Henner Winckler • Director of A Voluntary Year
“A Voluntary Year is more about our fears of how things could be than how they really are”
by Kaleem Aftab
- We sat down with German director Henner Winckler to pick apart A Voluntary Year, which he co-directed with Ulrich Köhler and which screened at Locarno
A Voluntary Year [+see also:
interview: Henner Winckler
film profile] played in competition at the recent Locarno Film Festival. It saw the return to the director’s chair of Henner Winckler, whose last film was Lucy [+see also:
film profile] in 2006. He taught filmmaking at the "Konrad Wolf" Film and Television University in Potsdam-Babelsberg and at the Met Film School Berlin. He met his co-director Ulrich Köhler when they studied at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg. Köhler’s movie Sleeping Sickness [+see also:
interview: Ulrich Kohler
film profile] premiered in competition at the Berlinale and won the Silver Bear for Best Directing. His previous film, 2018’s In My Room [+see also:
interview: Ulrich Köhler
film profile], celebrated its premiere in the official programme of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard. Winckler spoke to Cineuropa in Locarno about the collaboration and about A Voluntary Year.
Cineuropa: It’s been 13 years since you made Lucy, and now, on your return, you are working with Ulrich Köhler. How did that come about, and why the gap?
Henner Winckler: There are several reasons. One reason was that I didn’t get financing for another project. I was working on a different script, and if that had been financed, I would have directed it on my own. A Voluntary Year was financed by television money, and we received it relatively quickly, so we were able to shoot. But the other reasons are that I have two daughters and I have been teaching for over ten years.
What made you want to collaborate with Ulrich Köhler?
I thought I could learn something because I had never worked as an assistant director, and therefore, I hadn’t seen so many directors actually directing on set. I wanted to seize the first opportunity to shoot a film that came my way. Ulrich and I were at university together and have known each other for a long time.
What was the process like? Were you like two minds working in sync?
From my point of view, when we were editing and writing, it was easier to do that together because you had time, so you could compare different versions. Mostly, we agreed because it was very clear which edit or which dialogue was better. The difficult phase is during the shoot because there is a lot of time pressure. If you have two differing opinions, there’s no time to try both out, and you have to make a decision. In the editing room, perhaps it was hard for the editor at certain points because we also have a very creative producer. So sometimes, in the editing room, there were three men sitting right behind her, which didn’t make life easy for her.
A Voluntary Year is the story of a father and daughter. You have two daughters; did you bring some of your own life into the film?
This is a delicate question because, on one hand, we use parts of our own life in the film, but on the other hand, we are not talking about real people. The father is a very different person from me, and the daughter is very different from my daughter. Of course, we took some aspects of real life, such as sentences that we hear – and even some furniture from our houses – and put them into the movie. I like to create similarities. But A Voluntary Year is more about our fears of how things could be than how they really are.
The film has a lot of twists and turns, and its pace never lets up. In this respect, it reminded me of an Asghar Farhadi film.
Ulrich always said that there should never be a single conflict, and if there is a pause in the film, we should have another conflict surface that would interfere with the protagonists.
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