No, she had no desire whatsoever to try out the role of director. This was always the answer given by Bettina Böhler, one of Germany’s best-known and busiest editors for several decades, when journalists wanted to know whether she would like to make a film of her own. Once described by the press as “the amazing invisible woman of German cinema“, it seemed she had never felt dissatisfied in her editing suite.
“Editing is simply my dream job,“ Böhler says instead with full conviction over a cup of coffee made with oat milk. “I really enjoy helping other directors to make their films as good as they can be.“ She discovered her liking for montage at an exceptionally early age: as a schoolgirl in West Berlin during the 1970s, an art teacher drew her attention to this aspect of filmmaking.“He was a totally committed, very left-wing type; I think Russian cinema was all there was, as far as he was concerned,“ Böhler recalls with a laugh. “From the very beginning, I found it incredibly exciting to see how a film develops vitality from the montage. So I decided to do it myself.“
After graduating from high school, she started working for a dubbing company as an assistant editor, quickly concentrating on dealing with pictures rather than sound, and finding jobs at SFB broadcasting station or on short film productions. Through the artists’ employment agency she met filmmakers such as Helma Sanders-Brahms and Rudolf Thome, as whose assistant she earned her first spurs. In 1986 she was responsible for her first feature film as editor, Dani Levy’s directing debut YOU LOVE ME TOO. “It was simply a matter of practice, of gathering experience,“ she says with regard to her career in a profession that was still executed in a completely analogous way back then, and was not taught in degree programs. “In those days, as an assistant you simply sat there all the time, overheard all the conversations with the director and learned all the work processes as you went along. Today, with digital technology, that would no longer be possible.“
Among the filmmakers with whom Böhler worked subsequently were Michael Klier and Hermine Huntgeburth, Margarethe von Trotta and Oskar Roehler, Angela Schanelec and Angelina Maccarone. And time and time again, since his television film CUBA LIBRE in 1996, with Christian Petzold. Whenever he shoots a new film, it is clear from the outset that she will be part of the team. Böhler’s influence on the materialization and pace of Petzold’s films cannot be overestimated. “Of course, what I do is not only a craft but also an art,“ says the editor, who turned 60 in June and received the German Film Critics’ Award for both THE STATE I AM IN and BARBARA. “Editing is a pillar of film production, just as much as the camera work or the acting. It’s not only about technique but also about intuition, creativity and emotions, about the associations that you can trigger.“
The fact that – in addition to Petzold’s UNDINE, for which she took on the editing again, of course – Böhler’s first work as a director celebrated its world premiere at the Berlinale 2020 has nothing to do with her feeling lonely or not receiving enough attention in the editing suite. Laughingly, she waves aside such notions: “Sitting for eight hours straight doesn’t bother me at all, and the hustle and bustle on a film set would be far too much for me. And it goes without saying that as an editor, you are not in the limelight anyway. But SCHLINGENSIEF – IN DAS SCHWEIGEN HINEINSCHREIEN (SCREAMING INTO THE SILENCE), the title of the documentary film she recently directed, was brought to her attention by producers Frieder Schlaich and Irene von Alberti, not least because she was responsible for editing TERROR 2000 and THE 120 DAYS OF BOTTROP, films made by the artist Christoph Schlingensief in the 1990s.
“First, I had to decide whether I myself thought that I could do it, and not just other people,“ Böhler says of her first directing job, whereby the decision to work entirely with archive material made the new challenge a little easier. “Suddenly, I no longer had a counterpart, but had to put myself to the test,“ she says, summing up the unusual experience. “But Christoph was just such an important director in my life and for my career, so I relished the prospect of re-investigating his biography and work more closely.”