Frau mit Schleier vor dem Gesicht


SCHICHT is both a reckoning and a search for traces of the past. Layer by layer the film unfolds the portrait of the filmmaker's family - brought to life by records from private archives - and embarks on a dizzying trip through the shrinking industrial city of Salzgitter, Germany.

Mining, steelworks, model town. In the years 33 and 45, the first post-war generation projects itself into the future. Her father Rudolf learns his trade at the Reichswerke, works in mining and at VW. Mother Doris falls ill with multiple sclerosis. Her diary is an expression of her slow disappearance. She names her daughter after a singer: Alexandra. The daughter finds a different rhythm as a rebellious punk. 
Pulsating, sometimes breathless, the film follows a stream of uncovered stories. Places filmed today are attacked with archive material: propaganda, news reports, photos from family albums. Everything is subjected to a subjective interpretation. 

A film between analysis and imagination, composed from the punk of the teenage years, accompanied by the roar of the steelworks and the noise of the motorway. Interrupted by the piercing silence of disused mines, where radioactive waste will be dumped from 2020. Half-life 24,000 years. 685 generations.


Script / Director Alex Gerbaulet
Narrator Susanne Sachsse
Director of Photography Alex Gerbaulet, Smina Bluth
Sound Tom Schön
Montage Philip Scheffner
Sound Design Pascal Capitolin
Research Ines Meier
Producer Merle Kröger
Co-producer Uli Plank

Produced by pong film

In Co-Production with Institute for Media Research University of Arts Braunschweig 
Development funded by The Governing Mayor of Berlin, programme for women artists, Berlinale Talents DOC Station 2011
Production funded by nordmedia, Hessische Filmförderung

Alex Gerbaulet
Email: gerbaulet(at)
Tel: +49 (0)30 61076098



  • festivals

    World Premiere: International Short Film Festivals Oberhausen 2015
    International Premiere: FID International Film Festival Marseille 2015

    Other Festivals 2015-17 (selection):

    • Open Documentary Film Festival "Rossiya" in Ekaterinburg
    • UNDERDOX Filmfest Munic
    • Cinematek Brüssel within the programme "The Cost of Wealth"
    • Cinéphémère at FIAC Paris
    • Doclisboa
    • Kasseler Dokumentarfilm- und Video Fest
    • blicke Filmfestival des Ruhrgebiets
    • transmediale Berlin
    • Internationale Kurzfilmwoche Regensburg
    • Bucharest International Experimental Film Festival
    • International Short Film Festival Dresden
    • Internationales Frauen Film Festival Dortmund | Köln
    • European Media Art Festival Osnabrück
    • Vienna Independent Shorts
    • Internationales Kurz Film Festival Hamburg
    • Festival de Cine de Huesca
    • Moscow International Experimental Film Festival 
    • Belo Horizonte International Short Film Festival
    • Carbonia Film Festival
    • L'Alternativa Barcelona
    • International Short & Independent Film Festival Dhaka
    • VIDEONALE.16
    • UNIONDOCS New York City
    • Museu de Cinema de Girona
  • awards

    • Main Award German Competition | International Short Film Festival Oberhausen 2015
    • Prix Premiere | FID Marseille 2015
    • German Film Critics Award 2015
    • Best Female Director Award | Vienna Independent Shorts 2016
    • Jury Award German Competition | International Short Film Festival Hamburg 2016
    • Best Documentary Film | Moscow International Experimental Film Festival 2016
    • Best Short Film | L’Alternativa Festival de Cinema Independent de Barcelona 2016
  • exhibitions

    • 2023 
      Galerie der Künstler*innen München | Exhibition 'Apfelflug vom Stamm'
    • 2020 
      Akademie der Künste der Welt Köln, film programme accompanying the exhibition 'Geister, Spuren Echos: Arbeiten in Schichten'
    • 2017 
      Gene Siskel Film Center Chicago | Films by Alex Gerbaulet
      UNIONDOCS New York City | Films by Su Friedrich & Alex Gerbaulet
      Videonale.16 Exhibition Bonn
      Mal Seh'n Cinema Frankfurt am Main | Unter der Oberfläche – Alex Gerbaulet
      film programme accompanying the exhibition 'Schichten' at Luru Cinema Leipzig
    • 2016 
      ICI BERLIN | 'In Front of the Factory: Cinematic Spaces of Labour'
    • 2015 
      Cinéphémère at FIAC - Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain;
      Radialsystem V Berlin | Short Film Programme 'Generation Freiheit'
  • director's statement

    SHIFT is not least a film about the experience of dying. The film begins at my mother's grave, then jumps back in time and traces her slow disappearance. Many of the feelings from my youth - anger, aggression, helplessness - that the film orchestrates have their origins in witnessing her hovering between life and death.

    An impressive image of this state of limbo is the bed in which Doris spent the last years of her life. A special bed for decubitus patients that uses a fan to raise the mattress, which keeps the patient suspended. The aim is to protect the body, which no longer has any defences, from too much pressure on the skin. However, patients lose their body boundaries and no longer perceive themselves properly. For me, my mother's state of suspension is analogous to the state of suspension in which the city of Salzgitter finds itself today and which I try to capture in my pictures of the city.

    Salzgitter is also dying as an industrial metropolis. It is a 'shrinking city', unemployment is high, young people are emigrating, the city is becoming deserted. A once flourishing heavy industry is now increasingly diversifying - as the saying goes - and focussing on niche products or operating in the service sector. This may increase turnover, but it does not create more jobs. The Guardian reported on Salzgitter on 20 September 2013: "Analysts say Germany must act before it becomes full of ghost towns." The mines have been closed for a long time. And yet this is where the future lies, even if it is not being celebrated as the dawn of a new era. For Salzgitter, the post-industrial age means that the city will become the waste dump of the republic. A new foundation stone is being laid today for the city of tomorrow: It consists of barrels of nuclear waste cast in concrete. The new foundation that will support the city of Salzgitter of the future is being filled into the endless corridors of the former mines. Parts of the future repository's high-security facility are already visible today.

    The construction of the city was an act of violence, the shocks of which can still be felt today. To make the traces of the founding history visible, mere observation is not enough; digging, drilling and re-layering are required. Archive material is one of the 'tools' used here.

    Looking at this 'ghost town' and its 'revenants' also enables me to deal with my mother's state of limbo in a different way. All that remains of her today is the grave, the bed that continues to 'breathe' without her and the house that she never lived in. My father built it and stayed there. Every day he circles the empty centre of this dwelling. Every day, as he walks, he also circles the steelworks - the imaginary and actual centre of the city. The film circles this centre with him, which is no longer a point of reference.

    The steelworks "breathes" and smokes. Everywhere in the city you can hear the hiss of industry, which has stabilised the body of the city from within. But what will happen to the city today if this industry disappears or at least shrinks and lays off its workers? Pensioner Herbert Haschke tells the Guardian: "If there are no jobs, there are no homes, and soon there won't be a town any more." What will happen to the town, the people and the earth if the industry disappears? Will Salzgitter disappear, just as my mother disappeared? This is a question that affects many places in the world today that have grown up around industry. In this respect, the history of Salzgitter is also a universal story.

    What happens to the shaft when it is filled in, what happens to my mother's grave when it is levelled? Movements that are designed to be forgotten

  • text about Doris

    Doris | a text by Ines Meier | 2016

    The pictures in the photo album are scratched, reddish discoloured, the lint on the negatives enlarged. Glued corners, captions. Doris' evenly curved handwriting looks a little naive, younger than she is. 8 July 1972, her 21st birthday. She has been to the doctor. Blood count check-up. She won't last three weeks without an injection. She smiles at the camera, direct, open, trusting and a little mischievous. Her gaze is directed at the person behind the lens - Rudolf Gerbaulet, whom she meets that evening. In her wedding picture, she is wearing a white dress with a veil and he is wearing a black suit. She holds the bridal bouquet with its colourful flowers up to the camera like an incantation: everything will be fine.

    The sequence of images pushes through the birthday party, the standing together, the dancing, the paper streamers. Nothing about it seems detached. The bodies are so cropped that you lose your bearings. Guests hold a hand to their face, a cap, a jumper. I don't want to be photographed. I don't want you to take a picture of me. Despite protesting, Doris is picked up and thrown over and over again. She is afraid of falling.

    The images now race through the assault and the powerlessness, as if they want to get it over with as quickly as possible and as if they can't close their eyes to what's happening at the same time. And there is no end to it. More celebrations. Two blindfolded women. One is shoving chocolate into the other's mouth with a fork, a man's hand reaches into the picture from the right. It pushes the woman's head towards the fork. Carnival. Coarse-grained, black and white. They are all there: Hitler, Bismarck, two executioners. Choking a sailor whose face is contorted into a grimace. A stuffy, paralysing tightness, so strong that it cannot only come from inside the terraced houses of these model settlements. What we never see anywhere in these albums: The birth of the children. Photos of the parents with their daughters Ramona and Alexandra.

    When the family breaks up, Ramona is sent to a children's home and Alexandra to her grandparents. Rudolf is running. Doris moves from clinic to clinic. The incurable disease eats into her handwriting. Her defence cells turn against her own body. Her nerves are now literally on edge, she can hardly pass on any stimuli. She can no longer run off her letters. Individually, wrested from her hand with great effort, they stand stiff, angular, just so. With the biros firmly pressed down, she works her way through the words millimetre by millimetre. "This is the hospital," she writes on a card to her daughter, which she never sends. A picture shows Doris in a wheelchair in the hospital. Dizziness, fatigue, incontinence. Her contours blur. Her movements become smaller and smaller. She disappears, slowly, paralysingly. For carnival, Doris is dressed up as a witch by fellow patients. She wears huge glasses and a scarf around her head. A black dot is painted on her nose. Her face is sunken. Her gaze is directed straight into the camera. Somehow disturbed, exhausted and as if the lightning that is distorting her so mercilessly is already the light at the end of the tunnel.

  • fact sheet

    Country of Production: Germany 
    Year of Production: 2015
    Length: 28:30 minutes
    Format: 2K DCP, ProRes mov, h264 mov | 16:9, 25 fps, colour & b/w | 5.1 & stereo
    Language: German with English subtitles


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