Bastian Gunther, the writer-director of Houston, talks about the film’s journey to screen.
It’s not often you see Germany’s top film funds investing in a film mostly shot in Texas. But for Bastian Gunther’s Houston, his passion for the project convinced the investors.
The story is about a German corporate headhunter named Clemens (Ulrich Tukur) who travels to Houston to try to poach a top CEO but ends up building a strange friendship with a chatty but lonely American hotel inspector.
The director, who splits his time between Berlin and Austin, Texas, says the idea for the film first came to him as the study of “a character lost on two systems. He’s an alcoholic but also he’s lost in this bigger addiction of capitalism…I didn’t want it to be a typical alcoholism story, bt more about how we live today, how we’re all lost in the world a bit.”
Of shooting a German-backed film in Texas, he says simply, “films shouldn’t have borders. The corporate world is everywhere, it’s not just an American thing.” The lead production company is Germany’s Lichtblick Media, with backing from SWR, Cinepostproducti, BKM, FFA, DFFF, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and Film und Medienstiftung NRW. (Never fear, German taxpayers, the film did spend a lot of its budget in Germany thanks to some shooting there as well as all of the post-production.)
The annoying hotel inspector is named Robert Wagner, providing a meaty dialogue-heavy role for Garret Dillahunt. “He’s a soulmate or a mirror for Clem. He’s not only a comic character, he’s a deep character who is very lonely and scared,” the director notes.
The film was wondrously shot with old Russian lenses, as the director explains: “I don’t like the new crisp lenses, I wanted it to look like the ’70s.” Shots inside the Hyatt Regency in Houston are especially striking — it was a key location that took some convincing from the hotel owners. “I refused to look at other hotels,” he says.
Of the titular city, he adds, “it’s not just a location, it’s also a character in the film, it’s an antagonist in a way.”
Gunther was speaking about the film at a screening this week at the RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (after the film’s premiere at Sundance).