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37th BFI Flare 2023

Hannes Hirsch  
& River Matzke


Saturday 25 March - SOLD OUT

March 19, 2023

Moritz has moved to Berlin to be with his boyfriend, but their relationship soon ends. The 22-year-old embarks on a journey filled with kinks, metamorphoses and self-discovery into the depths of Berlin's party scene.


Hi Hannes and River, thank you for talking with The New Current, how has your 2023 been treating you so far?


Hannes Hirsch (co-writer & director) Hi and thank you for interviewing us. 2023 has so far been a big success, especially of course because of DRIFTER.


River Matzke (co-writer) Yes, this years has been very surprising and exciting. It‘s a lot to process, so many beautiful moments and wonderful encounters with new people.


Drifter is your debut feature and you just had your World Premiere in the Panorama programme at the 2023 Berlinale, what was this experience like for you both?


Hannes: I think be both have always had this dream that the famous Berlinale intro video with its golden exploding ball would maybe one day present our own film. This intro is so cineastic. DRIFTER has started has a quite small student production and now we've had the premiere at Berlinale with exactly this intro! So we are very thankful to the entire Panorama team, and programmer Michael Stütz for inviting us.


Also I think Berlinale was the perfect location to premiere this very typical Berlin film.


River: It has been a very emotional premiere we had in Panorama with the entire film team of 70 people present. Also, it was special to present the film to our own community in the city and many people approached us afterwards noting how they had felt seen and touched by the film, which of course was a beautiful experience for us in return. Also I’ve been working for the Berlinale since ten years, first packing bags in the basement and then doing venue management in the cinemas, so having this film playing there in the prestigious Panorama section felt like a full circle moment.


What does it mean for you to be closing the 37th BFI Flare, any pressure or are you able to enjoy the process?


Hannes: It's my first time at BFI Flare I've now been seeing films for 3 days. I'm really amazed by the quality of the films I have watched. Behind each film I see a strong urge of the filmmakers to make their film and also the reason why they chose a specific style. That's maybe the most important for me in filmmaking.


Also, the films come across naturally elegant and are all quite unpretentious in a good sense if you understand what I try to say.


River: I can only agree to Hannes, that the quality of the films is extremely high and that one can see, that every single piece is hand picked and has it‘s own signature. It feels like a festival that is driven by strong curating personalities, which is a gift. Therefore we are incredibly honoured to be allowed to do the closing of this festival, also to be in an artistic dialogue with such a profoundly political and important film like "The Stroll", that is opening the festival. It feels like community in all its facets and struggles and gifts. We are very grateful for this platform. I have a lot of respect of course, but then I tell myself, if I appreciate the curation of the festival so much, I might as well trust them with having chosen our film and that is kind of soothing.


What was the first LGBTQ+ film you saw that really left an impact on you? Mine was Beautiful Thing, still is, a beautiful British film!


Hannes: I also watched "Beautiful Thing" probably in the gay-friendly cinema "Arsenal" in my hometown Tübingen in Southern Germany. I remember watching "Hamam" by Ferzan Özpetek or "Querelle" by Fassbinder secretely at night on TV at my parents as a teenager. To me as a teenager, these films felt super slow but I watched them until the end because they were the only gay films I could find.


River: Mine might not appear queer on the first glimpse, it was "American Beauty", and I was only eleven years old - I went to the cinema a lot by myself as a child after my parents divorce. I saw this film and without fully understanding it, I felt seen because I could relate to the cracks in the walls of the house, and I think the film is very queer in it‘s perspective. I dragged my mum to the cinema to watch it with me, but she didn‘t really get the hint, I think she was pretty irritated, what her child was showing her there.

Can you tell me a little bit about how Drifter came about, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?


Hannes: I was writing on many different stories for a long time already, trying to put together little events, character or places I experienced myself. By putting all those stories together in a longer screenplay I tried to figure out what those events could mean to me. Also I wanted to bring to the screen some moments that I know from Berlin nightlife and that are usually hidden. With some kind of draft I then approached River when we met in Greece and we sat down in a cafe and I read the entire story to them.


River: We then developed a few drafts of the treatment and screenplay with me as a dramaturg. We mostly worked on themes, characters, carved out the plot and also dived deeper into the psychology of internalised shame and homophobia. I felt attracted to the story because it felt like an honest approach to our life. Also I‘ve been doing harm reduction and awareness work in the rave scene for some years, so with being able to show this on screen, two poles of my life combined and became whole.


"I would say dont loose tough with the energy point where the ideas are vibrating and they excite you. Also, always go as far to the left as possible without fear of rejection and have trust in the world to also develop into that direction."  - River Matzke

When writing a film like Drifter do people and characters you’ve come across find there way into your screenplay?

Hannes: When I was putting new characters into then screenplay, I always started by thinking of a person that I know personally somehow, sometimes closer sometimes just by seeing once at a party.


But then when you go on and give each character a specific role in the film (like being the antagonist JONAS, or a side-story character who reflects the main character like STEFAN) you have to sharpen things things and in the end all characters are very fictional.


River: For me, none of the characters does have a real alias, nevertheless all the characters are a giant mash-up of friends, acquaintances and people we live, work and dance with. There are many character element of my closest chosen family in there too, even though the individuality of the characters comes more from Hannes side and net of humans,


Once you started shooting did you allow yourself and your actors a lot of flexibility with the screenplay or did you prefer to shoot what you wrote?


Hannes: After watching DRIFTER you may think there has been a lot of improvisation, but it's rather the opposite. What I like when watching a film is that I can feel an author speaking to me, so this was also the case in DRIFTER. Everything is there for a reason and River and me both wrote every dialogue line for a reason. Sometimes of course, you leave lines out or change them slightly when they don't come naturally during the rehearsals.


River: Hannes asked me to work over the dialogues last minute while they were shooting so I had to rewrite five scenes a day which were rehearsed on set the next day and then shot the following day. I had never done such a thing before and back then I wasn’t really experienced as an author so it was pretty intense but also I learned a lot under this pressure.


With this being your debut feature, how important has the creative collaboration between you both been?


River: The collaboration developed a lot with trust over time. We shared the same traumas and social forms of living and the same community, so we had a big common ground. But also I changed my gender in the process and therefore was able to reflect back to my time as a cis gay man from my present and true non-binary/trans-feminine perspective. Therefore, I could carve out some psychological structures from a more femme perspective, and also reflect Hannes and the cis-gay tropes in the screenplay from that point, knowing the topic from the inside and outside. I have deep respect for Hannes transparent journey with the screenplay and film because sometimes I was also a bit tough on him and it takes guts to develop and grow on screen. Also I come more from intersectional serial storytelling and Hannes from distinct and precise arthouse cinema and this mix created something new, I think, as far as that is possible at all.


What was the most challenging scene for you to shoot?


Hannes: I was always a little scared of the group scenes with multiple actors in it because directing and staging becomes complex. But I realised that they usually turn out better than you think because the actors can always discover new things and react to the unexpected, so it's easier for them and they don't fall into routines.


Another thing was finding the right tones and mood for each individual step of Moritz' emotional development. We didn't shoot in chronological order: We started shooting with the middle part (with Noah), then in summer continued with the first part when Moritz arrives in Berlin and only then shot the last part and moved all scenes in the shooting schedule around freely.


Have you always had this passion for filmmaking?


Hannes: I always loved seeing how meaning is being created by putting one scene after the other. This is something you can only really doing in film in this pace and it happens on so many levels: During casting (what happens when you let this actor play this role or the other), during editing (what happens when you let the scene end earlier), with choice of location, music or just by changing a scene's background sound atmosphere.


I was playing theatre for many years when I was a child, then started recording audio plays myself and then got a videocamera. But I also like other things like coding software for example or I have a passion for clubbing in Berlin (as you might have seen in the film).


River: For me it has always been film, already in my childhood, and serial storytelling, my childhood hero was "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Film changed me and is my means of spiritual growth and my doors and windows into the world. Only music is as important to me.

What where the most valuable lessons you took away from making Drifter?


Hannes: I’ve of course learned many many different things on every level because you do so many things in filmmaking. Since there were so many people involved in the shooting I realized that things always turn out better when you trust everyone and let them do their thing within their department.


It's like when you want to organise a good home party. The preparation needs to be good, the rules of the game must be clear, but at one point you have to let go and trust your guests. Because they will make the party, not you.


River: For me it was extremely valuable to find new ways of narrating a white cis-gay ensemble with a fresh perspective in the context of the contemporary intersectional up-level of the world and the collective. I approach my writing from a very political perspective, so it has been a journey to get there, and I am so happy to have found new ways. Also I learned to trust in the collaboration with a director and the symbiosis of everyone involved to create something, that is bigger than the number of it‘s parts, thinking of the editing of Elena Weihe and the cinematography of Eli Börnicke.


Do you have any advice or tips you would offer emerging writer/directors?


Hannes: I don't really feel in a position where I could already give good advice to other filmmakers. Although its a lesson that probably doesn't sound new, I think that telling your personal story from your own perspective is crucial. And it's important for me to listen to your inner voice, to your own feelings towards the things you want to write about. This voice can sometimes be very quiet and hard to find.


River: Same here, I‘ve been writing in the industry since three years mostly in writers rooms, but we are really still at the beginning. I would say don‘t loose tough with the energy point where the ideas are vibrating and they excite you. Also, always go as far to the left as possible without fear of rejection and have trust in the world to also develop into that direction. Even though people might say the opposite. They will be proven wrong. If you see the signs, read them, follow them, there is always guidance.


And finally, what message do you hope you audiences will take away from Drifter?


Hannes: I don't want to give a clear message, rather a story where some people can identify with. I hope people are discussing about it, also totally disagreeing with some aspects in it, finding themselves in the storyline at one point or the other.


I hope the film will find its position inside of a bigger queer discourse.


River: I agree with Hannes. I don’t like educational messages in films. Maybe I would say: Our lives are nothing but an endless process, we are never done or finished, and we are all in it together so we better commit to the journey and to each other.

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