Quinzaine des Réalisateurs | 2019
Andreas Horvath: "Eventually she disappeared and to this day it remains unclear what happened to her. I was instantly touched by the eerie beauty and the raw force of this tale."
Lillian, an emigrant stranded in New York City, decides to walk back to her native Russia. She resolutely starts out on the long journey. A road movie straight across the USA into the freezing temperatures of Alaska. The chronicle of a slow disappearance.
Hi Andreas, thanks for talking to TNC, Lillian will have its World Premiere at Quinzaine des Réalisateur, what does it mean to be bringing your film to Cannes?
It marks the end of a fifteen year period of my life in which I have tried to make this film.
Does being selected for the Camèra d’Or add any extra pressure on you ahead of the festival?
What was your first film festival experience like?
My first international film festival experience was in the year 2001 at the Swiss Visions du Réel Festival in the charming town of Nyon by Lake Geneva. I was walking around with black and white photocopies of the poster I had designed, trying to have it displayed … Those were the days.
What do you hope to take away from your time at Cannes?
I hope that the recognition the film already received by being selected will help people to view LILLIAN with an open mind.
Can you tell me a little bit about Lillian, how did this film come about?
In 2004 I was at a film festival in Montreal. I decided to sneak out for a day and visit friends in Toronto. That night we went out and I was introduced to Jonathan Garfinkel, a writer who had just returned from the north where he had stayed in a wooden cabin for a few months. He told us the story of Lillian Alling. Had I not made this spontaneous side trip on this particular day fifteen years ago, I most likely would never have heard of Lillian Alling.
What was the inspiration behind this film?
Even though it might sound unlikely at first, the film is inspired by a true story. In 1927 the immigrant Lillian Alling started walking from New York City towards the Bering Strait in an attempt to return to her home country. By pure coincidence, she was discovered in the wilderness of British Columbia (otherwise we probably would not even know about her). Lillian did not like the attention and despite warnings continued towards Alaska on foot. Eventually, she disappeared and to this day it remains unclear what happened to her. I was instantly touched by the eerie beauty and the raw force of this tale. But I was never really interested in explaining the mystery, in filling the gaps (or recreating the 1920s for that matter). To me, Lillian’s story is universal and deeply symbolic. I think we all can relate to Lillian.
What was the most challenging part of bringing Lillian to life?
In the fifteen years, I have been wanting to make this film, I encountered many challenges. While shooting, while editing, even finding Lillian was a huge challenge. But I guess one of the bigger challenges, and certainly the one that took the longest, was to get the project funded. It can be difficult to convince financiers to support a fiction film about a Russian woman walking across North America, shot by an Austrian director without a script, over the course of one year …
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Yes. Early on: photography and filmmaking.
Has much has your approach to your films changed since your debut film?
Even though LILLIAN was the first film I made with a team and a production company, the team was small and the production company gave me the freedom to basically create my own vision. So even now I’d say my approach has not changed all that much over the years.
Is there any advice you've been given that's stuck with you?
Opinions are like assholes: everybody has one.
Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
See above, and keep doing what you deem necessary.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Lillian?
I trust this will be different for everybody. The film does not answer all questions. I am happy to have been able to share this story. What people do with it, is beyond my control. And that’s good.