Before I met her, I had heard about Anne Schroeder, “the documentary lady of Luxembourg”. It was through her latest documentary, looking into the lives of women, that we got to meet.
The project, Histoire(s) de Femme(s), looks at the emancipation of women, how feminism evolved and whether there is a different form of feminism needed or existent today, from the perspective of women of all ages. It just so happens that I was one of her subjects, but I found Anne herself so fascinating, I wanted to turn the tables and tell her story…
A Député’s daughter
She grew up with her younger brother in Junglinster, the “old Luxembourg”, even if it was only a few decades ago. Small and familiar, where everyone went to church on Sunday – not because they were devout, but to come together as a community. Everyone knew each other and grandparents were close-by. Her mother was a part-time teacher; her father, a politician.
“He was not often at home. He believed ‘You work for others. Do your best to make other people’s life better’.”
“During my whole childhood, he was working to become a politician. In Luxembourg you have four departments and we were in the east, a rural area. He was with the Workers Party, a socialist, so it was difficult for him to find the support there. But finally, he made it to the Chambre des Députés.
“Being a Député is local work. People phoned up all the time for any issue. We had one lady calling once a week to say her cat had gone missing again.”
Despite his frequent absence, his work ethic and principles seem to have been inherited. With a similar zeal, Anne has produced documentaries for and about others, to raise awareness of causes important to her.
But as a child, she wasn’t thinking about film. Anne was a gifted artist, a skill noted by all who saw her drawings and paintings, although she modestly didn’t think she was good enough to make it her career. She was also practical, aware “especially as a girl, to consider the financial aspects of my choices”. She wanted to find a way to link the creative part of her personality with pragmatic success.
Beginning to make her mark
In Munich, Anne had an uncle who was a film critic and journalist. He brought her to film sets but she settled on the idea of journalism as, at that time and still today, it’s very hard to get into a good film school.
Fate took a hand however. Her first year of journalism study was right next door to the prestigious film school, INSAS, in Brussels. During the summer, on a whim, she decided to apply for the film school, just for fun.
It was a rigorous procedure, but she took it in her stride, and out of thousands of applicants she was one of only 40 to be accepted. They saw something special in her.
After the first year, where you gain a general overview of everything to do with film, Anne chose to specialise in editing. Her teachers, however, pushed her to also direct documentaries. In her first year at film school, Anne had made “a very strange documentary, about a gay hairdresser in an old woman’s house. He did the make-up and hair-dressing of very old ladies.” It left an impression with the staff and she was beginning to make her mark.
Filmmaking in Luxembourg
Not long after she finished her degree, Anne returned to Luxembourg at a time when professional film work was just starting to take off: “In Belgium, all the film jobs were very badly paid and in Luxembourg they were paid normally! And in Luxembourg there were very few of us.”
“I was one of only two editors in the whole country and we had very few directors. So I had choice: no-one minded that on one job I did editing, on another, I directed.”
Not long after, Anne met a teacher who wanted to start a production company. At that time, quite a few teachers switched jobs to go into film. At the ripe old age of 25, they founded their own production company with a great name: CinéquaSi. Anne said that it was a good way to learn more about the financial side of film production, but admits that she was “completely naive”. Her partner went back to teaching, so Anne ended up running the production company on her own.
She started making documentaries but the risk was huge. Every film she signed off with the bank was a personal risk with a potential of total personal loss. Soon, she integrated with Samsa Film: more facilities – and it was easier to work with an established group.
“I did research and wrote the concepts together with the director. Most of the directors were really close friends and we worked on interesting, important subjects.”
Anne’s Career Highlights
- Histoire(s) de Jeunesse(s), 2001. (Director and Producer.) “It was a great human experience and important for me to direct. Now, I’m doing the second part of it.”
- About Water – a big co-production. (Producer.) “The problems people have in the world to get water, having to pay for it and water becoming scarce.”
- First Prize for the Best Short Film in Venice for Butterflies, based on a short story by Ian McEwan. (Producer.) George Clooney won at the same festival so they were at the same awards party, Anne notes excitedly. She negotiated directly with Ian McEwan about the film rights.
- Orangerie, about a neuro-psychiatric hospital here in Luxembourg. (Producer.) “This was important for Luxembourg. It showed up a lot of problems with this hospital and there were months of discussions on a political level. It was very tough for the director and me.”
- Travel in Romania, e.g. Stăm – We are staying. (Producer.) “I produced films about Romania, which were not a big success, but going there and living with people was very interesting. Documentaries give you the chance to travel for research. But once I had the children it was not possible to travel anymore. With my first son, I took him with me; then it became impossible with two on my own.”
Work and motherhood
And on that point… How did Anne manage her career and raising two sons (now 14 and 10 years old)?
“Most of the time I was alone with the two boys. There is nothing special about me in this case. Like every single mother, you have to work but I had the great pleasure to work in an area I really like.
Also when I had tough moments on a private level it was a real relief to go to the office and say, ‘Let’s do a good film’. Even if it’s a cliché, it’s right to say that when you feel bad or sad you have renewed energy to be creative… When it’s a really tough time privately, you can focus on this creative work with others who support you.”
Anne reflected back on her teenage years when the same method applied to a different art: “When I was young and still painting, in all the bad moments I had the feeling, ‘I have to paint’. All of my huge paintings, I created when I had a difficult love story. At the end with one boyfriend I gave him all the paintings. Years later we met again and he said, ‘I still have all your paintings, hanging in our (family) living room’.” She smiles at the thought of this.
“I have a very optimistic outlook. I told myself it will work out somehow and it always did.”
And how did she manage, psychologically, bringing up the children alone?
“Maybe I also knew that if ever it doesn’t work out, I have my parents. Someone will help me out.”
Most of her working life Anne has been a freelancer. When she speaks with students, she acknowledges that yes, it’s tough to live that way. “My financial situation is very different from one year to the next.” However, she highlights the positive too: being able to take free time whenever you want. She could collect her children, go to the swimming pool. She didn’t feel obliged to sit at a desk until 6pm just because she should be there.
“And the money you earn, you know exactly why you got it. You did the work, negotiated the price, sent the invoice.” At Samsa Film, what Anne found wonderful was that she could choose the project. She did films about dancing and rather a lot about artists, so she could remain an artist herself through her films.
Supporting the next generation
In 2014, the Lycée des Arts et Métiers began to offer a BTS Cinéma et Audiovisuel course, allowing students in Luxembourg to gain a professional film qualification by completing a two-year course after their lycée education. Anne was pivotal in its creation, but the idea was a slow-burner.
“Some politicians showed up at the Cannes Film Festival and said it would be great to have some kind of film school in Luxembourg. We were really not keen to work on a film school.” But she changed her mind, when it came out that some French people were going to found one. At that point, she felt that, if there was the political will to have something like a film school, “the Luxembourgish film people should work on it together”.
All the professionals involved in writing the programmes for the BTS put in the best parts of their film schools. Nothing existed before, so they could think very freely about what it should be.
Now Anne combines teaching for the BTS with some documentary work. “Over the next few years, I will give up producing documentaries because it has become very difficult to find funding. I feel like I miss interesting and important subjects”, she says; but she does want to continue directing films of her own.
Anne’s message to women interested in the film industry is this:
“Even if it is difficult to be in these creative jobs, you should fight for it. It’s worthwhile if you have something you believe in. Most young women give up because they have to earn money. There are so few women in these areas. The most interesting and creative directors I met were all female. It’s my wish that they pursue it and continue.”
There’s a quiet charm to Anne, but a sturdiness of mind. You know that she is modestly brilliant, with a twinkle in her smile. For all the hardship she may have suffered on a personal level, we have gained from the creative flow that followed.
Photo: ©Romain Girtgen