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Stefan Haupt • Director of Zurich Diary

“It's our responsibility to make this place as good as it can be, and not just for us”


- We talked to Stefan Haupt, the director of Zurich Diary, after the film’s world premiere in his home town

Stefan Haupt  • Director of Zurich Diary
(© Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for the Zurich Film Festival)

Celebrating its world premiere at – where else? – the Zurich Film Festival, Stefan Haupt’s documentary Zurich Diary [+see also:
film review
interview: Stefan Haupt
film profile
 takes a closer look at the place he knows best. Or so he thinks, as he subsequently uncovers the many parallel lives of the city.

Cineuropa: Whenever someone decides to talk about a city in film, there is this cliché describing it as a “love letter” – to Venice, to Paris, you name it. One can feel the love in your film, but it's not unconditional. You notice the problems as well.
Stefan Haupt: The first moment I decided to make this documentary was right after the financial crisis. I thought: “It's unbelievable. I don't know anything.” Isn't that crazy? I met some people, started interviewing them and realised I wouldn’t become an economics journalist [laughs]. But then we had this vote in Switzerland initiated by the right-wing party, wanting to limit the number of immigrants, and I was sure it would never pass. But it did. It's called the SVP [the Swiss People's Party], and it has been growing over the past few years. We realised there is some kind of lethargy around us, and I wanted to reflect on this. I'm growing older, so where is my anger going? Where is my vitality going? For me, it was quite an experiment trying to do this. It's much easier when you have a clear story.

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One person in your film calls this city “schizophrenic”. Is this something that you notice as well?
There are these parallel words that we have. Making this film changed the way I look at people working like crazy in a Chinese take-away, for example. We are never in touch with them, while at the same time, we say: “Hey, you should be happy that you can live with us.” It’s not in the film, but there is this one place where, 20 years ago, you had needles lying around on the floor. Now, it's a family place, but when I go jogging in the morning, you can see asylum seekers picking up rubbish.

From the outside, it really seems like “this is the city where everything has its place”. But then someone talks about skyrocketing rents and feeling unwanted. Was it easy to have these conversations?
When I conduct interviews, I also talk a lot myself. I am interested in having conversations. They tell me something about themselves; I tell them something about myself and that they can tell me if they want me to leave something out. Some colleagues say: “Are you crazy? You throw away the best parts like that!” It's not true – people are much more relaxed when they know they don’t need to censor themselves. One person told me that this film is very pessimistic. I don’t see it this way. At least we show these things, and this one refugee finally has a voice – even if only for one second.

At what point did you decide to put yourself in the film as well and show some family footage?
At a very early stage. We put everything in separate drawers: there is prostitution, there are drug addicts, there is the rich area. And our films are either very political or very personal. In my own life, I realised how much these two things go together. Nowadays, we say that one’s private life is political anyway.

When you choose such a huge subject, how do you pick the right people or problems to focus on? After all, there are so many.
There was one decision that helped me because, yes, this subject is way too big. I focused on my relationship with the city, and then I did many things led by my intuition – or by who interests me, to be honest. I interviewed over 30 people, leaving 22 of these conversations in the film, which is still quite a lot. It's very difficult to explain it now, actually. How did we come up with all that?

People tend to be very protective of their country or city, and they don’t like to be told what isn’t working. Now, showing this film here in Zurich, what kind of a response are you getting from the locals?
These parallel worlds are already so well developed, so people who are interested in watching this film are actually quite alike. They tell me it's on point, that they are overwhelmed as well – also by the rents. I talk about things that make me feel angry, or powerless, so I guess that’s why some think it’s pessimistic. The mayor of the city was at the premiere, but she hasn’t said anything yet [laughs].

Zurich has changed so much. I remember this so-called needle park in the 1990s: it was unbelievable. Now, nobody remembers that past any more. We need to bow down and accept the fact that we can't help everybody, but there is this feeling of guilt around it – we have such good structures and so much wealth compared to so many other places. But we could help more. With all the resources that we have, it's our responsibility to make this place as good as it can be, and not just for us.

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