If there’s one director who understands the beauty of organised chaos, it’s Körner Union’s Sami Benhadj. His highly choreographed output – such as his award-winning Power of x film - signals a director who embraces precision and planning, but he loves to combine this accuracy with an element of surprise and experimentation. When you learn that Sami studied mathematics before attending art school, his obsession with randomness starts to really make sense. We caught up with the Swiss director who has been part of creative collective Körner Union since his school days.
LBB> When did you first decide that you wanted to be a director?
SB> I went to Ecal (Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne in Switzerland). I studied photography but never studied film. I had done films but they were more for myself; personal short films. I did a lot of different things with my collective Körner Union. We did lots of photography and eventually started filming together. I started to concentrate on being a director and decided to concentrate on film.
LBB> How would you characterise the films you make?
SB> I like experimental stuff. I try to find the balance between randomness and an idea - something in between. For example, I’ve filmed with animals and I’m interested about working on films with young people and babies – I like the idea that I don’t know exactly what will happen before I make the film. I like being surprised by the result. I try to create experiments.
LBB> While you like your films to contain surprises, if you look at a lot of your work, like the short for TEDX, it is highly choreographed.
SB> On the one hand I want to control everything. I do a lot of sketches before a shoot and I want to define as much as I can, so maybe that is why I like the idea of working with subjects that I can’t control.
LBB> When TEDX came to you and asked you to make their film, what was their brief? What inspired this kaleidoscope?
SB> The brief was quite open. They just wanted to create an arabesque. There was this idea of intelligence and working in a collective way but other than that we were quite free. I had this idea to play with a kaleidoscope.
LBB> How did you create it?
SB> There was no CGI, it was all in-camera; I made a model at home to experiment with small toys, just to see what it would look like. I gave the sketch to the set designer and he was quite surprised by the scale. I told him that size didn’t matter – just find me a studio big enough to do it. Laurent Tesseyre, the set designer, was really good - he built the structure. I did an animation in a computer and gave the simulation to the choreographer and he replicated it. The TEDX
film was really about teamwork.
LBB> How did you meet the other members of Körner Union?
SB> We met at school when we were twelve and now we have been working together for ten years, doing lots of things. I really like to work with people and to share ideas, and drink beer – I love working and coming up with ideas in that way. For one or two years I have been concentrating on film and we have all found our own specialities within the collective.
LBB> Who is your creative hero?
SB> I really, really like the work of Werner Herzog; he is one of my favourite filmmakers because he always does it for real. I love his film Fitzcarraldo
. It’s the one where a group of people have to pull their boat over a cliff. They actually did this for real and everybody went crazy during the filming – you can really feel it when you watch it. I really like it when you put reality into fiction, there’s always a crossover between the two in film.
LBB> If you weren’t a director and creative, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
SB>There are so many things to do! Last year I started to paint – not to do it as an artist but just to feel good. Since I was a child I have always really wanted to do art, music and painting. I definitely need to do creative things to feel good, whatever that is. It could even be cooking.
LBB> What sort of projects would you like to work on in the future?
SB> I would like to do projects which are somewhere between an experiment and a film. Like I said I am interested in working with unusual actors, actors who are a little bit hard to direct. Babies for example, or animals. I want to create worlds or structures into which I can put beings and then just watch what happens, like a spectator. I like actors who don’t care about my opinion. I would like to work more with strong personalities. I am always a little bit afraid of something which is pure fiction. I always want to put a little bit of reality in there – and a strong personality puts reality back in the film.
Körner Union are represented by Riff Raff Films and made up of Sami Benhadj, Tarik Hayward, Guy Meldem.