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“Working against traditional film styles makes cinema more powerful”

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Frauke Havemann, Eric Schefter, Mark Johnson • Directors/screenwriters

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- Cineuropa sat down with the creative team responsible for the provocative film Weather House to discuss their oeuvre, which straddles cinema and theatre

Frauke Havemann, Eric Schefter, Mark Johnson  • Directors/screenwriters
(l-r) Mark Johnson, Eric Schefter and Frauke Havemann

The creative team behind the German film Weather House introduced the movie on US soil as an Official Selection world premiere in the Narrative Competition of the 2017 Slamdance Film Festival. Weather House was directed by Frauke Havemann, co-directed by Eric Schefter and written by Mark Johnson, while the concept was devised by Havemann and Johnson. Havemann and Schefter also shared editing duties, while all three produced the project, along with Marcel Neumann, the film’s cinematographer. The story of this minimalistic movie follows a group of isolated characters facing extreme climate changes and their consequent bizarre reactions.

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Cineuropa: What were the stimuli for Weather House? The film is thematically ambiguous, stylistically and formalistically complex – combining horror with irony, absurdism and minimalism – while it also features careful, deadpan staging as well as video-art sensibilities. This makes the final product pretty complicated.
Frauke Havemann, Eric Schefter, Mark Johnson
: We've been tackling the issues of the human-nature divide for years, so this work comes organically out of our previous work. Of course, we’re inspired by the films that we love, but we were also inspired by art exhibitions that we visited during the development process, as well as trips to extreme environments, such as the desert and Las Vegas.

How did the project end up being helmed by two directors and written by a US writer-director, while being essentially a German project, production-wise?
The collaborative process has evolved from having worked together for many years. Mark Johnson previously lived in Germany and worked in theatre with many of the people involved in the film. He continued to contribute to the work after moving to Los Angeles. Frauke and Eric live and work in Berlin, and have been collaborating on performance for almost 20 years. All of the resources that were necessary to make the film came out of their Berlin connections.

What were the development and production processes like during such an unusual project, which does not rely solely on its script, but also other aspects that need to be meticulously controlled?
The script was developed by sending drafts back and forth between the writer and the director. Most of the film's aesthetics and details were specified in the script. During the shoot and post-production, changes were made to strengthen the effect of the original concept: for example, stripping away the original sound and recreating it in the studio changed the film dramatically and gave it a powerful dimension that amplified the movie’s themes of artificiality. This process also allowed us to determine and fine-tune every single aspect and detail of the sound and image content.

Why did you opt for a combination of horror and comical undertones?
The tone is something that just emerges naturally from our approach to storytelling. The subject of how humans interact with catastrophe and our alienation from nature is inherently absurd.

Even though Weather House is a film, it clearly has other influences such as video art and performance art; but are there any influences from your previous works?
Definitely; we're very much influenced by video art and performance. Our goal is to make our work as cinematic as possible, but working against traditional film styles and taking cues from other art forms ultimately makes cinema more powerful.

What is the relationship between Weather House, the film, and Weather House (With Plant), the performance?
The performance came out of the development process. The project was originally conceived as being adaptable to both film and live performance, and the result is two very distinct works.

Weather House deals with an obsessive scientific approach to reality and attempts at quantification. Why are you preoccupied with such themes? Is it because of today’s technological advances and the unprecedented domination of science? Is reason decaying?
Yes. Human nature appears to be continually at war with itself, with people absurdly indulging in the contradictory phenomena of scientific reason and their belief systems. The inability to resolve this conflict is what will lead to human extinction.

Are there any projects you are currently developing or contemplating?
We have a few projects in development. Frauke is working on a film with the working title The Strategy of the Cells. It's about a biologist and her relationship with her own body in the midst of a serious illness. Mark is developing an avant-garde, science-fiction epic called Who Are These People and What Are They Doing?

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