Nicky Shane in Germantown

Fragments of A German American Mind
Film Exhibition by Ron Schildknecht

Review by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright © 2017 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy Germantown Films.

(Full disclosure: I worked with Ron Schildknecht on some of his earliest films, none of which are a part of this exhibit.)

A rare gallery exhibit consisting entirely of film and video, Fragments of A German American Mind is a Meta examination of identity and the inherent egocentrism in contemporary art.

Ron Schildknecht is an independent film and video artist who has worked in Louisville for more than thirty years. He is also a long-time resident of Germantown, the historic neighborhood southeast of downtown. He labeled his production company Germantown Films and has invested considerable time in exploring the people and heritage of the area.

Fragments is clearly autobiographical, but Schildknecht has fashioned an alter ego in the form of Konrad “Konny” Mueller, a notion made explicit in the exhibit. Some of the work included here are documentary films about Germantown produced by Schildknecht. Octoberfest is a 12-minute taste of the classic community festival featuring accordion-led music and dancing and heaping plates of sausage and sauerkraut, and a briefer piece about the Germantown street game, “Dainty” which provides a worthwhile oral history from long-time business owner George Hauck.

The largest space is given to an abbreviated row of movie theatre seats from which the viewer watches Germantown, a short narrative film about a Louisville born man returning to the neighborhood in which he was raised. Back in the main gallery, we find a direct companion called Reflections on Germantown that consists primarily of interviews with Nicky Shane, the lead actor in the fictional narrative film, and the director, Konny Mueller.

Lec Zorn in “Konny’s Story.”

As a device, the well-developed Konrad Mueller character gives a level of remove to Shildknecht’s point-of-view that allows him to serve as curator to his own biography. Some of the work has been created specifically for this exhibit, but others are “authentically” the work of Schildknecht, with credits that have been altered to reference Mueller as director.

There is another projected video called Konny’s Story, but Reflections is the key to the layers of metaphysical remove that Schildknecht has manufactured here. In both pieces actor Lec Zorn portrays Konny, and in Reflections, he and Shane tell stories about the production of the movie. The stories are largely about the relationship between Konny and Shane, but how much is based on the reality of Schildknecht and Shane, and how much is fictional, a narrative created to match the demand for introspection about the creative process?

Taking it one step further, Shane in Germantown is certainly playing a character that draws significantly enough on Schildknecht’s own experience to be autobiographical, so when we watch, in Reflections, Zorn as Mueller and Shane as Shane in talking head footage but never in the same frame, we can allow that we are watching two separate alter egos talking about versions of themselves – two figures commenting on Ron Schildknecht, which is to say, Schildknecht presenting two delineated self-reflective versions of himself.

Upfront as he is about all of this, Schildknecht’s deception is acceptable in the service of his thesis, and his conceit sidesteps vaingloriousness, instead inviting humble complicity in his self-examination. But where is the real Ron Schildknecht?

Filmmaker Ron Schildknecht

I think he is very present but in an even more elusive way that complements but does not contravene the layered exhibit’s intention. This filmmaker’s strength is his natural curiosity and honest feeling for his subject. The viewer sees Schildknecht, if only in the mind’s eye, sitting across from George Hauck as he describes the street game, smiling while both witness and receiver of such seemingly mundane yet ultimately priceless oral history. It is from details like this that the fabric of a larger cultural commentary results and the root of a lifelong fascination with Germantown is revealed. Ron Schildknecht has found a way to locate his own identity within his overall body of work that avoids being over sentimental or didactic.


Fragments of A German American Mind
Film Exhibition by Ron Schildknecht

Through September 29, 2017.

849 Gallery
Kentucky College of Art + Design
At Spalding University
849 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40203


Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for