Fast-rising German director Nora Fingscheidt, whose System Crasher is the country’s Oscar candidate, is co-writing and will direct a new German feature called How To Spell Dignity (working title).
Based on a true story, the film unfolds in the aftermath of the Second World War as it becomes apparent an elementary school teacher in the German countryside is a war criminal who has taken the identity of his brother.
“I’ve wanted to write the story for 12 years but I never really got the structure because it is a very difficult main character,” Fingscheidt said. “It is really a tough subject.”
The new project will be produced by Weydemann Bros, Peter Hartwig and Frauke Kolbmüller, and backed by ZDF. All partnered with Fingscheidt for System Crasher.
Fingscheidt, who is repped by Anthony Mestriner from the UK’s Casarotto Ramsay & Associates is presently in the US shooting an English-language film.
System Crasher is Fingscheidt’s debut narrative feature and starred newcomer Helena Zengel as a nine year-old girl stuck in Germany’s care system. It won the Berlinale’s Alfred Bauer award and has sold widely for Beta Cinema. Port au Prince Pictures is releasing it on 80 screens in Germany later this month and Pat Kelman and David Maddison’s fledgling 606 Distribution has it for the UK. Beta is selling outstanding territories in TIFF.
“The week after Berlin, I had 35 scripts in my email account,” Fingscheidt remembered of the huge boost she received from the Berlinale success. “That was great but also a little frightening. I thought, now I have to read them all and maybe if I didn’t read them, I would miss a huge opportunity and I would miss a huge script. But it took so much of my time, I couldn’t work on my own projects. It took a bit to learn how to deal with that.”
System Crasher has since travelled to multiple international festivals and won some 20 awards to date.
“It turned out there was something universal about the film,” suggested Fingscheidt. “Humans have this need for unconditional love when you are young and fragile. [This film is about] what happens when you are neglected.”
System Crasher was inspired by Fingscheidt’s experience making a documentary set in a refuge for homeless women in the south of Germany six years ago. “It was quite a harsh environment. One day, a 14 year old girl walked in. I asked the social worker - what is a 14 year old girl doing here? And she said, ‘oh, yes, system crashers, we can take them on their 14th birthday.” This was the first time the director had heard the expression, ‘system crasher.”
Like Fingscheidt, Zengel, the young star of System Crasher, is now in demand and has been cast opposite Tom Hanks in Paul Greengrass’ News Of The World which is now in pre-production for Universal Pictures.
“During the scriptwriting, I always thought it is going to be impossible to find a girl who can play that role,” Fingscheidt admitted. “Then I thought that even if I could find the girl, it would be impossible to convince the parents to let her participate in the project.”
Zengel was the seventh young girl to turn up for audition. Fingscheidt and her team went on to look at over 150 other candidates for the role but none matched Zengel.
“She was the only one who would play this aggression with desperation, with this fragile [quality],” the director said of Zengel who was only nine when the film shot. “She was never just only angry. She always had this air of fragility.”
Zengel’s mother read the script and was closely involved in the project.
“I always wanted to tell a story about an angry, wild little girl,” said Fingscheidt . “I feel they are very under-represented in film.”