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  • Teaches of Peaches: The new documentary celebrating the legend of electroclash


Teaches of Peaches: The new documentary celebrating the legend of electroclash

The directors of a new documentary 'Teaches of Peaches', which follows Berlin legend and pop star Peaches - talk to us about how their film reflects both the person and the persona behind the iconic music.

Photo: IMAGO / Martin Müller

Canadian-born Merrill Nisker is far more widely known by her stage name, Peaches. Her iconic 2000 electroclash album The Teaches of Peaches, recorded in her Berlin bedroom, was one of the most celebrated and influential records of the aughts, and her singular stage style – weird, wacky, quintessentially Peaches – has given her permanent cult status internationally. More than two decades later, Peaches still lives in Berlin. She still spends plenty of time onstage touring – but this year, for the first time, she’ll big on the big screen too.

To celebrate her enduring musical legacy, two Berlin-based filmmakers, Philipp Fussenegger and Judy Landkammer, released a documentary following Peaches on the 20th anniversary tour of the iconic album in 2022. The film, named for the record, is punctuated with Peaches’ own video footage of her life and art, plus behind-the-scenes footage and archival recordings of the person behind the wild persona. After premiering at this year’s Berlinale in the Panorama section – the festival’s queer, feminist showcase – the film will hit Berlin kinos May 9.

From left: Philipp Fussenegger, Judy Landkammer, Cordula Kablitz-Post and Peaches at Berlinale 2024. Photo: Berlinale 2024 / Brigitte Dummer.

Congratulations on the film. How was it screening at Berlinale – something of a home show?

Philipp Fussenegger: Thanks! Definitely a home show, since Berlin not only played such an important part in the artistic development of Peaches but she and all the core film crew are based here. So it was very important to us that we could celebrate the world premiere in this city that we all love, and that many friends and fans could also join us that evening. The vibe in the cinema was pretty amazing!

When did you guys meet Peaches? How did you get involved with her in a cinematic sense?

Judy Landkammer: Well, our producer Cordula Kablitz-Post had the initial idea to make a Peaches documentary based on the upcoming anniversary of The Teaches of Peaches album. Peaches and Cordula already knew each other from the ZDF television series Durch die Nacht mit… (“Through the night with…”) in the beginning of the 2000s. Philipp and Cordula had started working on another project, a documentary about the KitKat club, and when it was clear that [our film] would be realised, Philipp was brought on board, initially as the sole director.

We’re not afraid to make mistakes or take the wrong path.

I joined a little later, first as the editor, which then developed into co-direction as well. We’ve been working together for a long time, so we understand each other very well, and how the other one thinks. Together with our director of photography, Dino Osmanović, who we’ve worked with many times before, and our newest member, the dramaturg Susanne Heuer, we approached Peaches as a team and talked about who we are and our way of working – less ego, more exchange of ideas and a lot of teamwork. And that resonated with her. We also established clear boundaries for filming on the tour, safe spaces, feedback loops, et cetera. That then created room for an ongoing conversation and growing trust.

Peaches at the premiere of Teaches of Peaches here in Berlin. Photo: IMAGO / Future Image

The archival footage is amazing, alongside all the live and interview aspects. What was the process like of mixing all these elements?

PF: The only thing that was clear from the beginning was that it should not become a classic tour movie, nor a biographical film… but we didn’t start out with a very concrete plan. There are such important themes that run through Peaches’ life and work like a red thread, which we definitely wanted to include somehow.

JL: Philipp went on tour with our DOP Dino, not only taking over the role of director but also of the sound technician – not an easy task to do both at the same time. When Philipp came back from the tour, he was pretty exhausted but started going through the first bits of archive material together with Susanne. When I joined in a bit later, I went through all the anniversary tour footage and the first archive selection. We were not quite sure on how to approach the narrative and structure, so for the first four weeks I was entirely alone in the editing room, just trying to get familiar with all the footage and figuring out ways to jump back and forth in time, which became a crucial stylistic element. One late evening I sent over a two-minute clip, and Philipp called almost immediately and very euphorically, saying something like, “Now I am certain it will become a film, we can do this!” So that was the first breakthrough moment, and the real hard work began.

Peaches performing in Munich back in 2003. Photo: IMAGO / Stefan M Prager

PF: Lots of Excel lists, colour codes, keywords and Post-its. Step by step we decided together who we could interview and what questions we wanted to ask. And then tasks sometimes got split up, so for example Susanne and Judy would write the interview questions, and I would then be responsible for doing the actual interview. All this resulted in many in-between versions of the film, constantly growing and evolving. What strongly characterises our way of working are intensive editing phases in which we try out a lot, organise test screenings in small groups quite early on and establish a lot of contact with potential viewers. We’re not afraid to make mistakes or take the wrong path in between to find out what works and what doesn’t work. Because every film needs its own language that you can’t plan exactly in advance. The path is always trial and error and taking the time for it.

Did you collaborate a lot with Peaches and her team while making the film?

JL: After around two or three months of editing, we showed a first rough cut, which didn’t include all the interviews yet and also had a pretty different structure than the final film. We knew it still sucked, but we still wanted to get first impressions, especially from Peaches. We also needed Peaches’ help with the archival footage and making sure we recognised faces from 20 years ago, now and then. If you rummage through a collection of many, many terabytes of archive while you simultaneously digitise Mini DV tapes in real time, you might quickly overlook a Leslie Feist [Canadian indie pop singer] who fools around in roller skates on a kitchen floor – which you can see in the film now.

Peaches has such a strong band of loyal fans. Do you feel that this film reaching cinemas will mean a new audience?

JL: We hope so! So far we’ve had very positive feedback from fans, but also people who didn’t really know anything about Peaches. A lot of people can learn something through this film. We think that this queer feel-good movie vibe is really contagious and that everyone can join in this “big celebration of a fuck you”, as [American rapper and poet] Black Cracker puts it so aptly.

Still from Teaches of Peaches. Credit: Bell Media Inc.

How did it feel to make the film?

JL: It was important to us to delve deep into understanding Peaches as both a persona and as Merrill Nisker. This was a key point of discussion during our initial conversations and carried through to our filming process. We aimed to get to know the person behind the stage persona, exploring her lifestyle and the alignment (or lack thereof) with her public image. This presented a significant challenge, as we sought to capture the essence of Merrill – beyond her bold statements on politics, sex positivity, intersectional feminism, and ageing – without resorting to a finger-pointing approach.

PF: To accomplish this, extensive effort was required: numerous reshoots, meticulous editing, and a steadfast belief in the vision and structure of the project. Despite starting under less-than-ideal conditions, the resulting film feels incredibly rewarding. Peaches herself has expressed satisfaction with the final product, which further validates the journey we embarked on. Personally, witnessing the audience’s enthusiastic reception, including standing ovations, is immensely gratifying and reaffirms our confidence in the craft of filmmaking.

How did you find one another, did you have experience creating films together already?

JL: We first met in 2007 in Salzburg, where we both studied multimedia art. I always saw Philipp strolling around doing his own thing, and we didn’t really hang out in the first year, but that changed quite a bit in the second and it kind of just clicked. We’ve been working together ever since on various and diverse projects, including films like Henry, Bester Mann and I Am the Tigress, among others. We definitely went through a huge learning curve together.

Philipp Fussenegger, Peaches and Judy Landkammer at the premiere Teaches of Peaches at the Berlinale 2024. Photo: IMAGO / Future Image

It feels like such an important point that this film is made by a film team based here….

JL: During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Berlin was filled with empty and open spaces and a vibrant creative spirit, where people were driven by a desire to have fun and express themselves freely. As Chilly Gonzales puts it nicely in the film, it was some sort of a Bohemian dream come true, a little bit of a Berlin fairy tale: “weird ones on first”. I moved to Berlin in 2009, so the city had already changed a bit  – or at least that’s what everybody said – but for 20-plus-year-old me, it was still magical. Of course, not everything is great here, I don’t want to sugar coat anything, but Berlin definitely formed us all a lot – so Teaches Of Peaches is maybe a little bit of a love letter to the city as well.

Do you have other projects in the works?

PF: Judy, Dino, Susanne and I are all back on track with the KitKat documentary, which was the project we were initially working on. Our collaboration on Teaches Of Peaches not only strengthened our bond as a team but also allowed us to refine our artistic style. This growth has prepared us to tackle a new topic with the same level of sensitivity, as we delve into the lives of diverse individuals within the vibrant Berlin club scene. We still have quite a way to go here, but stay tuned if you’re curious!

  • Teaches of Peaches is out in cinemas May 9.