Jan Peters – Aber der Sinn des Lebens (1990 – 1996)

Aber den Sinn des Lebens hab’ ich immer noch nicht rausgefunden / … but I Still Haven’t Figured Out the Meaning of Life (OmeU)

Every year on his birthday, Jan Peters filmed one reel of Super-8 material; later on he turned to video. In these few minutes of film he reveals something from and about himself. Maybe it is exhibitionism – the way he chatters on, until the blotches on the film indicate the end of the reel. Enthusiastic, sometimes tired, often doubtful, he, like everyone else, quarrels with what has come about from his own actions. On top of this, Peters, the filmmaker, blurs the individual of the same name with his dense texts and images to create something quite different: Jan Peters, the fictional character.

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Jan Peters was born in 1966 in Hanover. He studied at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg (HfbK) and is co-founder of the filmmakers’ collective “Abbildungszentrum” (founded 1994). Peters lives and works as a filmmaker, radio play author and video artist in Berlin.

Jan Peters is a central figure on the German Super 8 film scene – even though, unlike many other cine-film enthusiasts, he is no purist when it comes to his film stock. For some time now he has been shooting films in formats other than just Super 8, making use of a wide variety of other media, from the video camera to Mini-DV to the simple video function built into digital cameras.

Nevertheless, his oeuvre would be inconceivable without Super 8. This goes especially for his autobiographical diary films (“Ich bin 24”, etc.), which he has been producing once a year since 1990 in the form of a cinematic annual report. These films are shaped to a great extent by the technical and formal idiosyncrasies of what today can almost be called an historical amateur film format. For this series, still today a “work in progress”, he uses a whole range of different Super 8 cameras both with and without sound, loaded with both new Super 8 film and old stock he finds on the flea market, multiply exposed, self-developed and in some cases with elaborately edited audio and video tracks. Particularly in recent years, he has increasingly combined and edited the capricious negative film stock using digital materials and methods.

When in 1990 Peters first spontaneously stepped in front of a Super 8 camera in his early days as a film student at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg, “to take stock of my life”, it was not yet foreseeable that this stocktaking would turn into a long-term project. The author bashfully relegated the first film in what would become the “Ich bin…” series, “Ich bin 24”, to a dark drawer. The “up and coming young filmmaker” (in his own words) found his film much too private, dramaturgically immature and technically deficient, embarrassed at the way he – standing in front of a poster for Godard’s “? bout du souffle” of all things – philosophizes about his fragmented existence and the arduousness of artistic (and personal) development – while continually colliding with the microphone that conspicuously protrudes into the frame above his head.

It was not until a party where various films were shown in the wee hours that “Ich bin 24” had its unplanned public premiere. Peters was astonished to realize how well the film worked in front of an audience. Surprisingly enough, its very lack of perfection was what amused viewers the most. The dynamic that develops in the gap between intention and accident, the private and the public, has fascinated the filmmaker ever since. His more or less spontaneous monologues, spoken directly into the camera, still appear today to have surfaced in public “by accident”, representing in reality a private filmed journal for the author’s eyes only.

This impression is further underscored by the various technical mishaps from which hardly any of the “Ich bin…” films is spared. Sometimes there’s a break in the sound, and sometimes the picture is framed wrong so that the important action takes place outside the field of vision. The camera(s) wobble, fall down and are picked up again; the lenses fog up and are wiped clean, and with predictable regularity the sudden end of the Super 8 reel interrupts Peters in the midst of a heated monologue.

Peters, who cites American experimental film maker Anne Charlotte Robertson, who has been keeping a diary on Super 8 for more than 20 years, as an important role model, thus made a virtue of necessity and began to deliberately use the random and hardly avoidable technical slip-ups as dramaturgical elements. This includes on the one hand making the most of the actual “accidents” that occur and not simply smoothing them out in the cutting room, while on the other hand Peters also began to intervene in the material as editor of the accidental storyline. The line between surrender to the unavoidable and joy in wilful manipulation is by nature a fluid one, and a distinction that is difficult to discern in the finished product. What at first glance seems to be a spontaneously created amateur film only reveals itself on closer scrutiny to be an ingeniously staged poem on film about the meaning of life and art, about the transience of the material and the (futile) desire for authenticity.

Jan Peters has today achieved the status in the German-speaking world of a genuine authority on Super 8 technology with regard to both recording and developing the film, post-production and editing. In his workshops and seminars he familiarizes his students with the virtually unlimited possibilities offered by this almost forgotten type of film stock. But at the same time he tries to show them how the very technical deficiencies of this material (as well as their own shortcomings as craftsmen) can sometimes be decidedly productive for the development of their work. Not infrequently it is precisely the small mistakes, Peters says, that make a film interesting and set it apart from the others.








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