A Treasure Hunt to Find New Talents: An Interview with Zsuzsanna Kiràly
With Komplizen Film she works in project development, collaborating with some of the great auteurs of the modern era. With screen credits on Tabu (2012), Scarred Hearts (2016), and Toni Erdmann (2016), she works behind the scenes, helping filmmakers bring their vision to light.
In 2017, she began her own production company, Flaneur Films, where she has worked as a producer on a number of experimental shorts. While still a side project, films made under the company banner have nonetheless gained international success, playing at festivals like Berlin, Locarno, and CPH:DOX. Both companies are based in Berlin.
The most recent project, “Fantasy Sentences,” directed by Dane Komljen, had its world premiere at Locarno last year, where it won the Mantarraya Award in the transgressive Signs of Life program. The film, an experimental collage about the confluence of man, nature, and contagion, has a rich soundscape and textured images that manages to find a sense of hopefulness in its dystopian imagery. It is a recent addition to the Kinoscope library.
Zsuzsanna Kiràly spoke with Kinoscope over the phone about her work and her latest project.
What are your different production roles at Komplizen Film and Flaneur Films?
My time is divided, and for the most part, I work for a feature fiction production company called Komplizen Film.
[What] I do there is script and project development and acquisitions. We sometimes call this production coordination, but it is a strange term, so I started dropping it. In German, you would use it to describe an on-set position, but not for a position working in a production company. I do not work on set.
Then, I have Flaneur Films, my own production company [where I produce experimental films]. Of course, working with Flaneur, as it is my company, I work as a producer.
Are you working primarily in Germany or in other European countries as well?
With Komplizen Film, we are based in Berlin. European filmmaking, financing, and funding is very country-based, so we have a big slate of German productions and directors who we work with or have worked with for a long time. We also have a substantial slate of co-productions.
We do work internationally and it is something we like to do. The intercultural aspects of co-productions are great.
For Flaneur Film, it’s actually the same. I want to keep my eyes open. I only work with the people that I like and whose work I appreciate. So, wherever they are from, I really don’t mind. Sometimes it is more difficult to find financing. If the project does not have any connections to Europe or Germany, it can be difficult, especially with experimental films as there is very little support to begin with.
There is nothing I wouldn’t work on. It is all about the people and their work. That’s what matters most.
How do you choose projects?
There are similarities in my work for Flaneur and Komplizen, but some things are very different.
Flaneur Films is my own thing, it’s tiny. It’s made with my own hands, the directors, and a little bit of money we can scrap together. We have to be realistic, there is not much money lying around for experimental films, so we have to be inventive.
I have worked with Komplizen for a long time, but I am not a producer there, I don’t own the company. Of course, [whether working for Flaneur or Komplizen] my mind is the same and my ideas about cinema are too. The ethics about how to work with people is the same in both areas.
When you look at our work at Komplizen, we have worked with the same directors again and again. We like and want to establish good working relationships and to maintain them. We will do everything possible to find the right financing. If you can’t find the money, we can’t really work together, but usually, that works out.
We travel, we watch films, we read a lot, and we get sent a lot of scripts. It’s like a treasure hunt to find new talents. There are also established filmmakers that we get to work with, but even these people you have to get to know.
I spend time with people and get to know them and how they work and what they need. If our minds and visions fit together, we can hope for a smooth working relationship. Making films takes so much time and effort that I always hope it will be a great personal and practical relationship. By personal, I mean a creative collaboration, which is as important as a financial and technical one. All of it is needed to make a film happen. I want to make sure everybody’s ideas and wishes align.
Can you tell us about “Fantasy Sentences,” how did you connect with director Dane Komljen?
I met Dane via friends, but I didn’t know his work yet. We started talking and I realized, “wow we love so many of the same films,” and we just had a lovely conversation. I met him as a person, and I didn’t know his films. Then he sent me his films, and it was only then I discovered him as a filmmaker.
He was already finishing his debut, All the Cities of the North (2016). I liked everything that he had done both stylistically and thematically. I found him to be a thoughtful, creative, and imaginative person. Our ideas, rhythms, and temperament fit together and it brought us to “Fantasy Sentences.”
At the time, he had a CPH:LAB invitation. We knew that it could be done with them and then we started mapping out things. We needed to be quite pragmatic about some things, because everything fell into place quite quickly when we received the short film funding. The great thing about “Fantasy Sentences” was that it was a very clear idea, but the content was a bit more flexible. Dane wanted amateur film material that was shot in the Chernobyl area before and after the nuclear disaster.
There were also these very practical logistical decisions that had to be dealt with. We need to go shoot, how do we do it? When do we do it? We needed to be very pragmatic about it because everything fell into place quite quickly when we received the short film funding. We only had a couple of weeks to decide if we were going to shoot the film within the next couple of months because we needed the summer.
It would be a very different film, from structure to mood to even the narration, if these images were shot in the fall or winter. We wanted to suggest what the place could look like in the future. We wanted to suggest spaces, and how places devoid of people can be be more appealing if we can project something onto them. This is usually more easily or better achieved by looking at it more positively than negatively.
We had to get him and the DP [on location] very quickly. We were lucky because they were a great team and they could make the best of their time shooting there. We were very lucky with the amateur film footage that we found, that these two sources of material fit together. We were recognizing one place in the other, even if they were not the same, but somehow it felt right by the energy or karma.
In realistic terms, we both had deadlines, so we made a plan and we stuck to it. We had to be concise and efficient with our time, so we made this film very quickly. We decided to make it in April 2016 and it premiered in Locarno in August 2017. We had a year to make it from A to Z! It was wonderful working with Dane. Sometimes you are lucky and things work out well.
Your work with Flaneur Films is really focused on experimental film. Can you explain why you want to make experimental films?
I’m laughing thinking how realistic and pragmatic my answer should be! What to say?
An individual can’t help but have a taste and a liking for specific things. For me, it’s that and I can’t change it! I’m lucky to be working on both experimental and feature films. I want, like, and need both.
Whether feature fiction or experimental, there are almost no uninteresting topics or themes. I always want to know how you are going to make a film. I want to know how you do it practically and what it will look like. That’s what interests me about making and seeing a film.
Since we are talking about Kinoscope, it is obvious that every film needs and wants distribution. For experimental films, it sometimes seems limited. We have festivals where these films are shown, and these are the best places because they offer both a screening space and a place for discourse.
For distribution, my hope is that VOD will grow; I think it is perfect for experimental film but also for features.
What is your hope for the future of cinema?
There are so many wonderful people making films that I already know, and some that I don’t know yet but hope to encounter.
I hope all these wonderful ideas that people I know have can turn into films one way or another. If that’s tomorrow or in ten years, that’s all cool, they all have plenty of ideas.