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Chris Kraus • Director

Staying Power

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Chris Kraus • Director

If there is one thing writer-director Chris Kraus definitely has, it is staying power to see an idea through to its realization. His second feature is a case in point. It may have the short title of Four Minutes [+see also:
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, but Kraus spent more than eight years developing the project before it first saw the light of a projector on its world premiere at the Shanghai International Film Festival last year: "I got the idea for the film from an item in a newspaper, but I also wanted to make a very personal film," he recalls. "I was attracted by the biography of an old lady who had taught for 60 years in a Berlin prison. This story then led me to look for an adversary, someone who would be quite the opposite of the old woman."

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In spite of the ups and downs during the eight-year odyssey to get the film made, Kraus was adamant that Four Minutes would be his next project as a director after his impressive debut with Shattered Glass in 2002. During the 2005 Berlinale, Kraus began discussing the project with producer sisters Meike and Alexandra Kordes of the recently established production company Kordes & Kordes Film and at last found kindred spirits who shared his vision. "We didn't have any money, but just a great passion. I knew from Meike [who had served as line producer on Shattered Glass] that she only does things she really likes and would go through concrete to achieve it. I like people who aren't put off by the concrete!"

It hadn't been plain sailing either for his first feature Shattered Glass which had existed in screenplay form for several years before going into production. "It just takes a while until you can push through such individual projects," Kraus argues, although his perseverance was then rewarded when the completed film was praised at the 2002 Munich Film Festival as one of the buzz titles and Kraus held up as a major new talent.

While Kraus showed himself adept at working with such seasoned players as Vogel, Margit Carstensen, Peter Davor and Nadja Uhl in his first film, Four Minutes posed new challenges, but also further proof of the director's collaborative relationship with his actors.

Casting the two leads – veteran Monica Bleibtreu for the elderly pianist Traude Krueger and the newcomer Hannah Herzsprung as the convicted killer Jenny – was of crucial importance. "I could see that it wouldn't be possible to have an 80-year-old on such a project working for 16 hours a day," Kraus notes. "So when I met Monica Bleibtreu, I though she could do it but there'd be the problem of age as she is only 60. There was the question of whether the make-up would function and, above all, whether there would be any chemistry between the older woman and younger one."

He says that it was "a conscious decision" to have the world premiere of Four Minutes outside of Germany – at the Shanghai International Film Festival in June of 2006 – although German film festivals had also been clamoring to show the film. Four Minutes then had its German premiere at the 40th Hof Film Days last October where it was one of the program highlights with a packed-out Saturday evening slot and Hannah Herzsprung was feted as a "name to watch".

Back home in Germany, the film began picking up prizes even before its theatrical release at the end of January with four Bavarian Film Awards for Best Screenplay, Best Female Lead (Monica Bleibtreu), and Best New Talent (Hannah Herzsprung) as well as the VGF Young Producers Award for Kordes & Kordes Film. Kraus describes himself as being "overjoyed" at the film's success on its home turf: distributor Movienet reached 250,000 admissions with just 70 prints by mid-April to make it the most successful German arthouse film so far this year.

Kraus has already prepared one project entitled Acapulco, a black comedy and satire, which is intended to be made with the Kordes sisters. Another long-gestating and much cherished project of Kraus is the historical romantic drama Poll whose screenplay was nominated for the German Screenplay Award back in 1997. Set in the Baltic German community of Latvia shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, Poll also has a young girl in the foreground in the same way as Four Minutes: "It is a love story between a 13-year-old and a revolutionary she hides on a country estate," Kraus says. "This project is a very personal one for me because my family originates from Riga, my grandmother was Latvian, and so there's a particular affinity."

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