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Student Academy Award 2021
Narrative (International)

Simon Denda


Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film München

Susanne (41) has to travel to Kenya as an EU representative in order to weigh up possible aid for a village near the Somali border that has been attacked by terrorists. While the bereaved hope for an equal cooperation with the EU, the appointment and the promises made by Susanne are business as usual. But she realizes too late the effects of her appearance with an armored convoy ...

Hey Simon, it's great to talk with you, how have you been keeping during these strange times?

Hey, nice to talk to you. We were really lucky to finish shooting in Kenya, when the first wave of the pandemic hit Europe. So I was very fortunate to have a project in Post Production during the first half of these strange times, that kept me busy. Business wise it was quite a though time, but I think that this was rather due to my current situation with leaving film school and making my first steps into the industry and not entirely due to the pandemic.

Has this time offering you the chance to find some new inspiration or opportunities?

I was quite busy taking care of my son at home since kinder garden was closed for a while, but I tried to use my spare time to develop new stories I would like to tell. Since I was invested in this I did not look out for new inspirations or opportunities but focused on what I already had.

Congratulations on your Silver Award Narrative (International Film School) at the 2021 Student Academy Award, what has it meant to you to get to the type of reaction to your film?

It is such an honour to receive this award. The Academy and the Oscars are a symbol in our industry and now ADISA is a part of it. That is quite thrilling and honestly I ever wished to someday be recognized by the Academy. Also it acknowledges the work the whole team put into it, which is very important to me.

You have had an amazing festival run with Adisa, did you imagine you would get this type of response to your film?

Making films is challenging and a risky business  (and at the beginning a very lonely one, it is just you and this idea in your head) and you constantly worry whether your film is going to find its audience or any audience at all. It is always a great relief to see your film accepted by festivals, getting its chance to be viewed and perceived by people and to interact with them. Once it is out there the film does not longer belongs to you. It interacts with the audience by itself and they react to it in the mood or situation they are right now. The director is no longer part of this relationship. Of course I hope that the audience likes the film and that it maybe receives some awards but the main focus is to get it to the widest audience possible out there. Winning big awards helps accomplishing that.

Can you tell me a little bit about Adisa, what was it about Laura Anweiler screenplay that interested you so much?

I came across the true events that later inspired the screenplay for ADISA while watching a documentary. The events were only mentioned in passing but the cynicism of it really hit me. Within several weeks, I wrote a treatment outlining a possible story for ADISA. My Producer Kevin Anweiler then brought in Laura to write the screenplay. What I really liked about the screenplay was, that Laura connected the plot within the inner family circle of the main character Susan. To work with Laura was a very inspiring. She also gave her feedback on casting and editing. For me it is quite relevant that the author is a collaborator that is a part in the whole process of telling this story.


What would you say was the biggest challenge you faced making Adisa and what would you say has been the most valuable lesson you’ve taken away from this experience?

The biggest challenge was to finance such am movie. It is my final exam film and normally the budget is not high enough to allow shooting such a film. But the Walking Ghost Film managed to do it with our incredible Partners of Film Crew in Africa, die film GmbH, FFF Bayern, HFF München, Bavarian Television (BR), Freundeskreis der HFF München, German Embassy Nairobi etc. For me personally it was challenging to dig into the bigger underlying topics like colonization and the white saviour complex, where I learned a lot about myself and the relationship between Europe and Kenya. In the same time learning about these topics is the most valuable lesson and I am really glad that there are so much people out there who offer their help and knowledge in this matter.

Looking back is there anything you’d have done differently on this film?

The film is a photograph of my skill set at the time making it. The process itself starts a learning experience. I cannot say that everything I learned immediately found its way into the current production, but definitely will find their way into my future work. So no regrets, but definitely things that I want to improve in my next work like visual storytelling.

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

Seriously I don't know. It was just there. As a kid and young adult films gave me a comfort zone where I could just be part of another world. That inspired me, so I decided to go on and start creating worlds by myself and life a thousand life's through my characters. A bit naive maybe, because filmmaking is creating these worlds and not living in them.

How much did your time and experience at the Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film München prepare you for making Adisa?

The university gave me the confidence that making my own films does matter. I also learned that filmmaking is a craft that needs training and with the training comes experience, which is necessary to not only tell compelling stories but also to navigate through the industry. Also all the other students have a big influence and are a huge part of your own development.


"This is not a formula for success, but in the end you will have learned a lot about yourself and who you are."

What has been the best advice you have been given?

Trust your actors/actresses. Seriously, in pre production you need to talk as much as possible to them and about the character they are going to play. When you are on set, you need to create an atmosphere where they can provide their best possible work. They trust you that in the end there will be a great film, so you need to thrust them that they will give their best to accomplish that.

As a filmmaker what advice would you offer fellow filmmakers?

I am at the beginning of my own career, so it is a bit weird to give advice, but things I learned during my own first steps are: First, watch the films that inspire you and analyse them like your life depends on it. Secondly, write stories (not necessarily screenplays) to learn to tell a compelling story. Third, make movies, not to be successful, but to develop yourself. The rest will fall in line eventually. This is not a formula for success, but in the end you will have learned a lot about yourself and who you are. This is the most precious benefit, that no one can take away from you!

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Adisa?

That depends on the people watching Adisa. For me, it is that we need to acknowledge what we and our ancestors did. Frome there, we can start to be an ally and help to solve what currently isn't working by listening to the people that are affected by it.

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