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17th ÉCU
The European Independent Film Festival 2022 

8th - 10th April 2022 
Interview

Stephanie Olthoff
UNDERGROUND 
Section: Student Film 
ecufilmfestival.com
German Version

Alice, uncommunicative and electrohypersensitive, lives in seclusion in a dead zone deep in the Northern German forest. Her hermitage is suddenly disturbed by the sex worker Lucia, who settles on the border of Alice’s safe space with her lovemobile.

 

Hey Stephanie, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

 

The recent events left me feeling very compassionate for the people of the Ukraine and I think it is a very clear reminder to all of us that freedom and peace are never completely guaranteed and we can consider ourselves lucky to live in peaceful and secure conditions.

 

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?

 

At the moment I am shooting a documentary in a drug consumption room, which will serve as research for my final film. It is a very special place and I have the utmost sympathy and respect for the social workers who work there and the people with addiction who have chosen to use their drugs in a safe space that is offered there.

 

What has the experience been for you at the Hamburg Media School and how much has your time there helped to shape your filmmaking journey

 

I think my time at Hamburg Media School has brought me closer to who I am as a person and who I want to be as a filmmaker. My studies showed me that sometimes integrity means risking adversity, and that as a filmmaker it's hugely important to take a stand and not be afraid to take risks and possibly offend some people in the process.

 

Congratulations on having Underground part of the 17th ÉCU Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be screening your film in Paris?

 

I am very grateful and happy that my film is being shown in Paris because I have a great appreciation for French cinema. My directing idols include Francois Truffaut, Jacques Audiard and Julia Ducournau.

 

Can you tell me how Underground came about, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay and what was the message you wanted to convey with this film?

 

The screenplay was actually written by my fellow student, Jana Forkel, but upon reading the script for the first time I immediately thought of the novel “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, in which a supernatural element is placed in a realist environment. I also spent a lot of time designing mood boards and what the hole should look like. The work of the artist Anselm Kiefer was inspiring for this. For me, this film is not about conveying a message, but about activating the audience and allowing individual interpretations of what the film means and how it is perceived emotionally.

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When working on a film like this how close do you like to keep to your script once you start filming, do you allow yourself much flexibility?

 

Normally I allow myself a certain degree of flexibility while filming, as I enjoy working with improvisations. But for me flexibility is truly the most important in the editing room: Being open to the endless combinations that are possible by editing is the key to discovering something unique.

 

What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing Underground to life and looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this film?

 

The biggest challenge was to create the hole, which according to the script had an infinite depth. I was lucky enough to work on it with our production designer, Franz Dittrich, who designed and built the hole. Basically, he created a huge cone with a box underneath that our cameraman, Alexander Kiro Friedrich, could crawl into to shoot up from the depth of the hole. Looking back, I wouldn't have done anything differently.

 

Where did you passion for filmmaking come from?

 

As far back as I can remember, movies and storytelling were always part of my upbringing. When I was very young, my parents showed me films by Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, and Francois Truffaut, and I became addicted to the experience that movies triggered in me: movies offered me an escape from reality and a way to connect with the world. This feeling of being able to escape my own reality and at the same time identify with the stories and characters in the film on a deeply personal level is why I make films. They help to escape loneliness and create understanding for each other.

 

How much has your work as an editor helped in how you approached directing Underground?

 

Through my work as an editor, I realize the many possibilities that editing can offer, by rearranging or contrasting shots, changing the rhythm or even the whole structure of the film. Editing is an extremely transformative and creative process for me, and I think of it as a kind of rebirth of the entire film. With "Underground", we deviated a lot from the script in the editing, which meant that the film went through a lot of transformations before we found its final form.

"With "Underground", we deviated a lot from the script in the editing, which meant that the film went through a lot of transformations before we found its final form."

Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?

 

Yes, I think it's necessary for filmmakers to continue to do this, because even though the friction it creates may be uncomfortable, it can also lead to progress and innovation.

 

For anyone out there thinking about getting into filmmaking do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?

 

My most important advice would be: fight for what you love and express yourself as truthfully and unapologetically as possible.

 

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

 

I hope that viewers will see "Underground" as a film that gives them the freedom to interpret and feel for themselves what it means for them.