GIFT is a music film shot in the Wolfen-Bitterfeld district of East Germany where composer Ulf Langheinrich was born. The area is notorious for its astonishing lunar-like landscape, a product of uncurbed open cast mining and chemical production. 'Gift' is the German word for poison. Made in collaboration with Roland Denning.
Although much of the devastation belongs to a past era of massive state industry some coal mining continues using vast mechanical diggers made before the Second World War.
The sounds of these industries are the basis for Langheinrich's hypnotic electronic score while their images are reconstructed into a electrifying impression of a dislocated landscape and community.
The starting point of the film was a research trip into the extraordinary post-industrial landscape of Wolfen-Bitterfeld in Saxony-Anhalt which Director Mike Stubbs, a ‘disaster tour’ when visiting the Bauhaus in Dessau.
Composer Ulf Langheinrich (who previously worked with MetaMedia on Homing) was born in Wolfen-Bitterfeld but had not returned for fifteen years. The region was the centre of the East German chemical and mining industries.
Much of the area now looks like a lunar landscape, interspersed by the remains of long abandoned factories and transected by rusty
pipes bubbling into vast white or black lakes of chemical waste.
Wolfen-Bitterfeld is famous as a great environmental disaster, an eco-tourist attraction, a paradigm of what should not be done.
But we have not set out to make an ecological tract nor to romanticise the destruction. Ulf’s attitude is that of an unsentimental fascination with environment where he grew up. He likes it. Rather than moralising we want to examine the paradoxical feelings of pleasure and horror this place evokes.
Implicit in the film is also the tension between the old and the new (post unification) East Germany. The old is industrial, monolithic, dirty, inefficient, obsolete, a wasteland; a past to be destroyed and buried. The new is fragmented, avaricious, precarious, anxious, elusive.
These themes are alluded to rather than asserted; they are not the subject of the film, but they are part of the flow of sub-texts. Increasingly our attentions focussed on the vast mechanical excavators that litter the landscape.
Originally built for open cast mining, the many of the handful that are now left working shovel the dirt back again to landscape the devastated terrain.
Travelling back and forth with a crew of a dozen or so workers on board they are a potent icon; a microcosm of the industrial work evoking both alienation and pride, a machine for mass ecological destruction, a relic both of a past industrial age and of socialist state enterprise, a mechanical dinosaur.
Most importantly the machines are awe inspiring monsters in themselves.
They have become a central image of the film.