U.S. Premier of "Heimatland" at Washington's Film Neu
Enlarge image Film Neu presents a weeklong cinemagraphic glimpse into the cultures of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. (© Goethe Institut) Film Neu, Washington’s leading German language film festival, showcases films from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The festival is a project of the Goethe Institut and begins on Thursday, November 3 with Wolfgang Becker’s comedy "Me and Kaminski", based on Daniel Kehlmann’s interpretation on the world of culture. It ends with "B-Movie: Lust and Sound in West Berlin 1979-1989", an essay about the avant garde scene in Berlin in the 1980’s. The festival will feature a full schedule of nine full length films in addition to a collection of ten short films between November 3-6 at Landmark’s E Street Cinema.
One of the festival’s featured films, "Heimatland", asked ten young directors to interpret how Switzerland would react to a national disaster. The undertaking was in an effort to make a movie that acts as a genuine cross section of Switzerland with different protagonists, different backgrounds, and the different languages of Switzerland. The directors joint goal was to create a precise, relevant, and diverse film—a product that was impossible without adding multiple perspectives.
Director Michael Krummenacher who, along with Jan Gassman, structured the original concept for the film, delves into the motivation of the film’s plot, the further implications of a society’s reaction to natural disaster, and the challenges of sharing the directing role with nine other artists.
Enlarge image "Heimatland" Director Michael Krummenacher (© Germany.info)
How did the original idea for the film come about?
Switzerland is a country known for being very safe. We are well off financially and haven’t been in a war for over 160 years. On the other hand, Switzerland is not without its own issues--one example being Switzerland’s political history regarding the taking in of refugees. Switzerland closed its borders to Jewish refugees during World War II while making lucrative deals with the Nazis. A lot of that same mindset has transitioned into the Switzerland of today. People become so protective that they forget to use their privileged situation for helping the less privileged. We wanted to turn the table and show, in a metaphorical way, that it is worth considering that one day the Swiss could be the receivers, not the financers, of humanitarian aid. The film is really a metaphor for a dangerous change of the world political climate, not just an example of Switzerland's history and people.
What experiences did you draw on in envisioning how Switzerland would react to a disaster?
Our reference point has developed over the six-year timespan that we have been working on the film. When we brainstormed the final part of the film, we imagined a future where Swiss people would become refugees. We were thinking about how it could look if a country closed its borders and so on. This idea was supposed to be a metaphor and fictional future. However, two years later the movie was released and the refugee crisis was in full swing. Specifically in Switzerland, the crisis has showcased the protective feelings of the Swiss towards their own privilege, and highlighting a real fear of immigrants, who may cause them to lose their current lifestyle. All of a sudden what was once fictional was a reality in Europe, where countries started building political walls to protect themselves from immigrants. The political climate is changing at the moment and "Heimatland"'s metaphor of a dark cloud that triggers peoples' fears is applicable for many countries worldwide.
How do you think disaster affects human behavior?
It highlights the best and the worst in people. In “Heimatland” we tried to see disaster as something that brings out hidden emotions and biases. Swiss people are known for being more reserved, but that doesn’t mean that they do not have underlying fears and prejudices under the façade. These fears of citizens are often amplified by the media. This phenomenon has the undesirable end result of a population making personal and political decisions out of an often exaggerated and somewhat artificial emotion.
What was the greatest challenge in writing and directing the movie?
Directing a movie is normally not a team sport. All of the directors are used to making their own decisions and shamelessly following their own vision. This made it a challenge for everyone to create one joint narration. Each one of us had to be flexible and agree to changes that he or she wouldn’t have done in their own movie. From the beginning, all of us agreed that we don’t want to structure a film based on compromises so we tried to make radical decisions that seemed best for the film and not for one director’s ego. In the end, this made the making of the film a political act in and of itself. The whole ended up as more than the sum of its parts.
“Heimatland” premiered in Switzerland as the only Swiss movie in the Locarno International Film Festival’s international competition. It has won several awards in Switzerland and internationally, including having been nominated for Best Picture and Best Editing as part of the Swiss Film Prize.