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SUNDANCE 2021 World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Ronny Trocker • Director of Human Factors

“Personally, I like it very much when a film cannot be read in only one way, but it is also risky”


- We talked to the German director, whose second feature premiered at Sundance, in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Ronny Trocker • Director of Human Factors

In his second feature, Human Factors [+see also:
film review
interview: Ronny Trocker
film profile
, German director Ronny Trocker centres on an apparently harmonious family that is shaken up by an unexpected incident. This bold film, mixing drama and crime story, had its premiere at this year’s edition of the Sundance Film Festival. The director talked to us about his inspiration for the story and about the aesthetic concept of the film.

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Cineuropa: What inspired you to tell this story?
Ronny Trocker: It all started with questioning perception, in our age of massive media consumption and of social media. I wanted to explore how the way of perceiving the world around us is changing, and concepts like “reality” and “truth” are shaken up. Moreover I wanted to question how manipulable our subjective point of view has become. Finally, I was also interested in how this massive flux of information we’re exposed to every day is affecting the way we communicate within our private relationships.

How long did you develop the story? Was it difficult to get the film funded?
Some elements of the story have been floating around in my head for a while, but the first time I put it down on paper in this form was in early 2017.

Thanks to the funding of IDM Südtirol, I was able to finance the development and I again partnered up with my German producers from Zischlermann for this new collaboration very early on. The financing was made up of many components and took some time. The final piece of the puzzle came from our Danish co-production partners from Snowglobe.

Was it clear from the beginning that you would tell the story in a non-linear way?
Not at all. Normally the question of what perspective you’re going to tell a story from is one of the first and most crucial decisions to make. I played around a lot while writing and found that this non-chronological and multi-perspective form of storytelling best served my interest in the concept of perception. It's maybe irritating, but it's a story about an irritating time.

What was the aesthetic concept you wanted to follow for the film?
We conceived the camera almost as another character. Like an invisible observer who is in the room and offers the audience a privileged view. The camera positions and movements are always used in such a way that they could also correspond to a human point of view. By doing so, we hoped to enhance the experience of the subjective perceptions of the characters. The camera focuses mainly on the character from whose perspective the scene is currently being told and just as the story doesn't tell everything, the camera doesn't show everything either.

What did you want to express through the title of the film?
The “human factor” is a value that questions human reliability or takes into account possible human errors. Temperaments, fears and emotions are part of it and therefore it seemed fitting for our story. Of course, it is also an allusion to the only non-human perspective that plays an important role in the film.

What interested you in adding a second geographical location with the house in Belgium?
The question should be the other way round, because the Belgian coast, with its concrete dominated landscape, the special light, deserted, out of season, was the very first image in my head for this film. Most people may consider it ugly, but I find this place poetic and melancholic at the same time. It somehow also fits the state of mind of our characters. Nevertheless, as a contrast, I like to show the characters in different environments. That's why the story moves between these more intimate family contexts in the Belgian holiday home and their professional environment in Hamburg. The characters act differently and the distance between them becomes more visible in their monotonous daily life routine.

How did you find your main actors?
I knew and liked the two adult lead actors, Sabine Timoteo and Mark Waschke, from other films. We met and talked a lot about the project. That's how I tried to find out if there was a common denominator, a common view on the story, which is always the basis for a good collaboration. The kids on the other hand were found through a classic casting process.

What did the actors bring to the characters from their own perspective?
This question should probably be answered by the actors themselves. I do a lot of preparation, the scenes are all written out, but I always try to leave some room for the actors to bring in their own personal experiences. In this way, new things often emerge that I would never have thought of.

What were the biggest challenges you encountered during the making of the film?
The editing process was a big challenge, because it was not easy to maintain the ambiguity and openness of the narrative without losing the interest of the viewer. This balance had to be found. I wanted to make a film about a contemporary malaise. Accordingly, the film should also put the viewer in an uncomfortable position. This requires a certain desire on the part of the audience to get involved.

Personally, I like it very much when a film cannot be read in only one way, but it is also risky. We tried a lot of things and the slightest change in the editing had often huge consequences on the general feeling of the film. Luckily, our editor Julia Drack has a wonderful sense of rhythm and balance and so we were able to take the decisions we needed.

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