Interview with Katharina Wyss

Kristina Zorita
Kristina Zorita

Katharina Wyss, director of Sarah plays a Werewolf

Swiss Katharina Wyss premiered her first feature at Venice’s International Critics Week. “Sarah plays a Werewolf” tackles a tough subject – the distress of a young girl who wants to commit suicide. Sarah, maturely played by Loane Balthasar, is not able to communicate her feelings. The film competed at Seville’s New Waves section, where EWA’s blogger, Kristina Zorita, had the chance to interview the director, Katharina Wyss.

Where does the story behind this film come from?

Some mysterious and terrible events in my youth. I had friends who received psychiatric treatment, another friend who succeeded in committing suicide after having attempted once, friends with anorexia, bulimia, or with other symptoms of a malaise that I couldn’t understand. For me, it was difficult in Switzerland; such a peaceful country where such violent events where happening. So, the starting point was there, trying to find a reason for such a behavior with a certain maturity on my side.

Sarah seems to be helpless, is that right?

It is the story of a young girl who does not know how to express herself, to tell her story. She does not know how to report some events that happen to her (there is a plot of sexual abuse), and thus articulate what would make others intervene and help her. She tries to express herself through an artistic creation on a theatre stage. Through the metaphor of the werewolf, she tries to express her pain by screaming during that theatre stage. But the others don’t understand her, so she remains alone in her situation that leads to the final decision.

The father of the girl seems to be the one to be blamed for his daughter’s situation

There are a lot of hints. The father is intellectually and culturally dominant and doesn’t allow any space for anyone to develop themselves. At home, they have to listen to opera because it’s the father’s wish. He even speaks for his daughter without letting her explain herself. There is also a scene that can be understood as sexual abuse. But I have left this open, for some it is clear, for others is the fruit of the girl’s imagination, since she invents a lot.

This is your first feature. How easy was it?

It took me seven years. I spent a lot of time writing but also with the financing. We only had a budget of one million euros. We had the help of the federal and regional film commissions but no television support. So when I was about to start the shooting, we had to stop it. I wouldn’t do the film in a guerrilla situation, with no money as I did in a previous medium length film. I didn’t want to work this way, because there were minors involved. At the end, the team agreed to film for a lower salary than they should have received. I would like to thank them and the help we got with the technical equipment.

So you were working with a low budget, as many women filmmakers do ?

Yes. It is a fact. If we see the statistics, at least for Germany and Switzerland, there is a 50 -50 situation for documentary and low budget films. The big budgets go to men. This situation leads to some sort of insecurity. The people who work with us earn less, we have to do more things for ourselves, so we spend more energy and the production value (lighting, camera, etc.) is less important. We are stuck in this situation, like in a sort of cage.

So what can be done? Bring in quotas, for instance?

I like the new system put in force by the ministry of Culture in Switzerland. In case of similar quality of two projects, the money goes to the one lead by a woman. It will be enforced until a real situation of gender parity happens.

Switzerland has chosen “The Divine Order” by Petra Volpe as its entry for the Oscar Awards. What do you think?

I had the impression (laughing) that Volpe’s film was the driving force of this new regulation in the financing. Since we, the Swiss, were so behind with women’s rights back then, the minister seems to want us to be ahead in this issue now. I hope the film had an influence in this new policy.