"FILM IS ART"
With EWA meeting in person the sparkling and spirited Alexandra Wedenig during this year’s Cannes Film Festival, it was only a question of time, until we took the opportunity to interview Alexandra about her award winning films and career. Alexandra is an established Austrian film editor, working mainly in Austrian TV Productions, in addition to having founded her very own Production Company. She is a multiple award winning director for the feature filmReflections of Maya Rose, which won numerous awards including the Award of Excellence at the Canada International Film Festival or the Gold Lion Award at the Barcelona Film Festival - rarely leaving any festivals untouched. Alexandra discusses without taboo the need for the film industry to focus more on its artistic roots, rather than on its business orientated streak, and money making facet.
What is the Austrian film business like?
The Austrian film industry is not very big, but since Austria is a small country I guess it makes sense. Though it’s definitely present and generally does really well considering the fact that many Austrian films are selected in worldwide film festivals. Unfortunately though, Austrians don’t particularly go see Austrian movies in cinema – a lot of people here prefer the rather Americanized blockbusters. So far I have mainly worked on Austrian TV Productions, so my personal experience with the Austrian Film Industry, in terms of theatrical films, is quite limited. My feature film experience so far has been in other countries. Not necessarily because I wanted it that way, it just happened. A few years ago I had the opportunity to travel to India to edit a feature film. That was a fun experience…
Well when I went to India for 3 months in 2008 to edit the feature film Karma, the whole editing experience was very unique. I had to adapt to certain things such as the pacing of things or the equipment – you definitely can’t be in a rush over there. We had this backup battery in case the electricity went off – which it often did! When we were shooting in the beautiful mountains of Southern India, I had the editing setup in my hotel room which was great. When we got back to Mumbai where the final editing took place, we had this very small editing room with no windows. The room had a funny smell so we always had to use this air freshener. The other thing was the heat. We had air conditioning, but it was so drastically loud when switched on, that it was impossible to hear what we were working on. It was always a very “tough” decision to make – do I want to feel like I am not in a sauna or actually hear what I am working on? We ended up taking breaks to cool the room down in order to carry on working. The other thing about the place was that almost every other day the toilet was flooded. But of course all those things added to the India experience – it was one of the best and most cherished times in my life so far. It may sound like a paradox, but it’s really not. And everyone who has ever been to India will understand. This is also where I met Alma, my co-writer and co-producer for Reflections of Maya Rose. She was the leading actress of Karma and our hotel rooms were side by side. We immediately felt a deep connection and kinship. It was soon clear that we wanted to work together. “Reflections of Maya Rose” is the first film we realized together.
From what I understand, Reflections of Maya Rose explores different boundaries between reality and dream. How did this idea come to life?
The film is about Maya Rose, an LA based actress, whose life is disrupted by a number of strange occurrences following an audition. The character of Ava mesmerizes her and her curiosity leads her on a path deep into the life of Ava and into a world that holds nothing familiar to her. Personally I’ve always been fascinated by reflections, things reflecting off each other and the secret world hidden behind or below the surface. A world of dreams and the subconscious, where reality cracks open and things stop being what we think they are. A place where we – exiled from our comfort zone – have no means for orientation. What particularly fascinates me is the psychological aspect of exploring surreal elements such as those present in our dreams. The idea behind making Maya Rose an actress in the movie came from the thought that we all somehow wear our masks in our daily lives – acting out what we think we need to do to in order to follow a certain path we are set on. I really believe that we, as individuals, lose our curiosity because we are constrained to predefined roles we give ourselves – we experience things that we expect to experience and if it doesn’t go the way we want it to - then we grow disappointed rather than stimulated. Maya Rose is about expressing in exaggerated ways, who we are in our daily lives. We are all actors. Here we have an actress playing an actress – constantly dressing up, and not being herself. The film is also about Maya Rose trying to find herself and reconnect with her internal fears and primal desires.
Do you think that people working in the film industry are propelled to wear a mask even more? Is there a lot of hypocrisy going on?
Yes unfortunately I think that’s the case in a lot of ways in this business. I felt it rather strongly in Cannes where it’s mostly all about the money. About selling a product. Of course it’s not always the case, I’ve now been to many film festivals and I still think that attending festivals is one of the best parts of doing what I do – the chance to meet people and feel connected to those who have the same aspirations and goals, as well as the audience. It’s also about being able to share your experiences with people from all over the world. I went to the Berlinale this year for the first time which was great. This festival is very much about the films, the art in itself - where as Cannes is more about the business. Berlin is business too, with the EFM going on at the same time, but it feels less intertwined. If you just want the film experience you can have that and leave the business aside. In Cannes that is impossible. I can understand it of course, because making movies costs a lot of money, and at the end of the day you have to make some kind of profit to earn a living. Then again, it’s also crucial to bring a new artistic feel to movies. I definitely think that’s lacking. I believe it’s important to inspire people and somehow the big budgets don’t do that for you anymore. You mostly find it in smaller films. That’s part of why I love going to festivals too. A lot of the films you get to see in festivals unfortunately don’t make it to theaters. There needs to be a bigger space for smaller artistic projects. I mean look at all the big blockbusters of today – they’re all sequels or remakes of previous films and people go see them because it’s a reminder of a once long time ago good movie they watched – but the sad truth is most sequels are rather awful.
What you’re saying reminds me of an interview I read by The Talks with Francis Ford Coppola. He argued that If you want to make money in the movie business you have to make the kind of movies that the biggest audience wants to see, a film that’s like some other movies that’s already been seen - because for directors to create a new movie is a risk in a world where no business likes risks. He also added that these days it’s good to be rich because personal films have a very limited if not zero place in the industry. However you made a very personal film – can you tell me more about it?
It’s a short 5 minute documentary entitled Next Stop: Reset – with music composed by my brother. My sister Elisabeth, who is a painter, had the idea for this Art Project. She now lives in our grandparents’ house where she found all these incredible old things well preserved. Most of them belonged to my grandmother who had a tendency to collect everything. However there was this one box that had some of my grandfather’s stuff, including photographs and postcards. She discovered he went on three big train journeys through Europe in the 50ies. As he worked for the Austrian Rail Company I think it made it easier for him to travel by train. The idea for our project was to take the same trips, following the same routes, and attempt to visit the same places and reenact the pictures he took. The first journey we went on took us to Switzerland, Spain and France in the summer of 2013. I did some filming – it was an experimental project focused on the feel of our journey rather than on the use of high-tech equipment. Actually I used my I-phone and a go-pro since we were backpacking! It wasn’t specifically planned – the documentary would sort of - happen along the way. For a while I wasn’t even sure what to do with the footage. It was mostly shots out the train window and some of us trying to re-enact the old photographs. I though it was rather uninspired and almost wanted to drop the whole thing. But then my brother asked me if I had an idea for a video to a piece of music he had composed. He played me the demo version. The sound of a train was used as the rhythm. That’s when it all fell into place and now I am so pleased with the outcome. It was selected for the Austrian Film Festival, was part of the Short Film Corner in Cannes and will be screening at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival in November. That’s something I am especially happy about because Aesthetica is one of my favorite magazines and the films they screen at the festival are very high quality films. So I feel very honored to be screening there.
Do you have any future projects you are currently working on?
I am developing different ideas at the moment. The current project is again a small one – it’s the second part of the “Second Hand Journey” series. This year we undertook the second journey our Grandfather took in 1955. This time we diverted from the original concept. On the first journey we travelled the exact same route, did it all by train. This year we went to Greece and Istanbul but we didn’t do the whole trip by train. We wanted to find a different approach and instead of re-creating something like we did the first time, we used our grandfather’s journey as a source, but made it our own. As for the film it will probably end up going more towards animation and not stay so close to reality like the first one. This project is kind of an ongoing experiment. A bit like life…
Yoy can watch the trailer here.