Moscow-Munich: Faraway, So Close!
Matthias Aicher started his career as a fashion photographer, but realized at some point that filmmaking was his true passion. After he released two short films in Germany, The Death and the Girl and To Malmo, Please, he decided to move to Russia where he eventually obtained formal training in film direction at VGIK. In 2002, he founded A-FILM Productions with Franz Koch, a fellow student and Munich native. With Matthias as managing director and film director, and Franz as technical director and camera operator, the company has since successfully collaborated with the German-French TV channel ARTE and with Russia Today. In addition to producing documentary films, A-FILM Productions provides line-producing for foreign crews based on its knowledge of local peculiarities and understanding of its clients professional needs. It also organizes a monthly A-FILM Festival with the goal of bringing film producers and audiences together through postscreening discussions. Their next big project is a feature film – details of which have been assiduously kept under wrap. The AFILM team recently sat down to talk with Passport Magazine at AFILM’s office in the labyrinthine streets of Kitai-Gorod and Chistiye Prudy.
What brought you to Russia and what made you stay here?
Matthias: I participated in a film festival in Berlin where I became acquainted with a Russian film director who eventually invited me to shoot a short film in Peterhoff. Earlier, I had tried to apply to several film academies in Europe, but didn’t make the cut. In St. Petersburg, I got a chance to enter the Institute of Cinematography and Television. Later I realized I wasn’t satisfied with the school and decided to move to Moscow to study in VGIK. Franz: I’ve known Matthias from way back. I didn’t get into a film academy in Germany, but when I visited Matthias here in Moscow, I liked VGIK and decided to try my luck here. It’s more interesting here. Professors are great too. The equipment is definitely very old, unlike Germany where you have super equipment at your disposal, but fewer ideas on hand.
Is film industry work here much different from Germany?
Matthias: The process of directing itself is pretty much the same everywhere; you come with an idea, work with a screenwriter, find a producer, and then shoot the film and work with actors. Unfortunately the work of the director is very often neglected here these days. Look at Night Watch – the director barely had a hand in the actors’ work. On the contrary, in Germany, I now see more collaboration between a director and the actors. There is also a great difference in producing. There are very few creative producers nowadays. There still exists the view that the producer is the person who steals 30% of money obtained from the state and general funds. But in Europe and in the US, the producer is something completely different. Very often he’s the one who comes up with an idea and then looks for a director. In Europe, producers participate more in the creative process.
What is your opinion of the contemporary film industry in Russia?
Franz: I think there’s lack of good directors. Very often they come from the advertising industry and lack professional training. Although I really enjoyed a movie that came out three years ago – Vozvrascheniye. There are a lot of movies that are made only for Russian audiences using only Russian money. I think it would be interesting to make a movie based on cliches – bears, vodka, girls. Make it a comedy in three or four parts. Matthias: I don’t like the way directors here make their movies too realistic, without any metaphor, any suggestion of a new vision of the world. I find it a bit boring. There is something more metaphorical in Vozvrascheniye. And there is an absence of humor. There are comedies, but they say very little. I am more interested in tragicomedy.
Do you think your experience with short films will influence your work on a feature? Is it valuable experience?
Franz: It is very good practice.
Matthias: For me, film producing is about teamwork. I always work in a team. It’s a group project and the director is the one who coordinates the creative work, organizes talents. And with short films it is much easier to build a good team; in a way it serves as a rehearsal [for feature films] because experimenting while shooting a feature would be expensive.
Is there a theme that you would really like to use in a movie?
Franz: For the moment I find things that are happening here very interesting, little things that Russians may not notice. There is much that is amusing around us. Every day there’s something. In the Metro you’d see someone try to jump over the turnstiles for free, followed by some old man running after him for some 10- odd rubles – yelling. For Russians that’s normal.
Matthias: I think it’s most important that people identify themselves with the movie and start thinking about something they would’ve never thought of before.
Right now you mainly work with documentaries. Is this a matter of preference?
Franz: It’s very important to come up with a story that will create an impression after watching the film that something has changed within. That is possible with both documentaries and feature films. Although producing a documentary is more challenging [because] the whole process is more complicated. On a feature you can invent everything and do re-shoots as many times as necessary. With documentaries you often have but one chance. If you miss it, you miss it.
What do you think are the main differences of modern filmmaking from what it was like, say, 10 years ago?
Matthias: I would say the level of technological development, which is both positive and negative. With digital technology, people often don’t consider what they are shooting. I witness the same tendency in [digital] photography. Most photographers take a shot and immediately check how it came out. They’ve lost contact with what they are shooting. The person you are shooting should feel that such a contact exists. If you shoot on film, you have to trust your experience and only later do you see the result. And a good photographer knows exactly what the result will be so he can concentrate 100% on what he’s shooting. It’s the same thing in cinematography. Despite all this, digital technology allows you to shoot certain material that you would otherwise miss. For example, during Russian Fashion Week we obtained 60 or 70 hours of footage for the sole reason to get certain moments. I doubt we would have shot them with film.
What is your favorite movie?
Franz: Night on Earth by Jim Jarmusch.
Matthias: City Lights by Charlie Chaplin.
For more information on A-FILM Productions refer to their site: www.a-film.de