Photobook Interviews: Daniela Dee Kohler

Interview Visuals311

Daniela Dee Kohler was a soul who was searching for her life’s calling. She’s traveled and tasted the exhilaration of what the world has to offer. After her personal journey of self realisation, she discovered herself in the depths of film making. With a heart filled with passion and experiences, she had gone on and started her own video production company, all the while enjoying a lifelong affair with the sea.

Photobook caught up with her in the midst of all her adventures to talk about the journey she’s been on so far.


Profile 21) Right on! Let’s break the ice on this baby! C’mon Daniela – tell us what we MUST know about you.

What you should know about me? What a question, there is so much I don’t know about myself. I guess what I would like to be known for is that I’m in love with the ocean and I am literally half the person when I am away from it.

Without creativity and imagination, I couldn’t breathe.

I believe that everyone and everything has an incredible story and so the platform for my art is Life and the experiences all around me. A tin can has the power to inspire me. That’s why I love working with film and storytelling.

I am a walking contradiction, which makes my own life take turns in all sorts of directions.

And finally, you can tell I’m nervous when I twist my hair and I’m happy when I’m quiet and smiling.



“To do my bit and make this world a better place”


2) Seems like life loved you enough to give you a reality check. How great was the impact for it to have steered you onto the course of your path today?

First of all I have to clarify that I believe, in order for life to love you, you have to love life too. Now my definition of loving life has changed as I’ve grown. In my younger years, it was about being reckless and carefree, consuming, experimenting, fuming, laughing at every situation, talking to all sorts of strangers, taking on ridiculous challenges and dares to be accepted AND falling in and out of love daily in a desperate search to be loved.

Now, my life is painted with more experience, scars, heartache as well as some glorious blessing. Therefore I see loving life as being kind, giving back to mother nature and living a life closer to who I am and what I want. Purpose is the new indulgence. I am still spontaneous, still like to experiment and take on a challenge. It’s just more purposeful now.

Life has always shown me that I am here to do something extraordinary. We all are. This was my driving force, to never settle in my comfort zone, to push past the fear and to dream big! Through it all though I have always had gratitude, an open heart and faith that it will always work out. This has led me to where I am today. Go with the flow and the flow will carry you.

Life can only be understood backwards and so it is only now that I see how my “love” for life, has brought me to the places and the people I needed to get to. I see how life, loved me the way I needed to be loved at that specific time.


Point 2


3) You grew up wanting to be a Marine Biologist, but then opted to pursue Film Production instead. That’s quite a change – talk to us about that.

I have always felt at peace, understood and at home when I am by the ocean, and that has always been a part of me. Growing up on an island, Penang, I’ve always felt that bond and just spent most of my days by the water. I’ve always had this urge or more than that, a burning desire to do my bit and make this world a better place. I just couldn’t really place my calling.

When I was 12 years old, I met the daughter of my father’s friend who was studying Marine Biology in Australia. When she told me about what she does, I felt for the first time that someone had just put all the things I had been thinking and feeling for years into words. I couldn’t believe that it was her job to go out into the ocean everyday and work with ocean life and preservation. I was convinced that I had to do this in order to start ticking off my checklist of things to save. The whales, the dolphins, the coral reefs, the trees, the starving children in Africa, the tigers in the rainforest, the stray dogs and cats on our street, the list goes on.

I then with full force (as ever) directed my whole academic life toward this dream of becoming a marine biologist and studying in Sydney, Australia. For my A-levels, at 17 I moved on my own to Banbury, England, and I started hanging out with a lot of creatives, musicians, writers, actors. I had always been a very creative child and young adult, but I put that on the sidelines as a passion, a hobby as I was after all the all-rounder, go getter, big dreamer that was to become a marine biologist. It wasn’t until a biology field trip in Wales England during my last year of A-levels, where I had a life changing realisation. Although we were spending time outdoors in nature, we were, for the most part working alone in the labs behind the microscope.

I just had this wave of consciousness pass over me – ‘This is not me.’

I needed to be around people when I work, not alone, I needed to be creative, use my imagination, not take down facts and compare lab results. I was floored. All of my teenage years had been steered in this direction, I had told EVERYBODY I wanted to do this with my life, and suddenly at 18, just as I was about to apply for university, I didn’t know what to do with my life. In the last moments of filling out my UCAS (UK University application) forms, I changed my course selection to film production. I felt it was something I could mix all my creative skills into, and I thought, if I’m going to make a difference, I have to be seen and I have to be heard.


“When we travel, our senses are
heightened and our instincts are louder”


4) Being in the right place at the right time had breathed life to your very own Film studio – tontheater Productions. What are your future plans for it?

2017 has all been about new beginnings. I felt, in order for me to look forward with purpose and stability, I had to understand my path up to that point and recognise my failures. This way I could understand my strength. In the Summer of 2016, I took a long break from work and spent a lot of time firstly, surfing in Portugal. This gave me space to breathe and just be myself.

I then took a trip with my brother back to Penang, Malaysia for a friends wedding. We took an amazing ride down memory lane, drove through all the random spots which shook our thoughts. This gave me insight to who I am and what I have become. I also realised how all my international school friends were just this globally widespread network of good people pursuing their dreams and living very positive lives.

The trip made me so grateful for the childhood I had. I was suddenly so aware how my simple carefree childhood in Penang had shaped my own unique personality and my open mind.

I then went on to the Philippines, where I spent a couple of months surfing on an island and a couple of weeks up at the rice terrace mountains, drinking epic amounts of tea, sleeping on the cool wooden floor at a house atop a remote village and getting bamboo tattoos by women of all ages. I felt a strong awakening and connection to my roots, and understood the potential I had there as a platform for purposeful work with filmmaking. I was shocked at the amount of litter I was seeing on some of the most beautiful remote places in the Philippines and I just started to collect it everywhere I went. More and more, I became aware of the problem and suddenly I started meeting people who also cared, more so, they were doing something about it.



I came back to Austria in January 2017 with the sudden urge to make films about Sustainability. Complete sustainability. Environmental, Social and Economical. I had specialised in Documentary at university and so I decided, why not start a new platform? A digital news channel for Good news. This is currently what I have been working on this past year, setting up the back bone to the company, seeking financing and investment and most importantly, collecting content everywhere I go. Filming people, projects and organisations involved with sustainability and with good intention of supporting someone/something else. I decided to call this ad-venture ‘Zemmawagsa’. which means ‘grow together’ in our local Vorarlbergerisch, Austrian Dialect.

In order to finance this work, I have continued conceptualising and producing authentic social media film with my company tontheater Productions.

This year has been different as I expanded my products to creative consultancy and giving workshops on creative content. This has definitely been a move in the right direction as I have passed on my work philosophy and techniques to current and new clients and thus gained more time and space for Zemmawagsa.

I feel so much gratitude to be able to do what I love and get paid for it. I constantly remind myself everyday to pat myself on the shoulder simply for still being able to do that. I don’t think it means that we should stop when we get to that point. Even within purposeful, sustainable work, there is space to grow, expand and even change direction. My plans therefore are to stay open to all these things.


Point 41


5) Being a creative has its advantages. You get to see the world in a lot more colours. Where do you usually draw your inspiration from?

Very often I use words, most of the time one word. When it comes to conceptualising films and campaigns for my social media clients, I tend to start with the hashtag and or the campaign slogan. In order to get to this word, I’ll often play with the words describing the identity, the core values and the principles provided by my clients.

My inspiration for Zemmawagsa content is really the stories and the people in them itself. Seeing that so many people and organisations see and feel that way I do and care as much as I do (in many cases so much more), it inspired me to keep searching and documenting and spreading. ‘Good news is another word for love’ Zemmawagsa.

And I know it’s been said many times before, but only because it’s true. I get inspiration from my own experiences – my own surrounding. I use my emotional turmoil, life’s funny and interesting situations as well as the classic ‘friend of a friend’ tales.

I’ve also discovered that wandering through nature is the best way to restart, collect and create. I love to walk through city gardens, parks and forest to gain insight and creative visions. I look at tree shapes and get mesmerised by colours and start getting clearer and focused. Suddenly, I’ll have a revelation and it’s the birth of a new idea. It’s like I have to disconnect to connect.


Point 5


6) Going beyond the horizon to distant lands tends to broaden one’s horizon; and you’ve done a fair bit of travelling. Care to share a life-altering story with us? Something you’ve experienced during your travels.

I guess, in the essence of all of it, travelling IS the life-altering story. However, there have been many moments while traveling that has led me to make a choice, a decision and a change or development in perspective.

I guess, if I had to make a highlight reel, then some that definitely make the cut would be…

– The time I stayed in a haunted old jail-turned hostel in Mt. Gambier, South Australia. The jail cell rooms had been kept as the original as an attraction. I was given a room on death row. In the middle of the night, after the lights and heaters switched on and off and the unexplainable rattling of the chains suspended on my bed, I had to move to another room and even ask the other ‘WWOOF’ workers if I could stay with them. The rest of the week, we all experienced weird things, sounds, and doors slamming open or shut in front of us. Doing the laundry in the hanging room was always an interesting experience. Put it this way, I didn’t use to believe in ghost. I do now.

– Another memorable moment for me was the time, I ended up singing ‘I will always love you’, arm in arm, with the ‘bad cop’ from Terminator (aviators and all) look-alike, this Moroccan police man, in order to get out of a speeding ticket. Not only that, I bribed him with a handful of jelly sweets, he looked at me in shock, laughed and told me to get on my way.


Point 61


– There have been many life shifting micro moments as well. Conscious and spiritual revelations on top of a mountain at the break of dawn, being humbled and feeling gratitude whilst catching the last sunset waves (this has happened a few times and it’s just still as spectacular every time). Regaining faith in the unknown and experiencing that ‘chance’ meeting with a stranger that takes you to a place or a party you never thought you would end up at when you wake up that morning.

Any everyday experience can be life-altering, it’s just that when we travel, our senses are heightened and our instincts are louder and we just tend to be affected more by our impressions. It makes us open.



7) You’ve lived an interesting life so far. We say an offbeat life is a good book of a thousand different tales. What’s the one thing you’ve learned that stands out the most though?

I’ve learned to believe that there is no such thing as coincidence and that everything and everyone in your life happens for a reason, be it for a season or a lifetime. So be grateful for it all. Don’t look backwards and think on how you should have done something; instead we should think, I had to and I have no regrets – and that’s ok, because look at me now!

I’ve learnt that fear is just an obstacle, not a barrier. That overcoming fear only gives you bigger wings. Along with that, being so over-emotional sometimes, I’ve come to realise that, emotions are reactions within us to create struggle and confrontation, which is good, for struggle is progress.

And finally, I believe in the power of giving love. If I still think bad things happening to bad people is a good thing, I will always wonder why bad things happen to good people. I believe in empathy and understanding, and in order to try get people on board with you, you just have to do.

I have to be the change I want to see.


Point 71


8) What are the must have items with you, wherever you go?

Whenever I travel, I’ll always start with the 3-point rule. Money, Passport, Ticket. If that is in order, then I approach everything with much more ease.

I always carry my camera and film equipment wherever I travel, prepared for a good story or a captivating content. I document most moments that seem fitting to the story on my phone, so that’s an essential item too. I have made some documentary series solely with just my phone.

A pen and a notebook is always essential. I write down everything from single words to slogans and quotes. I note down whole new ideas and concepts, song lyrics, poems, simple observations of the situation, and even phone numbers. It will all have a use, if not straight away, then at some point down the line. If it’s one piece of advice I can give to other creatives – WRITE IT DOWN. Of all the ideas I’ve lost and gained, all I can say is WRITE IT DOWN!

My Little Book of Native American Wisdom was given to me by a dear friend, and it has never left my side. I read it daily by just taking a moment and opening a page that I instinctively feel I should. I read the quote and it usually tends to give me positive insightful start into the day. It has somewhat also become a thing I share. I love to meet new and old friends and offer them the same chance to ‘feel’ out a quote that can give them light and perspective in that moment.

And finally, myself. The most important lesson I have learnt, no one knows me like my own self. That’s what I take with me in every joyful, fearful, lonely, welcoming, cold, warm and confrontational situation. I stick as close to ‘me’ as possible and try to react calmly, rationally, empathetically and truthfully. Sometimes the truth is not calm and rational, and that’s the contradiction I walk, that keeps me so alive and willing to progress.



Check out Daniela’s work and more


‘Behind The Banner’, which won the British Royal Television Award for Best Student Documentary London 2007.

Point end 1At the Zurich Film Fest

Point end 2Paddle boarding in Zurich

Point 72tontheater sticker campaign

Point end 3My Little Book of Native American Wisdom

Point end 5

Point end 6In action



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