Since the age of eight, I have been watching birds with my binoculars. A hobby which has become an obsession in the meantime - as a teenager, I spent my vacations doing voluntary work in the Wallnau bird sanctuary on the island of Fehmarn and in Behrensdorf at the Hohwachter bay. A place where my family spent their vacations over several years and my father filmed our family and the sea with his Super-8 camera. The place itself, but especially its soundscape – comprising sounds of the sea, the chirping of birds and the sounds of anti-aircraft missiles blasts – remain imprinted on my memory. Not as a threat, but rather as part of a promising “holiday soundtrack”. It was only my mother, who had experienced air raids during the Second World War, who retired on such days to the confines of the holiday cottage.
At the bird sanctuary, I met people doing their compulsory civil service who essentially shaped my stance on the military and the Bundeswehr. It was beyond all doubt that I would refuse to serve in the army. In the end, I was lucky and was exempted. In subsequent years, I increasingly swapped my binoculars for a microphone and camera. Nevertheless, I returned on a regular basis – also for filming – to the Baltic Sea.
There are some similarities in the work of a documentary filmmaker and a bird watcher. In both cases, the doctrine is that the less a person is seen or heard, the better the result. The body is clenched in odd positions, breathing slows. The minutest movements, which in turn trigger sounds and disturbances, are avoided. In the process of observing, the observer attempts to become invisible or rather to camouflage his presence. He is not involved. Actually, he isn’t there at all. The question I ask myself is how long can such a condition be maintained, and what happens when the pseudo-neutral observer suddenly becomes part of the recording.
In summer 2007, a friend of mine is arrested on the alleged charge of “terrorism”. Someone you know very well and whose stance you respect. The view of your surroundings change. The telephone sometimes crackles strangely, and the couple at the table beside yours was at the same restaurant as you a few days earlier.
“Day of the Sparrow” is an examination of the society in which I live. There are few traces of war – neither is it visible nor clearly located. The film tries to work out how and at what points do breaks open up the seemingly peaceful surface. Moments when war is visible, when the interfaces between civil life and military action blur. For me these points cannot be enumerated through a “realistic”, classic documentary way of working. It is about developing a filmic language which steers the focus to irregularities, which undermines familiar hierarchies of attention, which traces the small displacements in a seemingly homogenous image.
With “Day of the Sparrow”, I would like to create a filmic space between image and sound, analysis and imagination, which questions the apparent casualness of the current war.
Philip Scheffner, 10.01.2010