Posts Tagged ‘Alida Tomaszewski’

The German Film Festival: Interview with the Festival Director

May 1, 2009

By Alida Tomaszewski and Nienke Huitenga

Nienke Huitenga and Alida Tomaszewski catch up with Klaus Krischok, AFGF director and programmer, at the 3CR radio studios in Melbourne. Krischok is one cool cat. As the interview begins he dons his aviators and lights a cigarette, explaining that he has in fact quit smoking but, well, you know…

How does the Goethe Institut reconcile its commercial and cultural agendas?

You’ve got to understand that there are always stakeholders in a festival, and certain interest groups. The Goethe Institut is not a commercial organisation, it is a cultural organisation. So we don’t have any commercial interests, we’re not here to sell anything. But we team up with an organisation that’s called German Films, which looks after German film exports, and they have a more commercial interest. That creates a nice kind of friction. 

As the director of the AFGF, what are your personal interests?

I’m more interested in showing the stuff that I really like, and what will work really well with Australian audiences, whereas German Films are interested in making deals with the distributors.

Is there much of a marketplace for distributors at this festival?

Well, in theory yes. We team up with Australian film distributors. The distributors get screeners and have access to the cinemas. Usually there are a few films that get snatched up by Australian distributors. So there is a bit of a marketing side to it, but let’s face it, it’s not that huge.

The Australian film distributors are really well networked, and they travel to Berlin in large numbers, as well as Cannes. Rotterdam, maybe, but it’s really Berlin and Cannes that really are the gateways for foreign films into Australian cinemas.

So that makes for a stronger cultural role of these national film festivals – I think it’s the same with the French, Italian and Spanish film festivals. If you want to shop you go to Berlin and Cannes, if you want to see things you go to our film festivals here.

Aside from German Films, are there any other parties that influence the course of the festival?

Here we work with a commercial chain of cinemas, and that’s Palace, and they of course need to see dollars and cents at the end.  I also need to break even at the end, because even with all the sponsorship money it’s a very pricey affair to put on a film festival.

What would you say is the ultimate goal of this festival?

From a cultural point of view, our goal is to create an awareness of the variety of artistic expression, lifestyle and talent in Germany. The second goal is to help German Films find an audience.

Say we look at the supply chain, one of our partners is World Movies. World Movies usually buys 4 or 5 of our films that are screened at the festival. They then screen those on TV, if they are successful there then SBS will snatch them up.

So, I’ve got 20,000 bums in seats, when World Movies buys a film we have about 60 or 80,000 viewers per night. Then if it’s picked up by SBS we’ll get around 100 to 120,000 viewers on top of that. So in terms of creating the avalanche effect, the festival is what people see, what happens afterwards is the effect that we desire.

Have the numbers attending the festival accumulated over the years?

Absolutely, the festival has grown. When I took over 4 years ago we had 15 films. We have 30 films now. So a lot more screenings take place, in more cinemas, on more days. There are more program slots, and program slots at the cinemas are always an economic risk. Believe me, some of the cinemas are struggling, and therefore are very happy to have us.  For example, a weak session for me is a session with 50 people, but I know at maybe the same time slot on a Friday afternoon there would usually only be maybe 25 people in the cinema [if there was no festival].

We’ve noticed you take good care of your guests and have been showing them around Melbourne during their stay. Is looking after the actors a lot of work?

It can be. In the four years that I’ve been doing this I haven’t had one that was really troublesome. There is a issue with actresses, and that’s blood-sugar levels. It’s such a big thing, they watch really closely what they eat, and once their blood sugar levels are down, I say “OK, I’ve got something I my pocket, have it now!” 

Aside from that, there is a potential clash of egos, so we make a point of not inviting two actors who are on the same level, or would be competing. Australia is too far away, and they’ll say “I’ve taken this long journey, I want to be in the limelight”.

It’s very good with these two [Anna Maria Mühe and Robert Stadlober], because they’re friends. She went to Robert’s concert just a few weeks ago, and it’s all very good.  So it’s better to invite different types, a director and an actor is usually better than two actors. Marco Kreuzpaintner would have been great too, but Robert is wonderful . We had a 45 minute interview on SBS this morning and it was lovely, Robert is full of knowledge.

Can you describe the process of getting Anna Maria Mühe and Robert Stadlober to Melbourne for the AFGF?

In close cooperation with German Films. Because they’re based there [in Germany] and deal exclusively with that subject matter, they have a little more experience than I have, in regards to who can be used for promo purposes and who cannot. Like with Jürgen Vogel who was at the festival last year, who’s really a megastar, it was my own independent decision to go to the agent and say “we want Jürgen Vogel , what do we have to do?”. There was an immediate decision that he wanted to come, because it happened to coincide with his 40th birthday.

In the past we have deliberately not approached a Volker Schlöndorff or a Wim Wenders, because for me it’s very much about this fresh, new, young look – the new generation. For example Wim Wenders travels to Australia twice a year, he only travels first class, he’s got “a thing”, he’s got a Koala complex [laughs]. We know through his agent that he himself suggested he come to this festival, and we said “maybe next year”. We need to find a bigger context for him, because if you get a Wim Wenders it dominates the whole festival, nobody want to hear or see anything else. But I’m not saying no to Wim Wenders! Because on the other hand, it can be good for publicity.

Do you spend all year working on this festival?

Claudia and I work on it for about half a year. Ideally I go to the Munich film festival because you get a good idea of what’s happening, but we start the selection process in later October, early November. Basically pampering the sponsors is a life, not a love, it is a year long exercise.

Apart from the AFGF, we put on about 50 other cultural events per year. Sometimes we support events, like in March we had the St Thomas Boys’ Choir from Leipzig at the Sydney Opera House. It was sold out and there were 9000 people at the Opera House. We invited all our sponsors to a VIP reception at the Opera House and to meet the cantor of St Thomas Boys’ Choir, and they loved that.

Do you agree to give the sponsorship logos visibility over the entire year at all your cultural events?

Yes, that’s all part of it. The easy case would involve deals being made over a short conversation and a hand shake, and a more complicated case involves a contractual negotiation. In the case of Audi, we don’t have a written contract now, they trust us. They have the naming rights, and this is really important for them, and this opens certain gateways for them that they would never find on their own.  By piggy-backing on the back of cultural events, they get very good value for money, like being on all those City of Sydney banners. Or in the cinemas, they are entitled to have their cars displayed which would usually cost them a lot of money.

Are you looking at growing the AFGF into a larger, international event?

We wouldn’t be successful in doing this. There are some very specific factors. Other than Australia I know of no other country that does this circuit of national film festivals. Canada is very much like Australia – it’s a huge country, a federation, has two major cultural hubs and it’s multicultural, the same thing should happen, yet they don’t do this circuit of national film festivals. It’s a specifically Australian thing. They serve their purpose here, in a sometimes healthy and sometimes problematic competition with the international film festivals.

My intention is to plant the right kind of content in the right kind of context. If I think that my German content has gotten the best possible visibility and echo within the AFGF, then I’ve done my job. If  I think a film like Alle Anderen is better hosted within, say the Sydney International Film Festival, then they should have it.

The French Film Festival is a bit of an exception because it’s older, it happens in more cities and has even more of an audience than ours. That could be the benchmark. One could say that we’d like to get to the level of the French Film Festival which won’t happen ’till…I don’t know when. But making it (the AFGF) on par with an international film festival would be wrong.

The Fight for Visibility – Promotional Woes at the Audi Festival of German Films (AFGF)

April 24, 2009

By Alida Tomaszewski

Beyond the walls of the Kino and the Como cinemas lies a desolate urban landscape. All signs point to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, yet I see none representing the festival from which I just emerged. “It’s true, advertising is weak here in Melbourne” says Klaus Krischok, festival director. “That’s the problem with being based in Sydney, you can’t run everything on remote control. In Sydney we have huge City of Sydney banners, because they are our partners, so we have over 200 banners all over the city. But there is no visibility here in Melbourne.” Film festivals are an expensive pleasure and their promotion an expensive necessity. Festival organizers need the help of sponsors and partners to gain decent visibility in their city of choice.

Exiting the Como cinema to enter the greater area of the Como shopping complex, there is a jarring shift, a spontaneous combustion of celebratory atmosphere, an instantaneous disappearance of an entire festival! (You get the idea). “Well, it comes down to contractual obligations by the cinemas” says Krischok with a puff of his cigarette. “If Palace buys the rights for the commercial prints of a film [non AFGF], they’re buying all the paraphernalia with it, so Palace has to put a big poster up outside for their films, and thus we can’t [put ours up].”

In an effort to gain higher visibility and better sponsorship, the festival recently moved beyond Melbourne’s City of Bayside to it’s new South Yarra and CBD locations. Krischok pushed the move to inner-city Melbourne with the intention of securing the City of Melbourne as a partner, thus increasing advertising potential. Krischok is still keen to cure the festival’s promotional anemia, but to date the City of Melbourne hasn’t signed. As the AFGF approaches it’s 10th anniversary, the challenge continues, “I’ve realized there’s a weakness here, but whether we can do it [secure the City of Melbourne as a sponsor]…I’m not sure.”

The festival is almost entirely run by Klaus Krischok and Claudia Kühn of the Goethe Institute. “Basically, it’s a two person enterprise. There are a lot of volunteers and people helping out during the festival, but basically everything from choosing the films, talking to sponsors, writing the program, putting it all together, doing the magazine, inviting the guests, is done by me and Claudia. So it’s hard work and there will always be shortcomings.”

Under-staffing and uncooperative exhibitors do put pressure on the already strained promotional corners of the festival, but Krischok feels the real key to better promotion is being able to utilize media opportunities more wisely, “you’ve got to have a story to give them”. Krischok sits up a little straighter to tell me this one. It is in regards to the GDR retrospective, the first retrospective to ever be held by the festival. “A retrospective is always special, this is the first time we’re doing it, and, this is me talking as a ‘cultural person’, I’m really trying to get some content over. It has got to be done for the cultural/political side, which is what I’m doing, not for the commercial side, but it has a certain advantage as a spin off for the media.”

The retrospective being held is one of rarely seen films of the surprisingly prolific film production of the “other”, the communist German state, the former German Democratic Republic. Screening films such as Carbide and Sorel, Coming Out, Jacob the Liar, The Legend of Paul and Paula, Solo Sunny and Traces of Stone. “Everyone I’ve talked to, and I’ve had about 40 radio interviews, all love that idea of the GDR Retro” he says with a smile. Krischok believes a “hook” can provide impetus for a festivals success. The AFGF made the retrospective easier on their pockets by not attempting to acquire the archival footage, but instead showing the films on DVD. “It’s a great spin off as a story…even though it may not necessarily be the stuff that sells well” – it gives people something to grab onto, brings them to the website and generates buzz.

As an Australian metropole, Melbourne matches Sydney, pace for pace, as the country’s financial and cultural hub, so the potential for growth and change during the Melbourne wing of the festival is vast.
Currently, the Goethe Institute and their festival organizers are playing catch up with an increasingly competitive national film festival circuit. For the AFGF to move beyond being an under-valued blip on Melbourne’s bursting cultural calendar, it looks like it’s going to be a steep (but not unachievable) climb.

Q&A with Robert Stadlober

April 24, 2009

Visiting German actor and star of Krabat, Robert Stadlober, talks to Susanna Guerocak of German Films.

Transcribed by Alida Tomaszewski

SG: Please welcome Robert Stadlober
RS: Hello. I am here on behalf of all the crew, all the actors, the director of photography…because none of them could come they sent me [laughs]. So I’m kind of the diplomat tonight.

SG: As you know Robert played Lyschko tonight, the rather evil character at the beginning of the movie…
RS: Yeah I guess that has to be said because a lot of people in foreign countries don’t really realize that I’m the guy with long, blonde hair.

SG: So how was it for you to play Lyschko in this film?
RS: Well. Quite nice [laughs]. I can give you some background information on this film. It is probably one of the most expensive productions in recent German film history. We shot most of it (especially the exterior stuff) in Romania. We were supposed to shoot for about 50 days, but Romania wasn’t quite as easy as we thought so we got stuck there for I think 3 months, even though we were only supposed to be there for 6 weeks, because Romanian productions are really, well… they promise a lot but they don’t really hold their promises. So most of the time we were just sitting around waiting for some people. Especially, you probably noticed all the snow in the film, they promised us that it would snow all winter in Romania. It didn’t at all. Not one day. So they had to have all this artificial snow and we had a crew from Bucharest doing that, and it took them 6 or 7 hours to do the whole area, and after they were finished, they were at the other end of the set and walked back through all the artificial snow to the catering truck. And we were like “ah, we’ve got footprints in the snow now…that’s not really what we wanted”, and they were like “oh sorry we forgot about that”, okay so we have to dress again. So, it took us another 3 hours to get rid of the footprints. Things like that happened all the time, which meant we ended up shooting for 94 days overall, which is really unusual for a German film. We ran out of money twice during the process. It’s quite a bit of luck that this film is on this screen, we all thought that it would never happen but it finally did. And it was very successful in Germany, we’ve had 1.6 million people watching it up to now which is, for a German film, very good.

SG: Did you get a chance to see some of the Romanian culture?
RS: Well we were in a kind of German style area in Romania – and they don’t have really that much culture there [laughs]. There are a lot of old German churches and apart from that, only strip clubs and bars. We’ve seen a lot of them! But I don’t know if that’s real, original Romanian culture [laughs].

SG: How did you get involved with the film Krabat?
RS: I’ve known the production company for more than 10 years now, and I’ve known since 1998 about the project because it had been the producer’s dream to bring this novel (his favourite as a teenager) onto screen. So I’ve known about it for a long time, and I’ve experienced with him all the struggles that he’s had in financing it, because it’s really not that usual to make genre fantasy movies in Germany, so it was quite a fight. So then, in the summer of 2006 he said he finally has the money together and he wants to start shooting in a month! I was like “What!?” I said “well I’m too old play Krabat”, and he said “yeah, you are”. “Okay, can I be somebody else?”, and he said “yeah just pick someone”, and so I said “I want to be Lyschko”, because I wanted to have long hair [laughs], no no because I wanted to be the villain.

SG: And it suited you really well!
RS: It wasn’t my hair, it was actually a wig. No hair extensions. I could grow hair that long, but it would take up to 3 years or something, and well, I don’t have the time for that [laughs].

SG: What were some of the differences between the book and the film?
RS: Well I must say that Krabat is a really popular novel in Germany, especially for young people, between the ages of 11 and 17/18. I read it when I was 12 and it really had a big impact on me. It was probably the turning point in my “reading career”. Up until 12 I was reading all these fantasy-adventure novels that boys read. After 12 I started reading stuff like J. D. Salinger and Hunter Thompson. The book that was in between the fantasy adventure and all those poets and serious grown-up adult literature was Krabat. So, it had quite an important place in my heart and still has.

The novel is a lot longer and it’s really difficult to put something like that on screen. The novel is 3 years (the length of time that Krabat is on the mill), the film only shows 2 years. Basically, what makes the novel really fascinating is repetition, that all this stuff is happening again and again, and every year one of the boys from the mill dies. We tried to do this in the film at first, but it didn’t really work, because repetition on film isn’t as interesting as it is in literature. That’s the main difference. Apart from the fact the Lyschko is a straight bad guy in the novel and here I’m actually the one who saves everyone in the end. Kind of. [Laughs].
People always ask if we did this because we want to be like a Hollywood movie, but I don’t think that’s the reason. The reason why we made this kind of ending and changed the character of Lyschko is that we believe that people aren’t wholly bad or wholly good. We wanted to have a real human being. As you go on in life things can happen to you that make you either bad or good in certain situations, I don’t think that anyone’s character is just purely bad. So that’s what we tried to do here. Lyschko is kind of the prince of the mill until Krabat arrives, and when Krabat arrives he tries to push him out of the way, and then he realizes that Krabat is stronger than him he has to form new alliances with Krabat and the others.

SG: You’ve been an actor for quite a long time now, did you want to tell us how you got into it. Did you need to take acting classes or…?
RS: …Well I might have needed to, but I never took them [laughs]. I started when I was 12, and that’s nearly 15 years now, so more than half my life I’ve been an actor. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but it’s a fact. A casting agent came to our school looking for a young boy to act in a television movie. I just acted from then on, mainly in a lot of bad television stuff, up to the age of 16. That’s when I quit school, and I needed to find a way to make a living, and I thought well I’ve always done this television crap, I can maybe go on doing that. But then fortunately I got a role in a feature film, and that was the first time I realized acting isn’t just reading lines and making easy money but that it’s really work and that it can be a really exciting and fruitful work that makes you think. You have to deal with a lot of psychological issues and philosophy…So it was when I was 16 that I decided to become a really serious actor, and I’m still struggling to become one at 26.

SG: For the students here, do you have any suggestions for someone who wants to become an actor.
RS: Oh, well, go through life with open eyes, that’s all I can give. I mean there are different kinds of ways to learn. There are people who learn in acting school, and there are people who don’t learn anything in acting school, they just get really messed up there. It depends. For me it’s just really important to experience stuff, I travel a lot, talk to everyone about everything, and try to remember as much as I can to use it for the next films. So, I’m exploiting humanity really [laughs].

SG: Ok unfortunately that’s all we have time for. Thank you for coming, and please thank Robert Stadlober.

Sprechen Ze Deutsche?

April 21, 2009

by Alida Tomaszewski

Opening night: back-dropped by a classy, chandelier supporting, antique mirror-toting Como Cinema complex, the schmoozy banter and fight for finger food begins. Hundreds of people gather in cordoned-off areas as polite conversation is made during the wait for opening night’s film of choice, The Baader-Meinhoff Complex. Whilst trying to observe the crowd I hover around the V.I.P area (much less subtly than intended it turns out), when a woman turns to me to strike up a friendly conversation – only she’s speaking in German, and my eyes are glazing over. I let her finish a seemingly long introduction before I apologize for my limited/non-existent knowledge of German. This revelation is met by marked surprise, which is then met by my marked surprise at her marked surprise. It begs the question as to what audience this festival is attracting, and are they attracting who they want to attract? Peter Krausz, Melbourne-based festival organizer believes “the real mandate the festival has is to promote German culture in Australia.” My question is, to whom? One would think not just to the Germanophones of Melbourne.

“From a cultural point of view our goal is to create an awareness of the variety of artistic expression, life-style and talent in Germany” says Klaus Krischok, AFGF festival director. “It’s to help German film find an audience abroad, in this case, Australia. One thing that irks me is that some Australians perceive the festival of German films as a community event, that it’s here for the Germans, and that’s definitely not the case. The questionnaires we took in 2007 told us this. It can seem like a community event because we have a lot of Germans, but we did a survey of 1000 people, 500 in Sydney, 500 in Melbourne and we found that 66% of the cinema goers have had no previous contact with Germany. So two thirds of festival goers have no German connection, and one third who do have that strong German connection. We also discovered the average age is 39 years, 60% female, a middle to upper income group, and mostly tertiary educated. Reasons to come are varied…” The man knows his numbers.

However, in comparison with my experiences, Krischok and I will have to agree to disagree, despite his miraculous statistics. Despite his test group of a thousand, perhaps Krischok is himself aware of the lack of targeted-presence at his festival. “Our target audience is not 55 year old Germans, our target audience is 33 year old Australians. The goal is to not necessarily grow [our numbers], but to find the right kind of audience, an appreciative audience. But I know from experience that the quality of the audience (be they German or otherwise, 55 or 21 years old) is very very good.” This is undoubtedly true, the audience is film literate and highly engaged, but from what I’ve experienced in six days of non-stop AFGF attendance, they have not managed to bring in Australians in a way that would make the festival feel less like the community celebration that so irks it’s director.

Admittedly, Opening Night’s audience might not be entirely indicative of the larger festival demographic. However, I find myself almost at the half way point of the AGFF, and my sense of the demographic has not changed. During panel discussions audience questions were laced with thickly-accented questions of East/West German issues and other socio-political queries specific to the nation – seemingly questions from the German community with answers for the German community. The Festival of German Films does not manage to resonate with the cultural interests of the general Australian public to the same extent as the French and Italian film festivals. “The French Film Festival is a bit of an exception because it’s older”, says Krischok. “It happens in more cities and has even more of an audience than ours”. Krischok feels that The French Film Festival is probably the benchmark, even if it currently feels like an unattainable goal. “One could say that we’d like to get to the level of the French Film Festival which won’t happen ’till…I don’t know when.”

In aiming to etch out a space for German traditions in the contemporary world’s ‘cult of culture’, the AFGF is trying to accomplish that which has not even been achieved by Germany itself. The Australian collective cultural consciousness has become ingrained over decades with multicultural elements. The German culture however does not yet pervade the international market or inhabit international consciousness to the extent of its French and Italian counterparts, whose cultures and traditions pervade our own through food, music, art, language and in this case, film.

Festival Reporter Profile 3

April 11, 2009

Alida Tomaszewski: aspiring writer, culture vulture, film buff and new media fiend.

Herzlich willkommen, and welcome to the World Film Festivals blog. From April 15 to 26 I will be covering the 2009 Audi Festival of German Films (AFGF) – exploring issues of programming and funding, publishing and festival image, target and peripheral audience, and distribution/exhibition networks.

It was during my final BA year whilst studying at UCLA that I first volunteered (and acted as unofficial paparazzo) for both the AFI Fest and Film Independent’s L.A. Film Festival.

For the purposes of this blog I will concentrate on how the AFGF reconciles the needs of the local audience while fulfilling its raison d’être and supporting national German culture. Furthermore, how do the historical and socio-cultural contexts of these productions yield different readings, and what meanings might I, as an Australian, unearth that wouldn’t be found by critics from the same culture as the text? I will explore questions of cultural specificity and more importantly how this fits into a now global film culture.