Award-winning director, lecturer and journalist
Born in 1959 in Zurich, Sabine Gisiger studied history in Zurich and Pisa. In 1989, she trained as a TV journalist with Swiss television and then worked for many years as a reporter at home and away. Since 1990, Sabine has been making remarkable documentaries. Indeed, in 2001 she caused a commotion with her documentary entitled DO IT, which she directed together with Marcel Zwingli. It was an international sensation and won the film award in 2001 for the best Swiss documentary. Sabine went on to have further success with films GAM BIT in 2005 and GURU —Bhagwan, His Secretary & His Bodyguard in 2010, both of which were nominated for the Swiss Film Awards. Sabine has lectured on documentary films since 2002 at the ZHDK Zurich and at the Lucerne School of Art & Design. She has been a member of the Federal Film Commission since 2012.
Sabine Gisiger is a soft-spoken woman, intuitive and philosophical. What I found particularly endearing is when discussing her incredible accomplishments she does so in a very unassuming manner. Sabine’s latest movie Yalom’s Cure is the portrait of the 80-year-old psychotherapist and bestselling author Irvin D. Yalom. “I wanted to make a film that affects the viewers in the same cathartic way as the reading of Irvin Yalom’s books affect me – a film that inspires the audience to think about themselves and their own existence.” I was so privileged to sit down and talk to Sabine.
What got you into filmmaking?
My father bought us a Super-8 camera from Japan. He wasn’t particularly into photography or filming but it was lying around and one day with my boyfriend we did a programme about Migros and that’s how it happened…by accident really. But then I was hooked, as I learnt another way, or medium, to understand the world. I went on to make my first major film in 1994.
Who inspires you the most?
My father. He was great guy. I loved him so much, he was always positive. He was a sales man and a real family man, too. I was lucky: both my mother and my father were encouraging. They always liked what I did and as a child there were no expectations. I was accepted for who I was.
You have been teaching as a lecturer on documentary films since 2002 at the ZHDK Zurich (Master Class) and at the Lucerne School of Art & Design. Tell us about your role as a teacher.
I teach documentary at the Zurich University of the Arts. The University is a vibrant centre for teaching. Being with young people is so valuable. I feel so optimistic because of their dynamism, their curiosity, and their courage, and the campus is really quite magnificent.
Your latest film Yalom’s cure is exceptional. What idea sparked this breathtaking documentary?
The idea of this documentary was inspired by the death of my father and my divorce. I had a lot of sadness and grief. I came across the book Love’s Executioner by Irvin Yalom and it helped me tremendously. I learnt to understand others and, more importantly, myself. I wanted to pass on the comfort I felt to others, and thus began the process.
I have to mention the music in the film. The composer Balz Bachmann did a wonderful job. His music was a character in itself.
Yes, it is truly wonderful. That is what I like about my films: I have worked with the same team since the very beginning. We are like a family and I think that is very important when you are in this industry.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
My father told me his mother always said to him, “In the face of adversity look outside, life continues…”
What’s the next challenge for us?
Ageing. This will be a challenge in many different ways economically and for society. Ageing with dignity is a topic in itself. I also feel that a universal challenge is the gap between the rich and the poor. It is getting bigger and bigger, which is very distressing.
What’s next for you?
I am making a film about Friedrich Dürrenmatt, the brilliant Swiss author and dramatist. He was a friend of my father and an advocate of epic theatre, whose plays reflected the experiences of World War II.
Article by Sunita Sehmi