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“Bringing Different Stories Together To Create an Exciting Narrative”: Editors Anne Juenemann and Lisa Zoe Geretschläger on Eternal You

A close-up of an AI avatar of a rosy-cheeked baby.Eternal You, courtesy of Sundance Institute

The prospect of creating personal AI avatars to comfort loved ones after death is the premise of Eternal You, a film by co-directors Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck premiering at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.

Below, co-editors Anne Juenemann and Lisa Zoe Geretschläger discuss how they divvied up the workload while being based between Berlin and Vienna, with Block and Riesewieck also splitting their time between the two cities.

See all responses to our annual Sundance editor questionnaire here.

Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the editor of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?

Geretschläger: The two directors, Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck, specifically wanted to work with two editors on Eternal You, so one editor could work in Berlin with Hans and the other editor could work in Vienna with Moritz. I had not worked with them or with my co-editor Anne Jünemann before, but Hans and Moritz found me via the Austrian Editors Association and apparently liked the range of work I had done, especially on the documentary films Eva-Maria, Alice Schwarzer and Souls of a River. When they asked me to be one of the editors of this film, I was immediately intrigued by the subject matter and thought the footage they sent me looked very promising, and even though I didn’t have a lot of time until I had to start editing my next fiction film, I was very much looking forward to the collaboration.

Jünemann: I have been working on documentaries for some years now, and the directors had seen some of my editing work and asked me to join the team. I was intrigued to collaborate with them. For one, because their former film The Cleaners, was a surprising and interesting watch. And I was also interested in how to work with two directors and a second editor on a documentary. 

Filmmaker: In terms of advancing your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were your goals as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape?

Jünemann: It was important to both directors to get close to the characters. In addition to all the information that the topic of AI entails, we wanted to tell the different emotional states of the characters in a tangible way. To do this, we had to be clear about what we wanted to focus on with each character. The second editing phase revealed, that some of the protagonists were not strong enough for the narrative, whereas new ones found their way into the film. 

Another aspect was to find the connection of the different characters so that they complement each other without repeating themselves through their stories of loss and grief. In the second editing phase, it also became clear that we didn’t want to interrupt the individual storylines, but rather tell them as a coherent moment in the film. This dramaturgical question had been there from the start. 

Geretschläger: My goal, like on every movie, was to tell the story in the most compelling way possible and to stay true to our protagonists. Since we had footage from quite a few people, both users and start-up founders, a main question that we worked on and discussed regularly was which protagonists would make it into the final edit of the film, and what we might still need to shoot. Which stories and which facets of this subject did we want to tell? At the beginning of the edit we did not yet have the South Korea footage (although it was always planned) or the Christi Angel footage (which was not planned initially). One of the storylines I always liked especially was Stephenie Oneys story. But her storyline was one of those that were not set in stone and I definitely wanted to preserve it. I wanted this for multiple reasons, but one of the most important ones was diversity. Almost all of the start-ups or companies working on digital afterlife are run by men, and on account of the footage we had so far, it could have easily turned into a film that almost exclusively featured North American white men and we really wanted this documentary to be a diverse and international representation of the people working on and dealing with the subject of digital afterlife. 

Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?

Geretschläger: I have previously worked with two directors on a few projects, but never with two directors as well as another editor up until then. And since it was clear from the get-go that I wasn’t available for the whole time they wanted to edit, we decided that we would start editing together and then, when I had to leave for the next project, Anne would finish editing the film with Hans and Moritz and I would still give feedback during this time. Although finish editing the film” sounds like there was not a whole lot to do anymore, which cant be further from the truth—there were still more shooting days to come and also a lot of decisions that had yet to be made.

Anyway, we started the editing process with an intense and wonderful workshop-like week in Berlin and then we worked in teams: Hans with Anne in Berlin and Moritz with me in Vienna. We constantly updated the other team on what we were working on and gave each other feedback. We also had another workshop-like week all together in Vienna when we were further along with the edit. Of course, with four people so closely involved at that pivotal stage of the film, you dont always see eye to eye on everything and have different ways to tackle different scenes and/or problems, but I think that was exactly what helped us be even more productive and get the best out of the footage.

Jünemann: First, we edited the individual characters into a coherent narrative. This was an important step in preparing the overall dramaturgy of the film. In the first editing phase, my colleague and I divided up the protagonists.
After the editing break and the shooting of other protagonists, I was the only editor and concentrated more on the overall dramaturgy of the film. 

For this, questions such as the followings helped create the storyline. What role does the respective person play in the theme of the film? What is the focus of their story? When in the movie should this be told? With whom does this storyline complement?
With the help of a pinboard, the directors and I regularly pursued these questions and often thought through the film this way before I edited and assembled the individual building blocks in the timeline. 

At the same time, both directors selected the interviews with the experts, which then served as additional links between the protagonists and broadened the topic even further. Feedback screenings helped us to become clearer in terms of rhythm and comprehensibility. 

Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?

Jünemann: After school, I moved to Berlin and I met a lot of new people. One of them showed me films from the director Wong Kar-wai. Fallen Angels, Chunking Express…the poetry, the mystery and visuality changed my concept of film. And my goal became to work in film. I tried a few things until I decided to become an editor. First for commercials, then with studying editing, for feature films and documentaries. 

Editing for me means to work with intuition, form narratives, be inspired by visual style and find rhythmical equivalents. And I feel challenged every time and enjoy learning with each project I work on. 

Geretschläger: As a teenager I really enjoyed making short films and parodies with my friends. When I was finishing high school and the time came to choose a career path, it was actually my father who suggested that I might want to study filmmaking since I enjoyed it so much! So, among others, I applied to the film college in Vienna for directing and editing and was happy to be one of the students selected for that year. During my time there, I realized that it was editing that I enjoyed most – putting the pieces of the puzzle together, telling the story in a compelling way, really getting the film to shine. I was fortunate enough to have great classmates with whom I made numerous short and mid-length films. Nearing the end of my studies I started doing assistant editing jobs on feature-length documentaries and fiction films, mainly for the wonderful editor Joana Scrinzi and soon got the opportunity to edit my first feature-length fiction film Agony (directed by David Clay Diaz), which had its world premiere at the Berlinale 2016, as well as my first feature-length documentary film Late Blossom Blues: The Journey of Leo “Bud” Welch (directed by Wolfgang Almer and Stefan Wolner) the same year.

Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?

Geretschläger: I mostly work with Avid Media Composer, but on this project we used Adobe Premiere Pro and worked in a team project which automatically synced our Berlin and Vienna editing suites and made exchanging edited sequences really easy.

Jünemann: We worked with Adobe Premiere for different reasons. It had been seen set up months ago, because the directors had started working with the material long time before we started editing the whole film. And from different cities we needed to have simultaneous access to the material and the edits and this worked well with the setup. 

Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?

Jünemann: The biggest challenge was bringing different stories together to create an exciting narrative. And, of course, the question of which person we wanted to open the film with, was a central theme in the editing process. Because everything else was based on this and, at the same time, not all characters were suitable for the beginning due to the linking of the stories. In the end, we decided on Joshua, but he is not such a captivating character. We could only change this to a limited extent in the montage. That’s why we decided to create an intro combined with the title sequence to get closer to the theme in advance, which in turn brought with it new challenges. 

Geretschläger: I think the most difficult thing about the editing process on this project was to say goodbye to whole scenes and protagonists. For me, the scene that was probably hardest to say goodbye to was the one with Stephenies father Bill. We had an interesting scene where he recorded personal stories for his avatar so his descendants would be able to ask him questions about his life, his work and the racism he faced and overcame. I really liked seeing the actual person recording his memories, as well as seeing his children and grandchildren asking the avatar questions and hearing his replies later in the film. But sadly, all in all, it just took up too much time and it made more sense to have a broader understanding and representation of the subject than seeing more excerpts of a single protagonist. 

Filmmaker: Finally, now that the process is over, what new meanings has the film taken on for you? What did you discover in the footage that you might not have seen initially, and how does your final understanding of the film differ from the understanding that you began with?

Geretschläger: Looking at the footage I really enjoyed getting to know our individual protagonists, and when I first started to work on the film, I actually thought it would become a much more character-driven documentary. But now that the process is over, I think the film has benefitted greatly from its broader scope, including users, start-up founders, as well as critics and researchers, because it now features the full spectrum of emotional and scientific aspects of digital afterlife.

Jünemann: When I received the request for the project, I had just returned from a journey to the Brazilian jungle. I had spent some time far away from the digital world and so the topic surprised and irritated me. The movie solidified in me the idea that technology is created under the heading of helping people. However, this overlooks how the technology is changing the reality of the user, and the resulting risks are not adequately addressed. 

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