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A Sanctuary, If Not Redemption

Redemption Impossible, a story about chimpanzees used as laboratory test subjects and how they were later rehabilitated with the help of four women, proved a hit at HKIFF with both the audience and jurors alike – it received the Special Mention at HKIFF’s Documentary Competition. Before the awards ceremony, the two directors, Claus Strigel and Christian Rost, had an animated Q&A session after their screening of the film. Strigel was the main person answering the audience’s questions below:

Why did the directors choose these chimpanzees as their subjects?
Well, we didn’t look for them. Christian read an article in a newspaper about 40 chimpanzees and four women living together, and we wanted to know more. We didn’t mean to make a film about animals being rescued, but 40 chimps came from a lab, and two of the women also came from the same lab. So we wanted to know more about how they all got there. We later realized that this could be a big, big story. We found out about the illegal importation of the chimps – this wasn’t supposed to be possible in Europe. And we found a touching story in the relationship between the two women and the animals that they have been caring for. It’s a story about animal cruelty – that’s very important, of course. But first and foremost it’s a story about these chimps and these women.

Is it very different to do a documentary about animals versus other kinds of documentaries?
That’s a very good question because, with the animals, we had no difficulties at all [laughs].

How about the people? [laughs]
At the beginning the women weren’t so easygoing – we were the first ‘foreigners’ to intrude into their lives with the chimps. They didn’t like to make themselves accessible. Also, they had experiences from their past…

How did you convince them to trust you?
It took a year – a year of shooting. Now that the film is ready, they are convinced. But during our whole year of production, they weren’t convinced. They didn’t know what they wanted – they didn’t know if they wanted a short story on TV, which is something they knew. But we were there for one year, and that was something that was very difficult for them to understand. Now, when the film is ready, they are a little bit convinced [laughs].

Director Claus Strigel (left) and Christian Rost (right).