I first found out about the existence of these concentration camps when I was twenty and completed my alternative military service, although I grew up just a few kilometers away. It wasn’t an issue at school, or at home, although I by no means come from a completely apolitical family home. 

Beyond reflecting on a problematic dealing with history, And There We Are – In the Middle is a very beautiful film about the coming of age. You have found protagonists who not only stand between childhood and adulthood, but also between the consciousness of tradition and the longing for the wider world outside. How did you find them?
Sebastian Brameshuber: In cooperation with the Ebensee secondary modern school I held a casting call, which approx. 50 young people answered. I selected four of them, and three ultimately remained in the film: Michael, who told me he had never been abroad and also did not aspire to that at all because he has everything in Ebensee. I also repeatedly tried to place my characters in contrast to my own experience as a young person in this region. We were a big family, so it was a question of cost to travel, but I would have very gladly traveled. I was rather ashamed that I had hardly travelled. It seemed provincial to me. In Ebensee, people are proud of their own town. What impressed me about Michael was that he clearly positioned himself. With Andi, it was his musical interest that drew my attention; his penchant for weapons, which at that time was more definitive than his musical ambitions, first started crystallizing after we had started filming. What interested me was that he stood between two very diverse interests; that he was considering two such different professional paths. Ramona comes from a large family and lives in the Finkerleiten housing estate, very close to the concentration camp cemetery. All three of them seemed to me as not being conventional documentary film protagonists. I was neither looking for anti-heroes, nor for particularly extroverted people. During the selection a feeling certainly played a part; I found all three of them very fitting. They are rather tight-lipped and in line with the average young people who live there. If one looks at Ramona on the monitor or on the film screen, then it quickly becomes clear that she has a very cinematic demeanor in her silentness. Michael, on the other hand, proved to be a very versatile and active character. And it was the same with Andi. They went through a chapter in their lives in which so much changes.

You succeeded in a gaining a very natural access to the young people, who you partly have in front of the camera as conservation partners, partly observe from a certain distance, almost exclusively in fixed shots. Why did you decide for this form of camera work?
Sebastian Brameshuber: A part of the film was planned in fixed shots. The fact that we then worked even more with it goes back to the fact that it, as already mentioned, was difficult to keep the young people in rein, to get them in a format so that one can draw a “frame.” Most of the time they are not alone, but in the group. It is a time where the inner turmoil also manifests itself in a physical restlessness. I began at one time or another to work very strictly. We put microphones on them, set the camera up and then most of the time I gave them a concrete topic. I always went a week before the beginning of the filming block, enquired about what was new and talked about what I would’ve liked to deepen after reviewing the material. As time went on, this procedure became a routine. Going with the camera and simply just observing wouldn’t have worked. This camera position again created a distance to offset the closeness on our relationship level. I myself am rather a distanced person and I prefer to take a step back and look at things from my own distance. Sometimes a lot of persuading was necessary, particularly with Ramona, out of the simple reason that I could see the teenage times better from a boy’s perspective than from a girl’s.

Interview: Karin Schiefer
February 2014