Imagine the psychological effect of unwittingly leading police to the scene of a friend’s murder. Although it may sound like a scene from a Hollywood thriller, it is the startling climax of Christian Bauer’s latest doc, Allen Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
The film tells the story of Allen Ross, an American cameraman and friend of Bauer’s who went missing in 1995. After police closed the case file in 1996 without an arrest, Bauer decided to take matters into his own hands. As a direct result of Bauer’s detective work, police found Ross’ body under the basement of his house. It was the same basement they searched four years before and found nothing.
The 90-minute film was a labor of love for Munich-based Bauer. He re-traced Ross’ path from Illinois to Oklahoma and Colorado to Wyoming, and in the process discovered some mysterious things that motivated him to keep searching. ‘It was only after my friend disappeared that I learned he had been involved in a cult,’ explains Bauer. ‘I feared that the cult might have been the reason for his disappearance and perhaps his murder. I was a bit afraid to tackle the subject, because I didn’t know what kind of a situation I would find myself in. For four years there had been no news. I decided I needed to go ahead to not only find out what happened to him, but if there had been a crime, to bring the perpetrators to justice.’
Bauer admits that the US$400,000 film – which was commissioned by Germany’s ARD and ARTE and will be completed this month – may be his most challenging project to date, both personally and professionally. ‘It’s perhaps only once in a lifetime that a filmmaker has to deal with a subject that is so close to home. I played with the idea for quite some time before I actually contacted broadcasters,’ says Bauer. ‘For broadcasters in Europe, this cameraman from Chicago was not such a hot subject. Their decision to give me the go depended very much on my previous work with Allen and the films I had made for them over the years.’
This passion for tackling personal subjects in films – films which broadcasters may not initially welcome with open arms – is something that distinguishes Bauer from some of his peers. He started out as a professor at the University of Munich before turning to writing and then filmmaking. In 1988 he started his own production company, Tangram Productions. It now produces 10 to 15 hours of non-fiction programming – mostly one or two-hour docs – a year. It also serves as a place where freelance filmmakers can develop their own projects with help from Bauer. ‘Filmmaking has always been a tool for me to explore the world and to find out more about the things which interest me,’ says Bauer. ‘I’m very much curiosity-driven and that’s true for most of the projects Tangram has in production.’
Those projects have ranged from films about UFOs and psychics to a look at one of the largest party caterers in Europe. Up-and-coming projects for Tangram and Bauer include Odyssee of Man, a 3 x 60-minute series on how man conquered the planet, in production for German pubcaster ZDF and ZDF Enterprises; Metropolis: Ancient Megacities, 4 x 60-minutes for zdf; and Sappenkütchie, a feature length look at a Bavarian/German restaurant in San Francisco due for theatrical release in 2002.
As for Allen Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Bauer says even though the film is nearing completion, it continues to haunt him. ‘It’s a rollercoaster, because I’m confronted with the story day by day in the edit suite… It’s a detective story, but it’s different from similar fiction stories because there are so many questions that still need answers.’