The Mensch of my Life is Me


Verena Stefan writes «Häutungen» («Shedding») in 1975. Her book sells several hundred thousand copies, the author becomes famous, celebrated and is confronted with hostility – even from her own ranks – and soon after retreats to the countryside. Later, she writes other books, among others about her mother and her grandfather. They are always very personal, but it is precisely for this reason that many people are able to follow on from the experiences and thoughts told by Verena Stefan. The film «The ‘Mensch’ of My Life Is Me» tells Verena Stefan’s life story with archived interviews and text passages from her works. In addition, we have spoken to longtime companions like Cristina Perincioli in Berlin and Lise Moisan in Montréal. We go back to the time when «Shedding» was published: 1975 was the International Year of Women, but in Germany and Switzerland, a married women needed her husband’s consent to sign a contract, abortion was forbidden. All these developments and experiences are reflected in the present, for example in the Swiss women’s strike in June 2019, and in the growing and passing of nature. Ultimately, the big question is: «How can I lead a self-determined life?» The film is directed by Christian Walther and produced by Pedro Haldemann and it was our pleasure to speak to them.



How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?

I had been working on television for 5 or 6 years when I started thinking

about making a longer piece, and this eventually happened with a documentary about

The Young Gods, a group of musicians from Switzerland with limited success but

who had made quite an impact among other musicians all over the world. They liked

the idea and off we went.


What genre of filmmaking are you looking to work on and why?

I am into documentary, nothing else. I’ve always been fascinated by

history and (his/her)stories as I think nothing is as exciting, frightening, bizarre as the

real world. As a consumer I also like fiction, of course, both on film and in books.


What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker?

As an independent filmmaker, I have the privilege of dealing with issues that

affect me directly. Furthermore, I can devote myself to these topics, sometimes for

some years, in a very profound way.



How challenging is it to fund indie films?

In Switzerland it is becoming increasingly difficult to generate a «normal

budget" for an Indie film. Small films are forced into co-productions and big budgets. I

find that very regrettable.


Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your

work?

Andrea Arnold – Wuthering Heights (UK 2011) fiction

Ursula Meier – L’enfant d’en-haut (CH 2012) fiction

Andrea Segre – Molecole (I 2020) documentary


What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?

When it will be possible to travel again I’d like to go east, Eastern Europe I

mean, maybe something about identity and borders. There’s always ideas, in fact I

read a lot, I’m a news junkie, I like history and I read lots of novels so the

interconnection of real life and invented stories is always spinning in my head. But

most of the ideas never turn into a project, and most projects never get realized. You

might find it bizarre but it’s not easy to get documentaries financed. Not the ones we

do anyway.



What was the inspiration behind your latest film project?

I met the writer Verena Stefan in 2007 while she was promoting her latest

novel in Switzerland. I had not known her back then, read her famous book

“Häutungen” (“Shedding”) in preparation for the interview and found it a captivating

and provocative read from someone who grew up in the same town and was the

same age as my mother. But I only got to know her in depth after her death in 2017

while we were preparing the “The Mensch Of My Life Is Me”. While almost everything

she wrote is accessible, she did not like to push herself into the limelight. This is one of

the reasons why there is very little footage of her. The other one is that Verena Stefan was

– with the exception of her first book – not a bestselling author. It was therefore clear

from the beginning that her life had to be told by people who were close to her.



How did you find the cast and the crew of the film?

When you look back on it it’s a miracle – and hard work. The first thing I did is writing a letter to Verena Stefan’s widow in Montreal. I kind of struggled to write it and was wondering as to when it was considered appropriate to send it off. But I got a positive reply by e-mail. This was in spring 2018. When Lise Moisan was coming to Switzerland we met in person and liked each other, I guess. This is what kickstarted the documentary. She was the woman – the Mensch if you want – with whom Verena


Stefan spent the last 20 years of her life. Without her I couldn’t have done the film.

After that I contacted people by e-mail, met them whenever possible, got a hint here,

a photograph there. It’s about collecting information, knit a net.

Regarding the crew: In the best of all possible worlds you would work with the same

people regardless where you shoot and work. But financially that’s impossible. So we

relied on people we knew and had worked with before both in Switzerland, Germany,

and Canada – while also trying to knit a net with others I had not known before, like

editor Gisela Weibel and composer Sandra Stadler.



What is the distribution plan of the film and did the film receive any screenings or was it

featured in festivals?

Since this film was a co-production with SRF, (Swiss National Television) the

distribution question is somewhat less of an issue. However, we have plans to realise

several projections in local cinemas in the Bern region, where Verena Stefan was

based. In addition, we would like to achieve greater exploitation at women's film

festivals.


Why do you make films and what kind of impact would your work have on the world?

Above all it’s the combination of sound and moving images, together with

the best words put into the most captivating order that I am looking for. And I like

simple things like a pan over a rye field against a backlight after the sun has set. I

could look at it for hours, both on screen and reality.

For “The Mensch Of My Life Is Me” we’ve had lots of feedback, mostly positive, and

sometimes from people I wouldn’t have thought they watched such a film. That’s what

makes me happy.