Lourdes Picareta | Film-maker
Lourdes Picareta was born 58 years ago in Santa Iría, in the heart of the Alentejo. She completed her schooling in Almada. She speaks Portuguese, German, French, Spanish, English and Greek. Two years after the 25 April Revolution, she moved to Germany to study history, art and German philology in Mainz and Munich. Afterwards, she started to become interested in journalism and joined German television, where she still works for several broadcasting institutions at the ARD. Every year, she makes three or four long documentary films, many of which are also broadcast by the French-German channel ARTE and the channel 3sat. Her journalistic journey through life has taken her to many of the world’s ecological and social hotspots. In 2013, she was nominated for the coveted German Grimme Prize for the film “Gemachte Armut” (literally “Made Poverty”). Last year, she released a very authentic film on German television, which she called “Meine Heimat Alentejo” (My Alentejo Homeland)*. ECO123 visited her during her holiday on the west coast.
You are Portuguese. Your husband is Greek. You live in Germany and go on holiday in the Alentejo. What do you do with your time?
I experience it. I am always very curious. I think of time as a very great asset. It is like a vessel. You can fill it up or allow it to run dry. Both are of value. Sometimes it is worth filling the vessel. But sometimes you just have to let it run dry. Enjoying and feeling time. Exercising a profession in a cultural context that is not your own is sometimes complicated and nerve-racking. Then you have to sort yourself out and remember, you were born in Santa Iría, in a small village with few pretensions, where people have survived. The foundations of this very simple way of life are important. People need good food, good air, not much round about, and the sea. Nature. I think that I am at one with it here and now, and in my life. That’s how I grew up. We are a part of nature and yet we often do things with it that could be called rubbish.
What was it like to be a foreigner in Germany?
Sometimes it’s very pleasant. You can always run away, for example, into the world of foreigners. That is an excuse for many things, where one would otherwise have to confront the problems directly. But you often lack the lightness of being too, not being burdened with the feeling that you’re always standing on the outside. Sometimes you’re together with friends or colleagues and you make a comment about the society where you live. Then you hear someone say, “Well, is it different where you come from?” I think to myself, this is where I come from. Always implicitly seeing the outside – that you don’t belong to Germany – is sometimes not nice. I’ve been living in Germany for 40 years, but I’m Portuguese and always will be.
What do you think about the subject of Europe?
Europe is a very difficult story and is a dream. When I arrived in Germany, the Franco-German friendship was a necessity, and later with Holland and Belgium too. I also believed that this friendship was possible. But it has become an economic question and not nearly enough of a cultural question. These days, when the economy dominates daily life, I think that the actual basis for Europe, namely that people understand each other culturally, has got lost. The way Germany behaved with regard to Greece was the last straw for me. If the previous assumption was of a European dream, that is something that turned into a nightmare. If we cannot find a way of coming together other than on the basis of these harsh economic foundations then the dream is over. I have become sceptical in this regard. I have made a lot of films abroad, which is why I still live in Germany…-
…- can you explain that sentence?
To start with, I worked for the ZDF television channel. The programme was called “Nachbar Europa” (Neighbour Europe). Although I earned quite a lot of money working as a translator on this programme, I realised that I didn’t want to be pigeonholed. I would always have been the foreign worker. At some point I said, I’ll move to what was then known as Südwestfunk, because I wanted to do completely normal work as a journalist. Then I quickly moved into reporting on Europe and then into reporting on world affairs with the broadcaster ARD. I was sent everywhere, either on the basis of my own suggestions or by the editorial team; to places where there were interesting things to report on and about which we made lots of different programmes. One of them was called “Countries, People, Adventure”. And this travelling, capturing this world, I think that’s where it was that Germany affected me so much as a Portuguese person. We Portuguese have always been like that. We have always headed off around the world. I had a feeling, which many Portuguese people also have. This curiosity to see something new. I don’t think that we only have this tendency to want to find out more about the world out of financial necessity. The huge sea in front of us, which always gave us the feeling of wanting to see more. This restlessness that you permanently feel, that we don’t want to define, that we are looking for something… We are not practically-inclined people. The broadcaster sent me to the Maya, to the Caatinga in Brazil, and to India. Challenges that were very big for me. I came through them every time. I think it was these discoveries that tied me to Germany so much, so that I said to myself, here I have the chance to see the world and to work on interesting subjects. And I said to myself, remain yourself and stick to it and things will go well for you.
Of course I then married my Greek husband and we had two children together. Germany gives you a great feeling of safety. When you have children, you want to give them safety. My husband loves his work as a mathematician and so we kept on staying for a year and always had the feeling that we hadn’t arrived yet. It’s still like that today. I don’t know whether, with my experience, I’ll be able to say of myself whether I have arrived somewhere. Even if I returned to Portugal, I still wouldn’t actually have arrived. I am always travelling. That’s why I’m still in Germany, because I’m still allowed to travel.
Where have you been to?
I’ve been to almost all European countries. Outside Europe, to Burkina Faso, Mali, South Africa, Nigeria. In South America, I know Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, the USA. Then I’ve also been to Macao, China, India, Cambodia and Thailand.
Humanity has not only tripled in the last 50 years. Problems have worsened, at least if you believe the journalism that broadcasts its reports into our living rooms from the remotest corners of the planet. What is your view of this?
This is difficult to explain because we journalists are not sent to report on bad states of affairs. In other words, we don’t capture a country, but focus on a specific problem. Then, when you convey that, it is rarely a positive experience, it is different to when you go there as a tourist. In this respect, I am careful with my judgements. But what I see in the work that I have done, even in cultural projects like the film now about the routes of the Maya, I keep seeing the exploitation of people, I see a few people who live at the expense of the many, and unscrupulousness. When I think about my film about child prostitution in Cambodia or violence against women in India, then that is my experience. I sometimes took the opportunity to visit a temple very early in the morning at three o’clock, because I wanted to see something wonderful from the culture from time to time. In contrast with the vileness that I had to see, how nine-year-old children are sold, how they are mistreated and then thrown out into the street. The same in India too. Asia has wholly negative connotations for me. Seeing that the Maya, a civilised people, are among the poorest people, is sad. We journalists always think that we can change something and I am always pleased if someone rings up the broadcaster and says that they want to pay for a girl to study. That is already a change. We don’t normally achieve much more than that.
Don’t you wonder sometimes what you are actually doing here? Is the life of a journalist fulfilling?
I think that what is fulfilling are the works themselves. If I can refer to my films as works. When I see that a film reaches particular people and conveys particular feelings, that is fulfilling. But creating something? I am the daughter of a dressmaker and a shoemaker. We always had a good feeling in our family when people put on the completed clothes and felt good. That is the moment of fulfilment. I don’t derive that from the thought that I can change the world politically and socially. My task is to describe cultures, beauty, but also bad states of affairs, and convey the feelings that I had on the ground. If that succeeds, then the feeling is one of fulfilment.
What do you always take with you on your travels, something you would never leave at home?
The cash box (laughs) to be able to pay fees. (Laughs) No, also a little bottle with arnica globules. I don’t know how to ride a horse, but I ride nonetheless. We go on expeditions where we climb up to a glacier with five or six horses and with all the camera equipment and a lot of material. Because it’s not accessible by car. My husband always gives me a small first-aid kit to take with me. Then I have the feeling that something is protecting me. At another time, I always used to have two small diamonds with me. I was given them in Brazil. People were looking for diamonds and we were filming them and they gave me these bits of glass. They were my talismans until they were stolen from me in Siegburg. In Germany!
Is there anything that means more to you than money and travel?
Of course. My family, my husband, my children and a beautiful day like today. I would probably need a month to list everything. Money is a necessity. Money is a means of exchange, but nothing more.
What does this means of exchange mean to you?
I am in the fortunate position that I do not have to measure its importance. Because there has always been enough to live well. If you don’t demand too much, for example having five houses, then money is a necessity for a certain security in your life. In my profession, you meet people every day who have to earn money, no matter how, just to be able to buy something to eat. I have so far been able to live in a country where everything is regulated. I have never had to fight for my money, although I have worked hard for my films, both for the film about poverty in Europe and about violence in India. There is no relationship between what I do and what I receive in money in return. For a 45-minute film there is a fixed fee, and that’s it; it doesn’t matter how long I spend working on it.
Can you imagine returning to your childhood home in Santa Iría and spending your old age there?
Well, if I can keep travelling, then maybe yes. As my husband is Greek, we might travel there. But that also depends on our children and we will be making decisions then that we don’t know about today.
To Santa Iría?
No. That is so far away from me. Even if I know that that is where my life began and I value that time greatly, and am very happy to remember it quite consciously. It is very difficult to know where my place is in the world.
So your life is a journey and should always continue like that?
I hope so.
You have two sons, who I would like to turn to now. How do you see the future of people in the age of diminishing resources and growing mountains of rubbish?
That is actually a problem that we would prefer not to tackle. I noticed this recently because I was due to report for the next themed evening on refugees. We decided to report on Sri Lanka and India because people are already fleeing from Sri Lanka to India since their fields are becoming salty owing to the rising sea level…
Please explain that to me as a human being. How do you see the future of human beings?
I don’t make a big difference between being a journalist and being a human being. I have thought about why it is that we get so excited about a terrorist attack in which two, three, five or ten people die …
…or a hundred…
…and do not think about the fact that 60 million people from Africa and Asia are making their way to Europe and that wars
will start. I think humanity suppresses that. Because it is connected with the topic of the environment and because we are incapable of acting consistently enough. I admit my guilt…
… guilt or responsibility?
Irresponsibility and guilt.
Does bearing responsibility have positive connotations for you?
In Germany, we have learned to shop locally, buying our food from the farmer at the farm shop, and only when a foodstuff is not available do we resort to a foreign product. I am responsible in that regard. That is everyday life and it is important. But I am not able to say that I no longer drive a car at all, which pollutes our atmosphere, or that I drive an electric car like yours. Instead, I allow myself to be persuaded by my sons to drive an R4 in Portugal and to travel by train in Germany.
Driving a car is the lesser evil. You could change that very quickly. But your bad conscience is the flights. How many flights a year?
I don’t fly so much, because I make long films. I fly, stay on location for three to four weeks and then fly back again. I don’t make more than four films.
So four flights, plus holiday, that comes to five or six flights per year?
Do you have an idea how much these flights cost in terms of CO2?
That is the question that we try to dodge.
Do you know what your annual ecological footprint is?
No. I only know that since the beginning of August we have already reached the limit and everything we have been doing here on earth for weeks adds to the warming of the atmosphere.
You’re only allowed to give rise to two and a half tonnes of CO2 per year. One flight on holiday and you’ve reached the limit. That’s without any driving, any shopping or a single kilowatt hour of electricity.
We live in an irresponsible manner. But it is not enough just to state that.
The very specific question here is, how do people get their lives and their work to harmonise with nature in such a way that they emit less and less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As a journalist, a pilot, a truck driver, an entrepreneur, and employee etc. Because it’s not only for time that there’s a separate vessel: there’s one for CO2 too, and once it’s full, that’s it. It’s already overflowing.
Why don’t you take more time? If none of us flew any more and travelled more slowly, we would all live healthier lives. Can you imagine travelling less, or differently?
If I didn’t travel by plane any more, I would have to work less. In Europe, I could travel differently. But that wouldn’t work with intercontinental flights. For the camera operators it is almost impossible. In general, it is the broadcaster that decides how we travel.
There is a document that was adopted in Paris in December 2015. There it talks about “Plus two degrees Celsius” …
I know it.
Does that have a meaning?
No. Those are declarations of intent.
So, nothing will change? Humanity will go singing and dancing to its end?
Only because we are not capable of calling ourselves into question?
Unless the 60 million refugees come knocking on our doors and say, your environmental behaviour has led to me being on the move. Take me in.
So, as a challenge to us, do the refugees behave in a more environmentally aware manner?
What are we to do? We have already had a foretaste. The first wave came and is now stuck in Greece and Italy. We can still do that with half a million people or so, but not with 60 million. For me, that is going to be one of the big challenges.
Doesn’t each individual have to start with themselves? Perhaps not with one step, but over years with lots of small steps?
I’ll be drawing my pension by then, and will be able to manage that by then. I’m sorry that I can’t say anything better. Why do we have news report after news report on terrorism? I don’t want to say that this isn’t important, but we fail to see the danger that we are all running into an abyss. Perhaps because we don’t believe it? Perhaps because we live in accordance with Darwin’s theory and think everything will sort itself out? Something in our heads makes us blind to this danger.
Why is there a lack of concrete plans that focus on solutions?
You must know Saramago’s book “Blindness”. For me, that is a good metaphor for the situation in which we live.
Buy home-grown products. Think globally, act locally.
We’ve been doing that for 20 years. That’s old hat. The status quo is that of travel.
Could you reduce the number of your flights step by step? Journalists could ask fundamental questions about their working methods.
I have no answer to that.