“It was a case full of very radical opinions”
by Sabine Kues
- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2015: What is wrong with a society in which teenagers get shot for breaking into a supermarket? Stephan Richter sets out to find a new perspective on a real-life case in One of Us
With his debut film, One of Us [+see also:
interview: Stephan Richter
film profile], director Stephan Richter takes on the much-debated real-life incident of a teenager who was shot by police in Austria. During the San Sebastián International Film Festival – where the Austrian production premiered – Richter talked to Cineuropa about his experiences as a first-time feature-film director and the responsibilities that come with such a controversial topic.
Cineuropa: How did you come across the true story on which your film is based?
Stephan Richter: This is actually a story that happened in Austria in 2009. A policeman shot a 14-year-old kid in the back, and it was a huge scandal in Austria. It was very big in the newspapers. There was a kind of yellow-press opinion that it was ok to shoot criminals in general. What shocked me was that it was a 14-year-old. It was not a major crime; it was more a test of courage, a stupid idea. And so I started to do some research on the case. I started with people who observed the trial because it's a breach of human rights, and Amnesty was involved and they documented everything. Later on, I visited this small town where it happened – it's really a suburbia consisting of non-space. There, I saw this little community and I saw these kids hanging around near the supermarket.
Did you intend to give your own perspective on the story through the movie?
Yes, I found it very important because it was a case full of very radical opinions. I found it very difficult to make a movie and find a new perspective, so people could have their own opinion. So I started to develop this supermarket area as a kind of Zeitgeist or a metaphor for something that involves everyone. Because when you perpetrate violence against kids and they get killed, it always shows that there is something wrong with society. That was the reason why I made this movie. So I was asking the question: what is wrong?
In terms of the structure of the film, you start with the ending, so the outcome is clear for the viewer. As a result, the question of how it came about is more central to the movie. Would you agree?
Yes, sure. The film starts with pictures you might see at the end again. I think this was a strong image I had very early on, even before I wrote the script: a kid lying dead in a supermarket. That was for me a very touching picture, because it is so senseless – it's very sad because for me, dying in a place full of shiny products is a very strong image, and it incorporates the meaninglessness of it all. And I found it almost surreal; I thought it was good to start with this because everything else you see, you judge by this – this senselessness.
You've made several experimental short films and also music videos. Was it hard to make your first feature film?
Yes, it probably took me longer than usual because on one hand, I had to learn and do it at the same time, and on the other hand, the problem was, as it's based on a true story, you also have a real responsibility to do something meaningful or something that does not look like a first movie. I think the pressure is a little higher in this case. TheSources2 and Ekran workshop on film directing helped me a lot – especially the directing workshop in Warsaw with Wojciech Marczewski. There, I really understood what it means to be a director. For example, when you ask, “Working on set as a director – what does that mean?” I was never that aware of the fact that it is so much about acting and focusing on the actors. That was one thing in particular that helped me on set – to know that the main focus is on ensuring that the actors are good. I have to understand what they want, and I have to interact with them all the time. Everyone knows this in a way, but you really have to fight to have this time.
How was it working with such a young cast, and especially with your main character, played by Jack Hofer?
I was making my first movie, and he was making his first movie. In a way, he had to learn a lot about acting that I had to learn, too. I had an acting coach, Julian Sharp, who worked with the young actors from the movie, and I really learned a lot of basic things about acting that you probably don’t get when you work with professional actors. For me, it was important to rewrite the script a lot because I understood that the young cast members have a different language, they have different needs, and Jack would do it in a different way, so I had to find his character in the script.