Writer/director Till Kleinert won the Iris Prize Festival in 2008 with Cowboy. Four years on, he’s now working on a feature film Der Samurai, promising to be a dark queer thriller, indulging in his love of the macabre following the timbre of Cowboys and Boys Village which was premiered at 2011′s Iris Prize Festival. We chat to him about his new film, the state of German LGBT film and the Iris Prize, as Der Samurai heads to the end of its crowd funding campaign.
SSG: Tell us about Der Samurai.
Till Kleinert: It is a grim nightmarish thriller, pretty much in the same vein as Cowboy. It’s about a young policemen, Jakob, who lives in a remote village in Germany close to the Polish border who one night encounters a mysterious and nameless stranger, who appears at the fringe of the forest wearing a woman’s dress and sporting a samurai sword. He threatens to wreak havoc upon the unsuspecting village, and Jakob has to make sure that doesn’t happen. Over the course of the night Jakob will have to face aspects of his own persona and of his own psyche that he hasn’t even dared to see beforehand. But there seems to be something about this stranger that touches on some strings within him, that he hasn’t been aware of. Dark, mysterious, and also kind of bloody towards the end, I think it’s just a very thrilling, very intoxicating experience – and it’s also more than a little queer.
Has it been easy or difficult getting the film up to this point?
It’s been quite easy to get people enthused for this kind of thing, because I think there’s a huge urge to see those kinds of films – something thrilling and also something that’s uncanny. The problem is that in Germany it’s quite problematic to get funding for pictures that are fantastical as opposed to realist. There is a huge streak of realism that has become the norm for films here. Generally, as German film funding is based on having a TV channel involved, it’s quite hard if you have a film that leans more towards the fantastic or if it’s more graphic in the depiction of violence. So it’s actually kind of hard to get funding or to find financiers for that kind of film, which is also why we have now put up a crowd funding campaign. Crowd funding is still very unusual in Germany because we actually have a big public film funding system. But as I said, if you have a film that leans a bit more towards the weird, the queer, the fantastic, you really need to find the people and fans who really want to see that to support you.
Where would you personally place Germany in the wave of LGBT cinema?
It’s quite hard to say. We do have a distributor especially focused on LGBT/queer features and documentaries, and they have existed since the 1980s and have been very big in promoting LGBT cinema in Germany, and producing LGBT films as well. Then we have people who have been making LGBT films since the 1970s. But I have a hard time identifying with the LGBT film scene in Germany, at least, because like most German films in general they are more social realist or ‘problematic’ films, so to speak – exploring the social and psycological tension that comes with the experience of being different and of being gay. Sometimes what I think is lacking is the sort of lustful exploration of these kind of themes. Characters like Bruce la Bruce, John Waters, or Greg Araki are a bit more self-confident and a bit more willing to push the boundaries and be transgressive as well. I think something like that is a bit lacking in Germany.
What does Iris mean to you several years since winning in 2008?
It was an awakening for me, because it opened many doors for my film Cowboy to be seen on many LGBT film festivals around the world, and to get big and enthusiastic reactions from almost everywhere. Just being a film student and making films basically on my own I was not really getting so much feedback and not much audience response. This was really big and helped me of course. Having an audience see your film always helps you find out more about what you’re actually doing. Also, Iris and the people that make Iris – the people of Cardiff and the friends of Iris – have been great supporters of my work, giving me the opportunity to make another short film in Wales (Boys Village). These people have become very close friends of mine and I can’t really measure what they mean to me because they are now a part of my life, and a very cherished part of my life.
What other projects are you currently working on?
Right now I’m working on preparing the first draft of a screenplay for a feature. This is something I’ve been working on for quite a while now, for more than two years. It’s an adaptation of my favourite HP Lovecraft short story. HP Lovecraft is a huge influence on me. It’s quite difficult to tackle that one, but I think that once Der Samurai has been finished, I might be ready to go with that one. But it’s still in the works, so I don’t think its going to be shooting before 2014, maybe. Hopefully if Der Samurai gets a good response I hope we can get a few more people in Germany to get enthusiastic about that kind of cinema; then maybe it will also become a bit easier to get that film financed.
Do you have any advice for young filmmakers?
I think the biggest advice is to stay true to what you really want to tell and what you really want to see, not trying to compromise too much as to what you think people who are in charge or would fund you would like you to do. Because I think in the end your enthusiasm is always what will get people to help you and to support you. If you’re not 100% enthusiastic about it, it’s very hard to pull through.
Till Kleinhert’s Boys Village will be screened as part of So So Gay’s The Best of the Iris Prize event on 14 July 2012. Tickets are £6 (plus booking fee).
Featured image: Actor Pit Bukowski as The Samurai. Photograph: Courtesy of Schattenkante.