Peter Schreiner (1957–2023)
15 June 2023
In memory of the Austrian master whose cinema narrated truth through light and space.
The cinema of Austrian master Peter Schreiner is especially dear to International Film Festival Rotterdam: of his twelve features, five commenced their way into the world from here, while three more works were screened at IFFR after opening elsewhere. That said, Rotterdam had also been a turning point in his career: when in 1996 after the world premiere of Blaue Ferne the venue was almost empty, and the few remaining viewers lost in silence, Schreiner stopped making films for almost a decade, to dedicate his life instead to social work. Later, he would add to this story that he had put everything he felt capable of doing and imagining into Blaue Ferne, and that he probably hadn't known what to do next, even if a full house had welcomed him with a standing ovation.
Schreiner, kind, soft-spoken, and gentle, was always full of self-doubt – he felt he never gave enough of himself to others. Yet, at the same time, he was extremely determined, focused, energetic, and willing to follow his projects through to the end, even if it meant re-imagining them halfway through. His art defies the common ways of classifying films – he made pure cinema that narrated truth through light and space. Which doesn't mean that Schreiner's films are abstract: they tell stories about the need for company and love, the pleasures of sharing and the pains of rejection – narratives of making a life, of journeys towards wisdom, in one way or another always anchored in the lives and histories of Schreiner and some close friends.
With his final film, Tage, Schreiner returned to his beginnings: a film about himself and the people he loves. He had been diagnosed with cancer, which he took as an aesthetic challenge: what can you create when your body weakens, and what can be said when words sometimes feel so heavy and long? The same way the Blaue Ferne-break felt different to Schreiner in hindsight, Tage looks different now that Schreiner is gone – what should have been an interlude became a testament, sum total. Now the ever-present tree in his garden looks more than ever like a cross, and the long talks with his wife Maria like a luxury, a taste of what makes life worth living.
On 9 June, after a long battle with cancer, Peter Schreiner passed on. The last screenings he attended were in 2023 here at IFFR, with Tage. What remains are his films, which feel like messages from a future we need to learn to long for – a place of care for one another, of generosity, of desire and love.
– Olaf Möller