A Place called Lloyd

About this film

A huge, over-towering hangar is opened. The static camera is positioned at a distance, so that the full grandeur of the hangar and simultaneously that of the Bolivian airline Lloyd Aereo Boliviano is shown. Danish director Sebastian Cordes’s work is a record of loyalty and of pride. Despite Lloyd’s bankruptcy, employees turn up every day for work. They go about their daily business, filmed in beautiful shots by Cordes, and only the quietude in each frame suggests that it’s not business-as-usual. Yet, there is a remarkable resilience in the voices of the people, who tell us their stories, stories that take us through the history of the airline and shows us the personal attachment of the employees to a company that used to be the pride of the nation.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
Sebastian, you’re a Danish filmmaker. Lloyd is set in Bolivia. Can you tell me how you found the story for your film?

I read an article in the Danish newspaper Politiken, and thought that this had already been made into films and tv-shows, but apparently no one had done anything about it. I was on my way back into film again, after having dreaded it and stayed away a few years to study. So we quickly assembled a team and got funding to go there. But as we didn't know if they were going to be there six months after, we didn't bother spending loads of time searching for funds, so we got the quickest we could get. A little here, a little there, and then The Copenhagen Film Workshop supported us, which is brilliant in that it gives you access to state of the art equipment, included in their support. We wrote an email to Lloyd, and they responded quickly that we were very welcome. And off we went shortly after.

A national airline is, to me, always linked to national pride, and we can see in your film that this is, in parts at least, crumbling. Have you experienced any resistance from the Bolivian side while filming? I can imagine that some people were unwilling to go on camera.

Quite the opposite. The first answer we got from them was literally 'finally someone wants to tell our story'. And after the CEO held a big speech in the hangar, where he talked of us filming them as a testament to the work they do, everyone was eager to help. Of course we weren't there to defend their version of the dispute with governments, lawsuits etc. so we stayed out of that, and only mention it in a text in the film. What was interesting, and we made this clear to them, was that we were in awe of the pride they took in showing up everyday, as a Bolivian Sisyphus story, with nothing to do, but doing it anyway – precisely the temporality that they inhibit with this task was interesting.

Speaking of the nationalism, that feeling was strong with them. Bolivians still have a navy for example, even though they don't own any land close to the sea – they lost it in the 1880's. The photographer Nick Ballon, who took the first pictures I saw of Lloyd, is actually doing a piece on that now. But loyalty might be a better word. Loyalty to the company, one of the oldest airlines in the world (from 1925) – which everyone in South America knew. They used to be spotted as 'Employees of LAB' when they walked into a restaurant in town. Imagine that. And then look at the deserted place now. It takes a special kind of love of a place to keep coming back. And I will say this, I have seldom met more welcoming and loving people in my life.

The film is a document about several things. One could say that it is about Lloyd Aereo Boliviano, the dying national airline. But I find that you focus on the employees, who are very attached to this airline, rather than the airline itself. I didn’t have the feeling that the employees were still returning to their workplace for the sake of their job, but more because they had a deeply rooted sense of pride. What was your impression when you got there?

Haha, you must be used to watching films without much movement or people in them. The critique I get from national television or people that watch it is that it takes too long before people speak, or even appear on screen.

But it's true, the juridical problems and the detailed history is not something we focus on at all. The official founding document, printed in brass and hung on a wall, is read out loud at one point, but that's it. It's more an experience of a place than a portrait of a place. This very much includes the architecture and the silent way in which they work or move about the space. It became very clear immediately when we got there, we have to document this respectfully, but also importantly – true to the experience. It's a magical place in some ways, it's a world of its own. I wanted the gaze to be very obvious. Here we are, looking at a place. Being welcomed into it. This also meant no interviews or music. We have monologues directly to the camera, as if you were addressed directly as an audience. As a person. And the stories told are not something we looked for with intent, it's the stories they want to tell. In this sense we were very uncritical of the facts, if the story is good we'll take it. It's more of a poem or a novel. The producer Niels Wee framed it as extraordinary banality.

I know that you are very much an admirer of philosophy. How does this influence your filmmaking. Is there something in a certain stream of philosophy that guides you in your general approach to filmmaking, and in your approach to Lloyd in particular?

The more time that passes since I've studied philosophy I can feel that I just shamelessly put together everything I like, and don't follow the strict interpretations any more. There's people I've studied with that will sign on that. But what sticks with me as an important philosophical endeavour is to maintain the internal logic of a concept, be it philosophy, film or food. And I don't mean you should follow genre codes or a strict rationality. (Especially not rationality). But follow your concept or style to the very end, and I'll watch it. The philosophers I read and use are those that go back and revisit concepts and world views, be it Heidegger, Walter Benjamin or the greatest living philosopher Giorgio Agamben. Over and over they find that questions we thought was answered seems to be the most unanswered ones. What does it mean to pass on experience rather than information for example. This is what separates artistic documentary from journalistic practice. Our relation to time is maybe the most important when speaking of film – as it is the quintessential art form dealing with this very concept. Subjective time opposed to objective time, if that even exists. It is sculpting in time, as Tarkovski said. But also, following people like Deleuze, that everything is a sign and therefore we might not need words to tell a story. As John Cage wrote in 'Silence', “A piece of string, a sunset. Each acts.”.

In many ways I am very opposed Aristotle's legacy of separating form and content. We dealt with this discussion with the editing of Lloyd as well. This might be a legacy so strong that it ruins most of cinema. A script, or a story, is often the thing that people focus on. In Danish cinema the curse is the Dogma95, where the scripts were so strong. In terms of dealing with the place called Lloyd, repetition was important. So we couldn't just tell people that repetition and everyday habits were important at this place, we had to make the film repetitive itself. In that sense our guiding figure in the editing process was the minimalist composer Steve Reich. He's not a philosopher, but as Deleuze says: “More important than thought is what triggers the thought. More important than philosophy is poetry.” I have to say that I really like Slavoj Zizek as well. Even though the idiot was pro-Trump, he is as magnificent as one can be. Maybe Slavoj Zizek isn't even a philosopher, maybe he's the town idiot we all need to trigger our thoughts. And if I should finish with another quote, it is taken from Heidegger’s favourite poet, Hölderlin: “A poet can make something interesting, just by pointing at it.” This is all we did. Pointed at tress, buildings, strings, sunset and people.

What would you say if I was to put forward the idea that Lloyd isn’t so much a film but more a succession of photographs. I like the distinction between photography and cinema on the basis of time and movement. Photographs are often associated with death, with the quite literal stoppage of time. This stoppage is the main thrust of your film, I find. And I’m not even mentioning the stillness of your frames to support my idea here...

Well I do find a lot of inspiration in photo books and paintings so that's probably not far fetched.The idea that you have to spend an enormous time creating each frame as if it were a photograph or a painting is a method I practice. Although the very possibility of something happening is at the very core of the film as well. We did make a pledge at the beginning of shooting that we would not have one single ugly shot in the film. That was simply a rule. This might be supporting the feeling of photographs that move. We wanted to make an ode to the place, and we weren't afraid of the idyllic.

Can you tell me a little bit about the post-production? How much footage did you have and how did you go about creating a solid narrative out of the fragments you recorded?

Because our concept was so well thought out, we didn't shoot very much. I think we had a little less than four hours of material in total. I think the whole post-production was a month, because we didn't go for a solid narrative but wanted to keep it in fragments. Of course this was a process and it was the first time working with Anders Obbekjær, the editor. But as you can see in the film, there's a reason it won't be the last.

I also wonder about the colours and the sound. Is the ambient sound we hear in the film direct sound?

It is ambient sound, yes. At the premiere there was actually someone who stood up after the film, and said it couldn't possibly be true that it was sound from the place, and that all those birds must have been added. But they weren't. Imagine these abandoned hangars and buildings, it's a perfect place for birds to have a home. And the sound of the airplanes are from the newly opened airport right next to the premises of Lloyd. Nothing but a rusty fence between them. In terms of colour we tried to be true to the dustiness of the air, the dryness of the grass and then to keep the blue colour – their trademark colour – as often as possible in the frame. To create the feeling that we were constantly confined to the same space. This is of course very demanding, because there's no escaping the still images, the birds and the abandoned buildings. But cinema should be demanding.

One last question: in what way does slowness ‘feed’ your films? Is slowness a guiding principle in your cinema, or is the narrative the guiding principle on the basis of which you decide your aesthetics?

You can say that to make a slow film is in itself a very political move, insofar as this is a statement, a wish to tear down or propose an alternative way of thinking, of sensing. In this way, I am very interested in boredom as well, as perhaps the last way for art to be opposed to the capitalistic power structures. Being spectacular is something the commercials do a lot better than the mainstream film. And I'd rather watch two hours of good commercials or youtubers than most European cinema. Minimalism is to me the way forward, in my own work at least. But I will say that I am not against Hollywood productions, I find them to be truly honest in their way of portraying the world. They know they are not realistic, they are illusions in the propagandistic way. Big lies in their world view, but totally true to themselves. What I'm opposed to, or what I don't like to watch myself, is this middle ground that tries to be artistic, but still follows Aristotelian structures, or use the same 2nd world war theme over and over again. This could be Haneke or Son of Saul. I like the two ends of the spectrum, Sensory Lab's Leviathan or American comedy. I'm a big Will Ferrel and Louis CK fan in that sense. As it's the case with great philosophy, it is challenging norms, often asking questions that has no answers.

I would say that it's by coincidence that I came upon the method of slowing down, and it seems that whenever I think of an idea or a place to portray, it circulates around slowness. Be it comic book artists, refugees or Bolivian airlines.

My mom used to tell a story that when I was little we were in a hurry, and she kept on pulling my arm and said I should walk faster, until I dramatically stopped and said “Mom, there are two different kinds of people in the world. Those that walk fast and those that walk slow. And I walk slow.” It's hard to argue against that logic. It simply is a way of looking at the world to me, as the flaneur, the observer, the voyeur. And to be an observer you have to pause where others continue to walk.

Many thanks for this interview.