Katja von Garnier • Director
by German Films
- German Films sat down with Katja von Garnier to discuss her career and her Windstorm brand of films, putting together a portrait of her life
“Just back from London and very happy to have a slate of really exciting projects,” Katja von Garnier has clearly gone tri-coastal! Having lived and worked for ten years in the US, she returned to Germany to become a major force in establishing “the Windstorm [+see also:
film profile] brand” and is “now looking to film again in English as well as German.” As opening statements of intent go, this is a good one!
The classic adage: never work with children or animals and here is a woman who has done both, twice, voluntarily! Windstorm, the girl-and-a-horse franchise, has proven a German box office thoroughbred, as well as winning, among others, the German Film Award for Best Children’s and Youth Film and von Garnier the Bavarian Film Award. “They were dream projects,” von Garnier says. A girl herself, “I love horses! I have two and brought to the project all the experience and longings I had, still have, especially the connection between horses and humans: it was very personal for me.”
As befits a sequel, the second Windstorm film is “quite a bigger film with big set pieces, such as racing an aircraft, or when the horse comes to town. We have dressage without a bridle, a galloping herd, two horses playing in a forest and so on.” Getting Lassie to sit up, roll over and play dead this wasn’t, so how did it come together? “Precise planning,” von Garnier explains. “We all sat down and asked ourselves ‘What would be fun?’ Then the writers, Lea Schmidbauer and Kristina Magdalena Hehn, had to make dramatic sense of it, which takes real skill, and then we shot it! It was all a director’s dream!” That easy? Well... Here she pays effusive tribute to SamFilm and producers Ewa Karlström and Andreas Ulmke-Smeaton.
In fact, the Windstorm franchise was von Garnier’s “first attempt at traditional ‘youth’ films. In Germany, the successful ones are based on pre-existing material, whereas we started from original scripts. The books came afterwards and they have been very successful too. Creating a strong brand like this, it’s great!” Would she like to do more? Stupid question! “I’d love to! And I’m currently thinking over my next steps,” she explains. “As a director, when I do something I’m in total tunnel vision; the other ideas sit there til the film is done, then I return to them.”
Referencing one of her previous films, Bandits, von Garnier would “definitely do another music film” wanting “again, to show the human spirit. I’m really big on one person being able to initiate change, like we portrayed in the suffragist film Iron Jawed Angels, with its young, radical women.” “I believe films can be very powerful and have impact,” she continues.
With regard to her working methods, von Garnier is an actor’s director: “I love developing for specific actors,” she says. “Bandits was created especially for the cast, as people and friends. If the script touches me, I ask what I can bring, what my vision is, and it starts with a feeling: how do I want the film to feel? Then I find music to fit and design the images to that. Parallel, I work with the writer to co-create scenes that match the feeling.”
With Windstorm 2 [+see also:
film profile], it was essential for “the scenes, especially in the town, to be preimagined and the shots decided in advance,” von Garnier continues, “because horses don’t always take direction. The trainer needs to know exactly because a horse never asks ‘What’s my motivation’!”
What applies to horses also goes for kids: “You have to know very specifically what you are shooting when handling children as well; be inventive, create and also find a way to shoot the scene even when the actor is not there. You do a lot of advance editing in your head. I feel what is needed and then create it in the editing. I love non-linear storytelling and especially two levels being intercut and interwoven at the same time.”
Von Garnier draws inspiration from, amongst others, Nicolas Roeg and Milos Forman (“Hair is one of my all-time favourite movies”) with, again, “music being very important as an inspirational element. It helps me come up with the images. I had an exceptional collaboration with Annette Fox on Windstorm; she totally gets it! She did with the music what we did with the film and added a whole new dimension."