munich directors 2

Source: Neufilm / Filmfest Munich / Semih Korhan Guner / Karl Kurten / Sebastian Weindel / Michael Bennett

Clockwise from top left: Leis Bagdach, Camilla Guttner, Justine Bauer, Aaron Arens, Jannis Alexander Kiefer, Frederic Jaeger, Fabian Stumm, Judith Angerbauer

Munich International Film Festival’s New German Cinema strand features 16 works from emering German directors.

Screen talks to six of the filmmakers about their projects, their inspirations and their future ambitions.

Judith Angerbauer, Sabbatical 

When Judith Angerbauer was first approached by Berlin-based producer Boris Schönfelder of Neue Schönhauser Filmproduktion to write the screenplay for Sabbatical.

It was based on Schönfelder’s idea for a story about a young couple’s year off in the sun that turns into a baptism of fire with unforeseen consequences. Yet Angerbauer, whose credits as a screenwriter have included such projects as the Bauhaus - A New Era TV series and Matthias Glasner’s drama The Free Will,  “ fell more and more in love with the story”, she explains. “So much that, at some point, I realised I wanted to direct it myself.”

The experience has given Angerbauer a taste for life behind the camera. “One thing became clear to me: directing a movie from start to finish, at least if you’ve also written the screenplay yourself, is something I definitely want to continue.”

Aaron Arens, Places In The Sun

Aaron Arens says his debut feature, Places In The Sun, a tragicomedy set on the island of Lanzarote about a family’s desire for cohesion and acceptance was “heavily influenced” by filmmakers such as Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig.

The shoot had its fair share of challenges, not least the fact that it was also the first feature for almost all of the HoDs, and fledgling production company Maverick Film. “As a graduation film from the HFF Munich, our budget was very limited,” Arens says. “Coordinating and accommodating a team of almost 30 people, along with an ensemble of up to 10 actors, in a small production setup was a major challenge.” 

But it was a bonding experience forged in fire and now Arens plans to work with the same core team of Maverick Film and co-writer Lukas Loose for his second feature, which will also be a family tragicomedy.

“I’m also developing a psychological thriller and a workplace comedy in parallel,” he explains of his desire not to get pigeon-holed into making the same kinds of film. “I’m looking forward to directing inspiring ideas and scripts I didn’t develop myself. That’s always something very liberating.”

Justine Bauer, Smell Of Burnt Milk

Her childhood on an ostrich farm in the south west of Germany formed the subject of Justine Bauer’s debut feature Smell Of Burnt Milk. The story of a defiant young woman who wants to keep running her parents’ farm despite the growing challenges posed by climate change became something of a family affair. Not only are Bauer’s grandmother and father and her dog Bruno cast in roles, but the film’s lead actress Karolin Nothacker unexpectedly came to the audition with her three siblings who were then taken on to play these roles in the film.

“I was looking for someone to play the central role of Katinka who could carry the story and give a realistic portrayal of the hard, physical work of a woman farmer,” Bauer explains. “Karolin has this physicality, and having her real-life siblings made their scenes together even more natural.”

While some films set in the countryside play the locals and their accents for laughts, Bauer says it was important for her to take farming life and the film’s characters seriously and create an authenticity by having most of the film’s dialogues spoken in the Hohenlohe dialect from her region.

Meanwhile, nature will also play a role in Bauer’s next film project, Die Kälte Brennender Fichten, which is at the treatment stage and will be set in the Arctic. She is also collaborating with Smell of Burnt Milk’s producer Semih Korhan Güner on the screenplay for his directorial debut Mein Stück Land.

Leis Bagdach, In The Rose Garden

After working for more than 20 years as a writer for theatre, film and television on such projects as Kanwal Sethi’s Junction Point and Constanze Knoche’s Under The Family Tree, Leis Bagdach has now made his debut as a director with In the Rose Garden.

The co-production between Neufilm and INDIfilm focuses on a Berlin rap star who recevies news that his estranged Syrian father is now in a coma in a Cologne hospital, and embarks on an odyssey across Germany with his 15-year-old half sister in search of his roots.

Working with actors including Kostja Ullmann and Safinaz Sattar was “an absolute dream”, says Bagdach. “Despite the rather dramatic nature of the film, we had a lot of fun on set, especially with our lead actor Kostja, who has a great sense of humour.”

Bagdach is now working on two very different follow-up projects: a very artistic, episodic film about the Asian roots of the so-called ‘Occident’ (a term for the western world), and a comedy about a single father and his son. “I’m extremely curious to see which one I’ll get financed [first],” he says.

Camilla Guttner

You might ask how Camilla Guttner managed to get Jean-Marc Barr, the French-American star of such films as The Big Blue and Big Sur, to appear in her second feature-length film The Academy.

“It was relatively easy,” Guttner recalls. “I just looked for the address of his agent and sent the screenplay and he got back in person and said ‘Great. I love it. Let’s go!”

Barr then came to Munich to play the role of Professor Robert Copley for a short film version of The Academy Guttner made in 2019 as part of her studies at Munich’s University of Television and Film (HFF) and returned last year to reprise his role in the feature film version.

“The film’s story is based on my own experiences and those of my friends when we were studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, but the screenplay is autofictional,”  Guttner explains. “There are some people in the film who play themselves, but others are totally fictional.”

Newcomer Maja Bons plays a young idealistic student whose dream of becoming a great artist is put into check by the unforgiving environment of the art academy’s microcosm.   

As Guttner points out, the art world still holds a great fascination - in fact, some of her own paintings can be seen in the film - and she is now developing a TV series which would delve further into the ways of the international art scene.

Frédéric Jaeger, All We Ever Wanted

After 20 years as a film critic and 10 years programming films for festivals alongside making his own shorts, Frédéric Jaeger travelled to the barren island of Fuerteventura to shoot his feature directorial debut All We Ever Wanted

 “The story began with the question: what kind of shifts happen when three people travel together in such a special landscape and suddenly lose their comforts?,” he says, pointing out that one of the challenges he himself faced was “dealing with the fact that I am a white man writing and directing a movie with two Black characters and actors.”

 “It was important to me to better represent the diversity of our everyday lives in Germany – without making the movie primarily about that, or being blind to the issues of living in a racist society.” he explains  

Now fully committed to writing and directing films, Jaeger is also keen to work with other filmmakers, whether as a co-writer or script consultant. His next directorial project will, he says, be an intimate comedy that will “look at all the things I’ve done wrong in my personal life as an overweight gay man.”

Jannis Alexander Kiefer, Another German Tank Story 

The idea for Another German Tank Story, Jannis Alexander Kiefer’s graduation film from the Film University Babelsberg, came to him while shooting his 2020 short Good German Work

“My short was a calling card for this first feature,” he says. ”The story is set in the same village at the same time and has nearly the same kind of humour and style,” says the director, who has a close affinity with village life having grown up on his family’s farm in southern Germany.

The feature debut, which had its world premiere in Shanghai before coming to Munich, is set in the sleepy village of Wiesenwalde where life is thrown into disarray when a camera crew comes to shoot a TV series, and the mayor has to then contend with a tank abandoned by the production.

Kiefer is sticking with his preference for rural settings and small microcosms of society with his next feature, Surviving Pölkwitz, which is set on an island off the coast of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The project was pitched at this year’s Sofia Meetings, and will be produced by Paula Klossner and Stefan Buske of Tidewater Pictures.

Fabian Stumm, Sad Jokes

It was while promoting his debut feature Bones And Names after last year’s Berlinale premiere that Fabian Stumm felt the urge to put pen to paper. The result is Sad Jokes, a tragicomedy of an unconventional family arrangement that Stumm describes as a story  “about perseverance. About caring for the people you love when you’re apart. And about how life can be cruel, funny, hopeful, and sometimes all at the same time.”

Stumm recalls that combining directing chores with taking the male lead in the film “was exhilarating while we were filming, but I felt like I had run several marathons once we wrapped.

“I’ve absolutely fallen in love with writing and directing, so I will continue down that route while still working as an actor,” he continues. “I don’t feel the need to choose one over the other. On the contrary, I’ve never felt as liberated and in touch with what kind of stories and perspectives I want to put out into the world, both in front of and behind the camera.”