Slow is Beautiful

INTERVIEW. The essence is right there on the surface of Sebastian Cordes's "A Place Called Lloyd," an unconventionally told, meditative documentary celebrating community and professional pride.

"A couple came up to me after a screening and said that, fifteen minutes into the film, they were so bored that they almost walked out. But they stayed, gradually giving in to the slowness, and told me they had never had a movie experience like this before." 

Andy Warhol once said that the whole essence of his work was right there on the surface. The surface is the most interesting thing to me, too • Sebastian Cordes

Sebastian Cordes had succeeded in his mission. His documentary "A Place Called Lloyd" is about the bankrupt Bolivian airline Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano, known as LAB, whose staff eight years later still show up to work every morning and try to get the company back in the air. While the film obviously has a solidly static dramatic arc, it's rich in aesthetics, atmosphere and lingering visual poetry. Hangars and workshops never looked so good. 

"The film has no narrative momentum, because the place has no momentum. It's more like a cycle of day-to-day acts," the filmmaker says. 

Philosophical Ballast 

Cordes made "A Place Called Lloyd" for just 8,700 euros, which meant that he got paid what the LAB people are getting: 0 euros. He knows his approach won't be to everyone's liking or make cash registers go ka-ching. But he insists that boredom is an underappreciated state of mind. It can create a space that allows the audience to reflect on the concept of time – by having them experience the passage of time.

"I try to juxtapose the sense of time of the workers at LAB with the audience's sense of time," Cordes says, ascribing his lack of qualms about boredom and his cultivation of "dry things" in part to his degree in philosophy. 

A PLACE CALLED LLOYD Photo: Sebastian Cordes

This willingness to march to the beat of your own drummer is reflected even in the 28-year-old director's somewhat anachronistic appearance. More than anything, he looks the part of a stylish metropolitan flaneur. And there's no denying his philosophical ballast: he always thinks a film's concept through from start to finish before switching on his camera. A bedrock premise of his coming project about the refugee crisis is that it won't show a single refugee, primarily as an image of the Northern European detachment from refugees, who tend to be reduced to letters in a paper or pixels on a screen. 

The Story Is on the Surface

"A Place Called Lloyd" might well have been told as a socially indignant, anti-capitalist screed about the impact of privatisation and bad management on the "workingman." But that's not Cordes's style. He's more interested in the mood of the place than in its story, a pseudo-anthropological narrative technique he boils down to a single word, "immersion."

The running time had originally been set at 30 minutes, but the film ended up almost three times as long. Immersion in an environment and in a series of human destinies takes time, the filmmaker says. 

"When I spend 45 seconds showing you a palm tree, I do it to underline that the tree is more than just a tree – it also contains the story of the place. Or, more accurately, a story is shimmering on the surface of the palm tree. Andy Warhol once said that the whole essence of his work was right there on the surface. The surface is the most interesting thing to me, too, because that's where a more unique experience can be accessed. I want the audience to linger on the sight of a charismatic mechanic doing his job. I love such everyday things. There's a huge story in watching someone testing life vests when you know he doesn't have a plane to put them in." 

Cordes describes the mentality of the workers as "pride of the kind that I wouldn't be able to maintain for a month, but that they have now been maintaining for eight years running. Dead fascinating." He adds: "But I also encountered very different views of the extreme situation they're in. One worker simply couldn't bring himself to admit that the airline didn't have any planes in the air. Another, who had no problem seeing himself from outside, summed up the whole project in the words, 'I know it's crazy.'" 

The film is packed with razor-sharp compositions, providing an experience of discovering beauty in a place you wouldn't expect had beauty. All of this should be seen as an image of the workers' pride, Cordes says. 

Leth and Andersson As Inspirations 

"We worked according to the dogma that the film shouldn't have a single ugly frame in it. The film is both a depiction of an environment and a construction of an environment. I believe there's no depicting without constructing. As the Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth once said, 'Someone decides what the eye sees.' In long monologues, workers recount their personal stories and anecdotes about the airline, but we also create a subjective version of the place through tableaux. It would be easy to depict the place as sad, but the staff's gusto is anything but sad, so we elevated their workplace into a sublime space."

Another powerful inspiration is the narrative filmmaker Roy Andersson. "I used the Anderssonian device of opening windows and doors to create a feeling that this surreal place is still in touch with the outside world. As it is, the staff can see and hear the planes taking off from the nearby airport. 

Centring on a bankrupt airline adds intensity to the story, Cordes says. "It's almost too good to be true. What could be a more fitting metaphor for time standing still than an airplane that's grounded?"

Cordes knew very little about Bolivia when he read an article in the paper about the mindboggling aftermath to LAB's bankruptcy and decided to document it. Cordes generally let his intuition guide him and chose his characters according to aesthetic principles. "I was interested in the surface more than in the sociology," he says, but adds that his film's cast of characters is a pretty representative cross-section of Bolivians in terms of social class and religious affiliation. In turn, a streak of real anthropology snuck into the filmmaker's more instinctive, observational method of capturing the people and their quirky life at the airfield. 

Cordes intends to keep on telling slow stories, he says, raising a bit more of the veil on his coming film about the refugee crisis. 

"The film will be a portrait of the island of Chios outside the coast of Turkey. It's a place that almost seems to condense the entire European identity. Homer was from there, and the film will probably include readings from Homer – probably Aristotle, too, who of course described how to tell a perfect tragedy •

More about the film 

"A Place Called Lloyd" is directed by Sebastian Cordes and produced by Niels Michael Wee for Breidablik Film, who also manages international sales. The film is supported by the DFI Film Workshop.

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