Anja Salomonowitz

Between Documentary and Fiction

Austrian film director and screenwriter specialize on documentary films with political or social background. Her films You Will Never Understand This, It Happened Just Before and The 727 Days without Karamo have gained international recognition and won numerous film awards including Caligari Film Award at the Berlin Film Festival or Best Feature Documentary in IDFF Jihlava. 

photo by Edgar Honetschläger

Anja Salomonowitz studied at the film and television department at Vienna Academy for Music and Applied Arts. There she specialized on directing and cutting. As a cutter she attended also the Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen (college for film and TV) in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Germany. After her studies she started to work as an assistant to Ulrich Seidl.

In her films, she has developed a visual language that combines elements of documentary film making, classical narrative and demands on behalf of political and social circumstances.

Her first film which started in the cinemas was the 52 minutes’ documentary You will never understand this (2003). There she confronted herself and her family with their family's history. Her Jewish grandaunt was in a concentration camp, her nanny joined the socialistic resistance and her grandmother "did nothing". The film attracted the attention of both audiences and critics: some called her film the best Austrian film of the year.

In 2006 Anja finished It happened just before, the documentary film about human trafficking which won Caligari Film Award during Berlinale. 

Five people in their everyday surroundings tell stories that they have never experienced personally. They recount tales of people involved in trafficking in women. They tell of exploitation, violence and force. They tell of realities which have happened and which might have happened in the places shown. “There are three documentary layers in the movie: the stories of the woman are true, the people who tell the stories are amateur actors in their real lives and, most important, the places where it could have happened are real: the border is real, the brothel is real and also the diplomatic household. So these three documentary layers are mixed together and they give something new.”

In 2012 Anja made her first feature film Spain which started at the international forum at the Berlinale. “I had been planning a documentary about a binational couple because I wanted to investigate the issue of how relationships are made impossible and love destroyed by regulations imposed by the immigration police. While researching this subject, I came up with the idea for a screenplay about a threesome involving an immigration police officer, his ex-wife, and her young lover, a foreigner.” said Anja. 

“With a documentary you ask people if they want to be in it because they are the way they are, and a lot of the time it is a long, hard process until they finally commit fully. The great thing about feature films is that everyone really wants to be a part of them and is happy to be asked. I wasn’t used to that. Of course there are hurdles and shooting is strenuous, but there is a path pointing the way through the project. With a documentary film you are constantly creating order in reality and drawing a story out of it, though there is no story to begin with. With a feature film you have the story right in front of you. They are two completely different worlds and each has something to offer.”

After the finishing the Spain, Anja returned to documentary with The 727 days without Karamo (2013). It is an artful document, giving an inside on the reality of many different people living through and thereby telling the same story. A courageous portrait of love in light of one country’s policy on foreigners. The film won Best Feature Documentary award at Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival. 

Except the making films Anja gives workshops on new narrative forms in documentary film making at the Film Academy Vienna, at the University of Vienna in the drama department, in Budapest in the framework of the exhibition "Überholte Geschichte" on artistic practices on the political or at the Aalto University in Helsinki, where the master class developed short documentary pieces over a three months’ workshop.

The main photo of Anja Salomonowitz on our website is by © Heribert Corn.