Film & Discussion

Step Across the Border

A ninety minute celluloid improvisation by Nicolas Humbert and Werner Penzel

Music by Fred Frith and Friends
1990, 90 min
35mm / 1:1.66 / black & white / mono

Fred Frith

Fred Frith © promo

“Step Across the Border” is a sound-film collage that itself follows the maxim of improvisation. The multi-award-winning film traces the stages of Fred Frith and his companions between 1987 and 1990 – from New York via Leipzig and St. Remy de Provence to Tokyo.

Followed by a talk with Fred Frith and Nicolas Humbert

In “Step Across the Border” improvised music meets direct cinema: two artistic forms that are dedicated to the immediacy of space and time. Fred Frith is reunited with John Zorn, Arto Lindsay, Ciro Battista, Iva Bitová, Bob Ostertag, Joey Baron, Jonas Mekas and Robert Frank in a celluloid improvisation full of rhythm, compelling images and joie de vivre. Filmed in black and white, the camera captures moments and conversations that offer a fascinating insight into the musicians’ lives. Concert footage, interviews in run-down hotel rooms and tracking shots through megacities like New York and Tokyo are intercut to form a thrilling audiovisual collage. At the same time, the music and visuals each remain independent media, neither is subservient to the other and yet connections emerge that are sometimes comic, sometimes absurd and sometimes simply beautiful – like the cornfields that sway momentarily in the wind to the rhythm of Frith’s improvisations, embodiyng the movement of the sounds. “Step Across the Border” is a complicit acknowledgement of the link between fast trains, storms and electric guitars and a sophisticated discourse on the spirit of music- and filmmaking.

Produced by
CineNomad, Germany
Balzli & Cie, Switzerland

Distributed by
Worldwide: CineNomad

Written and directed by
Nicolas Humbert & Werner Penzel

Music composed and performed by
Fred Frith & friends

Fred Frith, Joey Baron, Ciro Battista, Iva Bittová, Tom Cora, Jean Derome, Pavel Fajt, Eitetsu Hayashi, Tim Hodkinson, Arto Lindsay, René Lussier, Haco, Kevin Norton, Bob Ostertag, Zeena Parkins, Lawrence Wright, John Zorn
and many others

Special Appearence by
Robert Frank, Julia Judge, Jonas Mekas, John Spacely, Yasushi Utsonomiya, Tom Walker



Oscar Salgado – Cinematography
Jean Vapeur – Original Sound Recording
Dieter Fahrer – Camera Assistance
Peter Zobel – Location Manger
Res Balzli– Production Manager
Gisela Castronari, Vera Burnus, Nicolas Humbert, Werner Penzel – Film Editing
Lena Knilli, Cornelia Förch – Graphics and Animation
Max Rammler – Mixing
Benedykt Grodon, Rainer Carben – Studio Recording Engineers