penelope buitenhuis - writer / director
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No Trouble For Penelope Buitenhuis
In *Press Magazine 16th June 1993 34

Watching Penelope Buitenhuis speak of her latest film, Trouble, seems to encapsulate the very qualities that make this German low-budget production the hyper-kinetic ball of rap-driven energy that it is. As her attention zooms from a plate of stir-fry vegetables to a half-drunk cup of coffee to a cigarette to an interview-in-progress, one gets the feeling that you are actually speaking with one of the characters in her cool, but friendly, little film rather than the writer-director-initiator of what has amounted to an impressive feature debut.

Trouble focuses on the trials and tribulations of Jonnie, a Berlin-based Neneh Cherry-type trying to wrap her head around the ins and outs of her life while leading a “rap-a-billy” band (an addictive blend of Eddie Cochran and hip-hop) and ensuring the survival of an energetic independent music collective. Based in part on the experience of the lead actress, Yvonne Duckworth, as a black woman living in the new Berlin, and Buitenhuis’ own observations as a Canadian artist based in the German capital, it turns out that the way the film eventuated was not exactly part of her plans for her first feature.

“It’s funny seeing this film and how people react to it, you know?” said Buitenhuis, “because this was a story that I never really wanted to tell. It seemed to take on its own life. At the time I was approached to do a film, I was really depressed because I had just broken up with my boyfriend, lost my apartment and a whole lot of other things, so I was just not in the mood at all to write a film. The Wall had just come down in Berlin, so I wanted to do a story on a couple who were breaking apart on the night the Wall came down. I thought it would be a fun idea to have this event of huge historical significance happening in the background, with a much more personalized story happening in the foreground. You know, a dialectic between the two. But history moves so fast that the Wall and everything to do with it became old news very, very quickly.”

So quickly, in fact, that Buitenhuis found herself shaping a movie that was totally different to her original concept. But, having already committed herself to the making of a film, she quickly found her stride in coming up with a bevy of new ideas, the most fascinating of which was her decision to re-shape conventional rap music into a 50’s meets 90’s confection.

“I didn’t want pure rap, because rap is now so familiar to the ear. People seem to tune out, if they’re not really into it. So I thought if I could detach rap from its traditional background, and add to it a rhythm that would make people sit forward and listen, then I would be able to make much more of a connection with this film.”

Buitenhuis has found that Trouble has come under fire in her adopted country for a variey of reasons that are very hard to understand. The film’s strong points - its gritty, pointed use of streetwise music forms, snappy bi-lingual dialogue, and an all-pervading positive political attitude - have been shot down by surlier sections of the German media as opportunistic contrivances. Not so, says Buitenhuis, and with good reason.

“The thing is, I’ve been living there for nine years, and have been involved in the community there on so many levels. So I don’t feel like a tourist. I can only react to what I see around me, and trouble is very much a result of that. This is real life. Face up to it. Enjoy it for what it’s worth. You know what I mean?”

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Penelope can be reached in Canada through her agent
THE CHARACTERS
Carl Liberman (Toronto)
Tel: 416-964-8522 fax: 416-964-8206

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