If you know three of the edgiest fashion brands of the moment, you must be aware of the director behind their films. Alexa Karolinski has been directing all of Eckhaus Latta’s collection videos, as well as a couple for Los Angeles cult brand 69 and New York’s queen bee Maryam Nassir Zadeh. But this German, who relocated to Hollywood Hills by way of New York, makes not only fashion films – her work can be tagged as poetry, cultural commentary, and, overall, intriguing stories in the form of moving images. Alexa is now working on her upcoming documentary film, Alles in Allem.
Hi Alexa, so happy we finally have a moment to chat! What are you up to?
I’m leaving for Berlin in two weeks. I’m starting a new documentary project there. This trip is for research and postproduction, and I’ll be doing a couple of other smaller projects too.
What’s the documentary about?
The documentary is an essayistic film about my German Jewish identity through art and culture. In Germany, people are starting to actively think about identity, and not just the identity of the majority, but of minorities too. This is really important right now, especially with the country taking in so many refugees. Germany is not like the US – it’s not an immigrant country.
Oma & Bella, your first film, also explored your roots.
Yes, but in a different way. The Holocaust had a huge impact on Germany and its identity in the world. Oma & Bella was more about that generation – the Jewish grandmothers who survived the Holocaust. It was about tradition and trauma in a way, whereas this new film is about my generation: a third generation of Jewish and non-Jewish people who define themselves as German.
So, will you portray your generation through specific art pieces?
Not really, not in that way. It’s about art and culture that has affected me while growing up. This isn’t a journalistic film, I’m taking a more artistic approach. I’d like to look for meaning in things that are not necessarily obvious to many.
Talking about it, at this point, is quite abstract – I think it will be more enjoyable to do so once it’s done. I’m still processing, researching, figuring it out.
Do you have anything lined up at this early stage?
I carried the project around with me for two years before I actively went for it. But yes, finding the right producer was the first big step. I have funding and backing from a major German TV station, as well as a great producer and a stellar DP, and a bunch of incredibly talented and critical friends.
Do you think that living so far away from where you grew up triggers the feeling of your background and home culture?
Of course. I think it’s natural to feel different to whatever the normative culture is, and that can change wherever you go. Where are you from?
I see. So I’m sure here (in the US) you feel very Spanish, but in Spain you don’t necessarily identify with the majority of people. Or maybe you do, I don’t know (laughs).
It's interesting to me that I got such a cultural sock when I moved to Los Angeles. Growing up I considered myself a “very international” person, and wasn’t expecting to feel like I did when I moved away. I think LA is a particularly difficult city to adapt to, to understand and feel like you belong there.
It’s like that for me too. Especially after growing up in Europe with the influence of Hollywood, and then coming here and realising, of course, that all those shows were fake. LA is not nostalgic, and Hollywood is an industry, so when something ends people move on. It’s the opposite of the way Europeans think.
This describes really well my everyday life and interactions with people here in LA.
Have you seen Los angeles Plays Itself, by Them Anderson?
Yes! I went to a screening at Cinefamily.
Oh, cool. That film really helped me.
How long have you been in LA for? Do you feel at home?
I’ve been here for exactly three years, and I am starting to, yes.
It took me almost two years to be comfortable here.
It takes a while, because home is so different here from any city in Europe or New York. But yeah, I’m starting to get into it.
How long have you been a filmmaker for?
I don’t really know, because it took a while for me to feel comfortable calling myself “a filmmaker”. I’ve worked in different forms of media for over ten years: magazine, then tv, then film… still a bit of everything. So I guess maybe since Oma & Bella, as that was my first real feature length film released internationally with distribution. But I don’t know, I guess it really depends on how you see it. 
What about your fashion films? That’s how I was introduced to your work. Would you say that they all have some sort of documentary vibe to them?
I’m sure there must be a thread, but sometimes it’s easier to see it later. I’m interested in certain things and I react to others. I like mixing aesthetics and playing with them, because I think it’s funny how a certain slickness, which comes from advertising, has spread itself to so many mediums, for example. I don’t know if that’s what you mean by documentary.
Yes, that might be it. A certain look, a feeling…
What kind of feeling? I find it problematic if all documentaries look a certain way. Of course much is defined by the new cameras that exist at any particular moment.
Raw, perhaps, a feeling of exposure with no filter.
I like that. I like raw, texture, meanings. And it’s true, my work so far is not that narrative, or defined by a plot, I find the moments between two plot points sometimes more interesting than the plot points themselves, I guess. Although I am by no means against that – in fact, I am also working on my own way of developing plots. I think it always depends on the context, there’s not just one way.
So it's important to you to develop your own way of telling stories? Is that what pushed you into filmmaking in the first place?
Well, I worked at Arte for a while writing and directing cultural reports, a couple of years ago. I was making reports on other peoples’ work, and just felt the need to make my own, so I went back to film school and focused on social documentary filmmaking. And coming out of that, I also wanted to explore other kinds of storytelling. Fashion seemed interesting to me, because at the time the fashion film was starting and it felt like there was a lot of room to figure out what it could be.
You've done quite a bit with Eckhaus Latta. I think it's a particularly raw brand, full of texture... How did that collaboration came along?
I relate to them as people and as designers and artists, 100%. I asked a friend to introduce us, because I wanted to see if they were interested in developing video works. We had a beautiful three hour long brainstorm the first time we met, and four years later, we’ve made close to 10 videos together.
What are your favorite things to do, in general?
Hmmm… I’ve developed a love for hiking, funnily enough. I’m not serious about it, but I enjoy it. I have a dog here. 
I find hiking so much more enjoyable when it's with a dog! Where do you usually go?
I like Griffith Park, there’s one new route I took last week behind the Hollywood sign that was awesome. I also like Runyon, because my dog can go off leash and the people watching is pretty much unbeatable.
Maybe we find each other hiking soon!