Not unlike a religious mystery screenplay, a banknote fallen from somebody's pocket provided the link between world-famous director Wim Wenders and the little-known country of Bulgaria. After the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2000, Stefan Kitanov, director of the international Sofia Film Fest (SFF), was walking with his wife in a small valley by the Holy City. There, under a tree, he found a 20-dollar note. "Lucky me!" Kitanov thought without even suspecting the sort of followup that the invisible scriptwriter had prepared for him. When he stood up, he saw a group of people several yards away. He went towards them and recognised Wenders at their head; the director he had been dreaming of welcoming to Bulgaria for years. He spoke to him, said how highly Bulgarian cinema goers valued him and invited him to become a member of the program council of the SFF. They spent the "magical" note that same evening in the most suitable place for a new friendship, the local pub.
The next year, Wenders helped with the film selection for the Sofia festival and last month he was its special guest. His first visit to Bulgaria was marked with a retrospective of 21 of his movies, including such masterpieces as Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire, and the premiere of the Bulgarian edition of his book A Sense of Place, published by Colibri. The 61-year-old German director, one of the very few who manages to capture things invisible to the common eye, also received the Sofia Municipality lifetime achievement award.
You write in your book that you live "anywhere and nowhere". Is this a metaphor?
No, this is what my life is really like. I am a film director and photographer, so my main profession is a traveller. I came to Sofia as such. But I made a mistake and brought a heavy winter coat. I should have arrived in shorts.
The road is a leitmotif in your movies. Even the name of your production company is Road Movies. How long have you had this burning desire for travel?
As a child, I grew up in a city completely destroyed by the war - Dusseldorf. So, from a very early age, I have always wanted to be somewhere else. Even in my childhood I travelled a lot, by bike or by train, and I had a camera. I think that this mobility is encoded in human genes. Few people feel truly comfortable living a sedate life. I noticed early in my life that when I am on the road I realise my full potential. I am more attentive; I think and write better, my imagination is unleashed. When I'm at home, there are not many new things to stimulate my mind. I feel perfect in a car, on a train, a plane or a boat, or walking. And if I had been born 200 years earlier, I would certainly have become a travelogue writer. In fact, I should have been born in the mid-19th Century, when photographers began going to all parts of the world to take pictures. I am very interested in landscapes, so I could be called a landscape photographer who has decided to expand his artistic expression with a movie camera. I enjoy being in new places and I'd like to get lost, to vanish there. As a traveller, I prefer not to form a preconception about a country, but to keep my eyes and ears open on the spot.
How do you inspire yourself as a director when you want to say something but don't know where to start?
Most colleagues start from the story, no matter whether it's something they've read or heard. For many, the film begins with a certain character. But for me, it begins with the desire to explore a street, a city, a certain place in particular and to find its story which can only be told there and nowhere else.
Wim Wenders with Dennis Hopper (right) in the 1980s. Hopper starred in Wenders'
One of the most important issues for you is how to make the world a better place to live. But isn't it more important to change the people themselves?
All such attempts in history have failed, though we are right now trying to teach people that they have to treat this planet in a different way. That they are behaving irresponsibly for the next generations whose lives will suffer as a consequence. I learned a lot from primitive people like the Aborigines. These nomads have been living in the Australian bush for 30,000 years but are the wisest creatures I've ever met. Their language has no words for war or possession. It was incomprehensible for them that they can own a piece of land. Just the opposite, they felt they were owned by the land they lived in. I think that gradually we should all realise this.
(Questions from other media have also been used)