Achtung Berlin 2018 – “Talking Money”

     |    Friday April 20th, 2018

Regardless of where in the world, banks are frighteningly similar – so are the conversations held there. Sebastian Winkels confirms this assumption with his documentary film “Talking Money”, which Andrew Horn eyed up at this year’s Achtung Berlin Filmfestival.

Sebastian Winkels’ documentary, “Talking Money”, begins with a quote from Karl Marx: “Money is not a thing, it’s a social relationship.” I guess you can take that any number of ways, but Winkels decided to take it to the bank – literally. Inspired, as he says, by personal experiences at his bank, the film sets out to document a wide variety of interactions between bank representatives and their clients/customers to get a global overview of how such relationships play out. And when I say global, again, he takes it literally, visiting banks in Chicago, Karachi, Zurich, Benin, Bolivia, Tiblisi, Naples and Potsdam and recording what he found.

Winkels says that in organizing the film, he contacted ca 180 banks world-wide and was refused by all but these few. The customers on the other had, were much more willing. He says that all it took was to show up at a bank with his crew, hang around the lobby and approach people coming in. He was surprised to find that most were willing to do it, and of the ones he filmed, everyone agreed to sign their release.

The scenes were set up so that the camera focused solely on the customers, with the bankers heard but never seen. The situations we observed ranged from corporate loans of 30 million rupees (ca 250,000 Euros) to a micro loan of 500 dollars. There were people who wanted credit lines and people struggling to pay off debts. There was one man trying to cash a check over his limit and a family trying to settle a relative’s estate. One woman was in the market for environmentally friendly investments and a couple needed a loan to buy an apartment. A young man was investing in a 30 year fund and an old man was trying to organize his pension payouts.

Information was predictably requested by the bankers but the customers would often offer more then they needed to. One woman insisted on discussing her relationship with her boyfriend, another couple talked about various family members who were their beneficiaries. At least two people found themselves blabbing about other debts that they probably shouldn’t have mentioned, and another man got into a whole rap about his paint and varnish business. Both women trying for loan extentions were offering up various scenarios, probably true, but with limited success.

The bankers could be congenial, helpful, stubborn, or exasperated. One was bamboozling a client about hidden fees, while another seemed less a banker and more a sleazy loan shark. And a couple of them seemed like they were a bit too accepting of someone’s dicey credit history. Clients, for their part, were friendly, insistent, victimized, accepting, slightly dishonest, and often confused. Some relationships worked out in the end (ask the man who walked off with his pockets literally stuffed with cash), a few were unresolved, and one or two not so great. All in all a little paradigm of life.

In fact, the film made me think of an experience of my own. When I was making my first documentary here in Berlin, I spent a lot of time at the bank dealing with my rather uneven cash flow. It go so I was in there so much, my banker and I found ourselves drawn into big discussions about the film, whose theme, it turned out, she actually had a personal connection to. In fact she had enough to say about it that I asked her to be in the film. And I came out of it all with a rather hefty credit line. I guess Marx was right.

Andrew Horn

Ahorn