The documentary THE GREAT MUSEUM is a curious, witty and humorous peek behind the scenes at a world-famous cultural institution. Director Johannes Holzhausen and his team spent more than two years gathering material at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Shot in the attentive style of direct cinema – with no off-screen commentary, no interviews and no background music – the film observes the various processes involved in creating a perfect setting for art. From the managing director to the cleaning services team, from the carriers to the art historians, the staff members at the museum are all interdependent cogs in the same machine.
The film offers glimpses of the day-to-day routine at the museum, but focuses primarily on micro-dramas featuring museum employees. For example, a conservator who discovers that a Rubens painting has been painted over several times; another conservator who expresses his despair in mending a model battleship with a few expletives; a member of the guest services team who feels her team is not well integrated at the museum; an elderly head of a collection who is about to head into retirement; an art historian who experiences the thrill and frustration of an auction, and the chief financial officer who thinks the “3” on the new promotional material looks “aggressive”. All this makes the film more than a portrait of a public cultural institution trying to maintain its integrity by balancing between budgetary issues and competitive pressure. THE GREAT MUSEUM also addresses more profound issues: Is it possible to reconcile the conservation of the objects with an up-to-date presentation? What part does art play in the representation of national identity in politics and tourism?
Documentary filmmaker Johannes Holzhausen carefully balances single moments and the overall narration, reproducing the style that has distinguished his previous films. The precise camera work (Joerg Burger, Attila Boa) and poignant editing (Dieter Pichler) serve to create the atmosphere of patient observation and reflection, just as the film’s protagonists are in the service of an institution that will outlast them. And in this sense THE GREAT MUSEUM is also a film about temporality and transience. It relates the museum’s everyday business to its long tradition, which dates back to the Habsburg Monarchy, and the timelessness of art objects.
Austria 2014, DCP/HD, 94 min
Director: Johannes Holzhausen
Script: Johannes Holzhausen, Constantin Wulff
Director of Photography: Joerg Burger, Attila Boa
Sound: Andreas Pils, Andreas Hamza
Editing and Dramaturgy: Dieter Pichler
Assistant Director: Ursula Henzl
Production Manager: Hanne Lassl
Producer: Johannes Rosenberger
Johannes Holzhausen – Biography
Johannes Holzhausen was born in 1960 in Salzburg. After leaving school, he began a degree in art history at the University of Vienna in 1981. In 1985 and 1986 he and a group of others organised the lecture series “art and concepts of art”, presenting internationally renowned art scholars and art historians. As a student he also participated in various art projects, such as “WOPA Bank”.
From 1987 to 1995 he studied at the Vienna Film Academy where he made his first documentary, Those Loved by God, which was met with critical acclaim at numerous film festivals. After graduating from university, he spent five years working on his full-length documentary On the Seven Seas about a Soviet aircraft carrier. This film premiered in the Forum section of the Berlinale 2002. In 2000, in response to the Austrian government formed by the conservative People’s Party and the right-wing Freedom Party, he made his film Zero Crossing reflecting on the political situation.
Photo: R. Newald
His first television project was Der Gang der Dinge for BR (Bayerisches Fernsehen) about rural migration in the Upper Palatinate region. He continued his documentary work with Frauentag.
He is co-founder and associate of Navigator Film, a Vienna based production company for creative documentaries since 1996.
In 2003 Johannes Holzhausen was a member of the jury for the international competition at the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film. From 2005 to 2008 he was a member of the advisory board for films at the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, the Arts and Culture.
His films have featured at renowned international documentary festivals throughout Europe and have been purchased and/or co-produced by European broadcasters like Canal+, WDR, ORF, ARTE, DSF, ZDF, BR.
Navigator Film – Company Profile
The production company Navigator Film Produktion & Co. KG was founded 1996 in Vienna, Austria by Johannes Rosenberger, Johannes Holzhausen and Constantin Wulff. The perspective is the production of creative documentaries (shorts and full-length programs) for theatrical release as well as for television distribution, DVD market and online distribution. The majority of our productions are realized as european co-productions based on a network of partners in Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium, England, Island, Slovenia and Slovakia. Navigator Film was a founding member of dok.at, the Austrian association of documentary filmmakers to support the interests of this genre and its creative community.
Navigator Film is a member of EDN (European Documentary Network) and of the Austrian Association of Film Producers. In 2004 Navigator Film, Amour Fou Filmproduktion and Nikolaus Geyrhalter Filmproduktion founded the worldsales company Autlook Filmsales GmbH, located in Vienna and specialized in creative documentaries.
World Premiere: Berlinale Forum 2014
Austrian Premiere: Opening Film Diagonale 2014
Festivals: Istanbul Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival, Seattle Film Festival, Filmkunstfest MV Schwerin, DOK Fest Munich, Austrian Film Week Ukraine, Bildrausch Filmfest Basel, Transilvania Film Festival Romania, Sydney Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Festival, Jeruusalem Film Festival, Melbourne Film Festival, Espoo Cine International Film Festival, Vukovar Film Festival, Message to Man, Budapest Interantional Documentary Film Festival, Reykjavik Film Festival, Austrian Documentary Film Festival China, New Zealand International Film Festival, FID Marseille, BFI Film Festival London, CPH:DOX, IDFA
Berlinale: Caligari Film Award
Jury statement: ”With a beautifully gliding camera in pursuit, a man propels himself through the endless corridors of Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum on a scooter – and comes to a stop by a photocopier. It’s hard to imagine a more visually sumptuous presentation of the balancing act between culture and bureaucracy. The film is full both of ironically tinged references and endearingly depicted protagonists who give their blood, sweat and tears to preserving works of art. The director succeeds at taking an informative, humorous and intelligent look behind the scenes of a major museum, a museum that must assert itself within the international marketplace.”
Diagonale: Best artistic editing of a Documentary Film – Dieter Pichler
Jury Statement (in German)
Diagonale: Best Cinematography of a Documentary Film – Joerg Burger and Attila Boa
Jury statement (in German)
Perpignan/France: Filaf d’argent for The Great Museum