Frank Scheffer



The Dutch filmmaker Frank Sheffer studied graphics, design and art in Eindhoven and The Hague, and received his degree from the Dutch Cinema Academy in Amsterdam in 1982.

From the outset, his films have combined various influences and disciplines. His first film, “Zoetrope People”, devoted to Francis Ford Coppola, includes long sequences with the singer Tom Waits. His filmed portrait of the Dalai Lama was made with the performer Marina Abramovic, who introduced him to the composer John Cage. Between 1987 and 1992 they worked on various projects, and Cage became one of Scheffer’s main inspirations.

Scheffer’s desire to have significant encounters with his subjects before filming them shines through in his work, and results in perceptive, meaningful portraits. This approach is particularly noticeable in his work on the great American composer Elliott Carter, whom he filmed over a period of 25 years and became a close friend. His documentary portraits of key figures such as Carter, Pierre Boulez, Gustav Mahler and Igor Stravinsky provide a veritable panorama of 20th century music.

Scheffer’s work is committed to showing that barriers, labels and pigeonholes are completely outdated concepts. The experimental video he made jointly with Brian Eno about the latter’s Music for Airports, in which he sought to translate Eno’s “ambient music” into images, is a perfect example of this approach. In the Ocean is devoted to the three central figures of contemporary music in New York, Eno, Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Sheffer has also recently returned to directing, with a video inspired by the Chinese composer Tan Dun’s Tea-Opera. He is currently working on a film about Edgar Varèse.

Partial filmography

  • Tea (2005)
  • Frank Zappa - Phase II, The Big Note (2002)
  • Frank Zappa – Phase I, The Present Day Composer Refuses to Die (2000)
  • A Labyrinth of Time – Elliott Carter (2004)
  • In the Ocean (2001)
  • Voyage à Cythère - Luciano Berio (1999)
  • Brian Eno’s Music for Airports (1999)
  • Conducting Mahler (1996)
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen (1996)
  • From Zero - John Cage (1995)
  • Symphonie pour instruments à vent & cinq pièces orchestrales - Arnold Schönberg (1994)
  • Eclat - Pierre Boulez (1993)
  • The Final Chorale - Igor Stravinsky (1990)
  • Time is Music- Elliott Carter (1987)
  • Avalokiteshvara (portrait of the Dalai Lama) (1983)
  • Zoetrope People (1982)