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BLACK NIGHTS 2018 First Feature Competition

Henning Gronkowski • Director of Yung

“Girls have always inspired me more than guys, for many reasons”

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- We talked to German director Henning Gronkowski about the intricacies of his feature debut, Yung, centring on four female leads revelling in the Berlin party scene

Henning Gronkowski  • Director of Yung
(© Christoph Neumann)

In his directorial debut, Yung [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Henning Gronkowski
film profile
]
, which screened in the First Feature Competition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, German director Henning Gronkowski retraces the footsteps of his own turbulent past in Berlin, but without even incorporating a character that represents him. He shows a life fuelled by booze and drugs in private homes and at countless parties. Men are marginal in the film, and the four female leads not only show us that they know how to party, but also lift the lid on a different, intimate world behind the scenes. We wanted to know why, among other things, he’d chosen women over men.

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Cineuropa: You were fighting to get the film financed for quite some time. Unusually for Europe, it mostly relied on private funding.
Henning Gronkowski:
 Everything changed when I met LA filmmaker Mike Ott in 2016 at the Viennale. I showed him the material that I already had, and he joined in as a producer, also guiding me through filming. Before we started shooting, I visited him in LA, where he introduced me to sound designer Jan Bezouska, and the next thing I knew, we had Adam Ginsberg on board as the DoP. Unlike me, Mike Ott is experienced, and he knows what he’s doing – as does my German producer, Anatol Nitschke, a master of his trade who took a huge risk by supporting my film. I am not a part of the German film scene and nor am I very involved in the movie-making process per se. I’ve acted in Klaus Lemke’s movies, but he is this underdog who makes films with a crew consisting of one person who’s doing the sound and operating the camera at the same time. He also does street casting, and lots of improvising is involved. That’s what I did for ten years, but it wasn’t only for the love of acting; it was also to support a director who introduced me to the film world. Only once have I been on a big set, for about two days, and that almost killed off my love for movies because it was boring, there was a lot of waiting, and there was a lot of stress involved.

This is your first feature film, but not your first take on Berlin’s subculture scene.
I previously directed several music videos for independent and major German artists. It was a good experience, and in some of my videos, particularly for the band 2raumwohnung, I tried to address certain elements seen in Yung. In one of them, I follow two girls over the course of a weekend, as they run through Berlin from one place to another. That’s also how I discovered one of the four main protagonists in YungEmily Lau, by casting her for a music video. I realised that she has that je ne sais quoi and that she is the new Christiane F. She was brave enough to act out her experiences, or those of her friends, in a feature.

Why did you choose to show the Berlin party scene from the perspective of girls? 
I grew up with my mum, grandmother and two sisters, and all their friends. I was sometimes sat at the dinner table with 20 women. I was always surrounded by so many girls, so I knew quite a bit about them and about their problems, also when I joined the party scene. Girls have always inspired me more than guys, for many reasons. Having said that, there was originally a big male role (played by Tyrell Otoo), but I cut him out of Yung and made him a smaller, side character. Still, his role is by no means unimportant, because you don’t expect him to turn into a rapist. One moment, he’s opening up about his difficult upbringing and spilling his emotions, and the next, he’s taking advantage of Abbie, who’s passed out on drugs.

How did you cast them?
I rented out a club in Berlin, and hundreds of teenagers showed up. The casting lasted for two days, and we found a lot of authentic people for the party scenes. Joy Grant contacted me after the casting, but I knew she was special the moment I met her, and she also introduced me to Abbie Dutton, who is an old friend of hers. I took pictures of them and started following them at parties. Because I was married, and my wife had kids from a previous marriage, they trusted me. I explained that my life changed at 23, but that I used to do the same things as they were doing now. I told them I wanted to revisit that world to make a movie about it. Also, the moment I met Janaina Liesenfeld, I felt straight away that she was the right person for the role, which, in a way, is the most daring of them all. All four of them had the courage to show the underground party world of Berlin, giving me access to their personal experiences and those of their friends. They really influenced the script.

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