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Berlin and Beyond Outtakes – “Out of Tibet”

In conversation with Solveig Klaßen, creator of Out of Tibet which we screened at Berlin and Beyond 2001

The story told in your film is a story of two very unusual people, both of whom find it impossible to live in a conventional world. How did they find their way into your life?

I met Sandra and Gelenk at a restaurant. It was very striking to see a man in a lama dress with a woman and a child, so I approached them. Then Sandra called me and we started sharing walks together, more and more often. She told me her life story, how they met, decided despite all odds to be together, and moved to Germany. At that time, I wasn’t thinking about making a film about them or anything like that, but then I had to make a film that would be my film school graduation project, so I couldn’t imagine the story more fascinating then Sandra’s. I like fiction films a lot, but there is a particular intimate closeness with reality, real people, and the sense of ‘now’ in making a documentary film.

Do you identify with her in any way?

Yes. The fact that she was brave to marry a Tibetan lama speaks for itself. Courage and hope mark Sandra’s personal quest. She was very much an outsider in her suburban town where she grew up. Just like her, I am more comfortable with people from foreign cultures than from my own.

Sandra is very adamant about not having conventional life or a secure job. She makes a statement in the film that we often shortchange ourselves in order to earn a living, that making money can be very hard and dishonest. Can you comment on that?

Sandra is having a hard time connecting to her family. When she visits her mother’s house being already married, you can tell how the mother behaves: She is very rigid, detached, very cold. It took Sandra many years to figure out what she was looking for, and, being a person broken inside, she invents the life for herself. She is content leading a very simply existence, having just enough money to get by, being happy to perform her music in front of small crowd of people or even in a subway. It takes a lot of courage to live the way she does and she is adamant about not changing it.

How did she decide to go to India? In the film, we don’t really know what triggered her to visit India.

Well, we are taking about a long period of time. Her family gave up on her when she ran away to Berlin and started experimenting with drugs. And here we are talking about the time in her life between 15 and 22. But she didn’t meet Gelenk till later, when she must have been 30 or so, so between 22 and 30 she was performing music in Berlin and studying Zen and meditation. It was very common in Germany at that time, and still is, to study Eastern philosophies and then visit the country from which the philosophy originated. So, it is not unusual for her to have met Gelenk. What is amazing is that she had the courage to marry him, bring him with her to Berlin and continue leading a very marginal, very artistic lifestyle.

At the end of the film, Sandra and Gelenk go to the immigration office to apply for his naturalization. The office clerk asks them about the stability of their income and, by showing us her reaction to how Sandra is making her living, you are making a statement about that system.

Sure, of course! It is my comment on the bureaucracy of the system and the existing rules of social status and what it means. In order to be naturalized a family must show certain amount of income, certain living conditions, etc. That, for Gelenk, was vitally important because without any status, if something happens to Sandra, he can’t even claim his daughter. His status is still unknown, a situation typical for many refugees and foreigners living in Germany who can’t comply with the regulations.

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