Expat-run studio marries cinema, painting and video in Berlin
A film studio has opened its doors in an abandoned school gymnasium in Berlin, bridging the gap between the huge facilities in nearby Babelsberg, and the tiny do-it-yourself set-ups scattered the city. Melanie Sevcenko reports.
Berlin’s reputation for attracting artists and musicians, film makers and photographers is already well-earned and documented. For those following the stream of creativity to the German capital, there is now also a mid-sized film studio on offer, something that until now was sorely missing, its creator told The Local.
Joseph Ramirez, a California native, has spent the last 18 months working with friends to transform an abandoned school gymnasium in Lichtenberg into the Blood Orange East studio.
It has already hosted fashion shoots for a retail clothing catalogue, he reports, as well as the filming of a music video for the British-based band Mechanical Bride.
“If someone comes to town and needs studio space, we can co-produce with them and give them an amazing deal,” said Ramirez.
Blood Orange East operates on three levels: Ramirez’s personal work as a filmmaker and painter, collaborative pieces and international co-productions, and lastly, custom programming as a project space.
Now in the capital for two years, Ramirez chose Berlin as the site for his dream project because, he said, “as an art capital, it’s still in such formation. There’s so much possibility here and that’s what really excites me. Other cities are more pinned down, but Berlin is really flowing still.”
Realising he could never realistically afford the right space in London or New York, Berlin was the perfect fit. “It’s the European centre of the contemporary art scene. The quantity of world-class artists in Berlin is less than in London, but they’re definitely here.”
Blood Orange East officially opened as a ‘test run’ a week before the Berlinale last February, but Ramirez admits he has remained somewhat protective of how the studio is presented to Berlin’s artistic community.
“We’re sort of releasing it quietly, as opposed to big parties once a month,” he said.
“It’s easy to get numbers in Berlin, but we want to get quality artists. So I’m willing to wait and select, and then start collaborating. We really want to make sure it’s a good fit.”
With a background in furniture design, Ramirez studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he perfected his style of fresco and triptych paintings, basically the fine arts of Catholic churches, seminaries and monasteries.
It was around this time that he wrote and directed his first two feature films, which garnered US-wide attention for his old-world techniques. From there, Ramirez moved on to the Royal College of Art in London, which led him to the pre-cinema study of magic lanterns, zoetropes and 19th century magic.
But despite having spent two years in Berlin, Ramirez said he still felt like a newbie. “Honestly, I haven’t even experienced Berlin,” he said. “I’ve just been in the studio or at the hardware store buying materials. I spent 12-hour days, 6 days a week building!”
Though the construction is finished, Ramirez and his partner Soledad von Klitzing still have plenty of minor details to sort out, along with an ample amount of PR to tackle through their website, test-run events, networking, and of course, word-of-mouth promotion.
At the moment, Ramirez is negotiating with several different platforms of artistic work to engage the studio, including international installation artists, film collectives, production companies and screening series, such as the experimental cinema series Kino Satellite, organised by Berlin-based producer Pamela Cohn.
Blood Orange East is now the third largest studio in central Berlin, with the capacity to support a 40-person crew, covering an uncharted niche in the city between commercial spaces and amateur ateliers.
“Most of the studios are basically for hire, so they’re not artist-driven, that’s how we’re different,” said Ramirez. “I guess the place really has a soul, that’s what I keep hearing from people who come in.”
Blood Orange East is a quintessential labor of love, aiming to remain in Berlin for the long haul. “The fluidity of Berlin is more relaxing and being able to use it as a base is really good.”
“My personal dream is to get this space working for the marriage of cinema and painting,” confessed Ramirez.