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SLAMDANCE FESTIVAL on "Der Nachtmahr" (Interview)

What was the idea that started you writing this movie?

With this film I`ve never starred at a blank page thinking of what to write.At first I simply wanted to form a static sculpture of clay.That was 12 years ago. But once the body was finished the thought came to me that I should rebuild it using a softer material to give it a more realistic surface and therefore have more possibilities to shoot it in all kinds of surroundings. Back then I was living in Los Angeles and wanted to shoot the creature next to highways and in an industrial surrounding. It was there where the civilized and industrial world borders the raw desert-like nature. Just like the area at the edge of the human visual field where the visible blends into the blind area. Later the mechanics of motion and breathing was added because I wanted to shoot a scene where the creature was driving a car while a girl was sleeping on the passenger seat.Although I`m beeing a sculptor I`m not familiar with the technical details on how handle foam latex, precision mechanics and so on so that the work to build the creature lasted several years. In this time I wrote down a lot of notes which were the foundation of writing this particular script.      

Where did the inspiration for this project come from?

It might sound odd but it feels to me like I wasn`t the one who actually came up with the story.Although I found these notes between the tools when I was building this creature but I hardly can remember ever to have written these notes and they`re felt strange to me. Some parts I couldn`t even read.Although it was without a doubt my very own handwriting. I have then tryed to place these moments and pictures into a logical structure.The actual story made first sense to me when I discovered that these particular notes were more like pages of a diary from the various characters from the movie, describing the same phenomenon out of their own view.As I discovered later on I have subconsciously used a technique the surrealist called “ecriture automatique“ because I have written these notes in moments of complete fatigue just before I felt asleep in my work studio without any intention writting a story out of it.

Why did you choose Berlin the location for Der Nachtmahr? Are you interested in making a german film about german characters?

This film was shot on a micro-budget. My network, my friends and everybody who worked on this film actually live in Berlin. It was simply a logistical decision to shoot the film there. Locations technical equipment everything is cheaper in Berlin.A part from that Berlin is the center of a youth culture, nowhere to be found anywhere else in the world.Teenager, music, art and drugs in such an amount are only to be found in Berlin.

Your film is an observation of a german teenage society. How do you think americans will look at this film?

I think the problem Tina has to deal with is very common.The feeling of not being perfect, having to hide something from others or discover things which are perceived as unpleasant or repulsive and just don`t fit the perfect picture which one wants to portray in order to be perceived as attractive on our modern society.This is a phenomenon in teenagers all around the world and certainly in america which like every other nation has its perfect self-manifestation.

Looking at your artwork it looks like you are specialy interested in deamons, females and altered states of mind. Would you agree?

It`s possible. I myself have had these visions from early childhood on.The frightening thing about it was never the visions but the fact of being outcast from the people around you.Therefore I had huge problems as a child.With time I have learned to live with it and actually use these vision. I couldn`t even make films or artwork without them anymore. I cannot and won`t say more about that. It is unpleasant as it is to mention that I`m in contact with such things. But I prefer then to just tell you lies on where I get my inspiration for my films and artwork.

According to what you say your film seems to be kind of autobiographic. Why did you choose a girl as a main charakter then?

I have to admit that I`m obsessed by the beauty of woman. My great.grandfather was a painter and I always asked myself why he painted flowers and landscapes instead of woman.

Tell us about your choice of casting on this project and what motivated you to work with Kim Gordon and Carolyn Genzkow for example?

I found Carolyn through the casting process. She was the only one who could act with a VFX-creature a believable way as if it was a real creature. It wasnt`t until the first few days of shooting when I noticed certain familiarities between Carolyn and the actual Nachtmahr who came to live almost a decade before shooting started. Carolyns work is unique and fascinating in the same time. Kim Gordon was in Berlin a year before shooting began and invited me to her birthday because she was a big fan of my last film „Eight Miles high“. After we got to know each other she told me she would love to work with me on one of my films. I was so honored by that that at once I rewrote a part for her so she could act in her mother tongue. 

Was the project hard to finance?

Hard to fincance is not even getting close. It was more like almost impossible.And the end of the day we shot this film under a 100.000 euros. Even if germany and specifically Berlin is renowned as a cultural capital in which the fine arts are always breaking new grounds, the film industry is rather conservative. Apart from comedys, children films or dramatic films with a sociacriticial background there is always no chance to bring a film onto the big screen. DER NACHTMAHR refers more to the german expressionistic films of the 20s and has none of the ingredience which were successful in the last few decades of german film. „Run, Lola run“ is the only exception.

Therefore the list of distributors, producers and film funds who declined the Nachtmahr-project reads like the who-is-who of the german film landscape. Luckly enough I have a large network of friends who work in the film industry who were fascinated by the creature and the story that they offered their work for free on this project.That`s how we could produce this film independently.

And even if a small budget seems like a huge limitation at first it is a actually a luxurious thing as there is nobody who gets in your way about the creative outcome of this film. Also when shooting with a micro-budget you get to work with a lot of young and creative people which makes the work a lot of fun instead of working with the “old dogs“ who for me have an outdated impression of working professionally. At the end of the day the people around me are just as important as the story itself.Therefore I`m not complaining about shooting on a small budget but I`m actually grateful and proud what we did with it.

How long was the shoot?

21 days.About 7 hours a day. 

The film uses a very unique camera style. Why did you shoot everything with wideangle lenses?

Because it comes the closest to my personal perception. I actually had huge difficulties finding the right DoP who would work with wide-angle lenses using only available light. For most of them it was too delicate and unfamiliar especially for experienced DoP`s. Finally I found my DoP Clemens Baumeister through my producer Simon Rühlemann who is just like him in his late twenties and has never before worked on a feature film. But as I sad before I`m much more attracted by the energy and curiosity of the actual people then by their experience which most of the time is an extra dead weight for me.To work with Clemens and Simon made this shoot simply a dream. I had the feeling that through this wideangle look and the available light circumstances everything you see on the big screen seems more realistic.To me it`s a lot more important than the argument that it actual distorts the optical vision in particular faces and such.

The film gives no explanation what the Nachtmahr stands for or what the reason of his appearance actually is. What is he symbolizing ?

That is a common question. But basically I don`t know anymore then the audience. I rather see myself as a messenger who dosn`t know the contents of the message he`s delivering. Of course I have my own personal interpretation but I don`t want to talk about that as I want to give the audience member the chance to paint his own picture. I actually believe that the Rorschach inkblot test is the perfect piece of art because everyone can perceive as they wish. I even took some elements which indicated a too specific interpretation out of the script. My agents for example interpreted the creature of the Nachtmahr as a incarnation of a bulimia because the Nachtmahr always eats everything out of the fridge while Tina is very skinny and has to puke etc. Others see in the Nachtmahr a variation of Hades who takes Tina into his kingdom of the dead. I even heard the interpretation that the Nachtmahr is a vision of an unwanted pregnancy because he looks like a fetus and in the film there are many references leading to an embryo. Its really flattering for me to listend to all these numerous interpretations. Films which leave no room for interpretion don`t interest me. 

How would you define the film’s genre?

People who read the book have said that it seems to them a bit like E.T. on acid. It is certainly not a classical horror film where the monster just walks around killing people. It is more about depth psychological aspects just like you find them in the works of Sigmund Freud, Goethe, C.G. Jung or William Blake who by the way is my biggest idol. Maybe the term “narcotic-mindfuck-melodrama“ describes the genre best.

What is your feeling about the film and about presenting only excerpts of the whole film at Park City when it’s not completely finished yet?

First of all it`s a great honor for me. Specially because the film is not finished yet. It`s the first time that scenes of DER NACHTMAHR are shown to an audience.

Burke Roberts knows my work and invited me many years ago to present some of my work at his and David Lynchs festival.When he saw the first footage of Der Nachtmahr during the crowdfunding phase he called me and asked us to show some of the first scenes at Park City. I feel very honored even if it`s just a small part of the film because Burke and Slamdance are some of the few but important creative epicenter to be found in the world. It is a hub for unyielding artists visionaries and drop-outs who shoot films for a new millennium in which borders don`t matter anymore. It seems like a movement and I`m proud to be part of it.

Interview by Michael Epp 


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