It's a dream come true for Lennart Ruff: The Academy of Motion Pictures in Beverly Hills has awarded the young German filmmaker the Student Academy Awards gold medal - placing him firmly on the path to success.
Hollywood calling! Lennart Ruff was at home with his girlfriend when the surprise call came through from the dream factory. On being told that he had won in the category Best Foreign Film, Ruff says he "turned bright red from head to toe" in excitement.
Lennart Ruff is the third student of Munich's Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film (University of Television and Film) - the "HFF" - to have won the Honorary Foreign Film Award. The prize has been awarded since 1972 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, and is kind of a "little brother" to the more famous Academy Awards. After all, its winners often end up being part of the main event in future years.
Between dream and reality
Lennart Ruff has just completed his studies, and the award is for his graduation film, "Nocebo." Ruff won the gold medal - while a Berlin-based colleague, Peter Baumann, was awarded the bronze for his short film "Border Patrol."
"Nocebo" is an emotional, action-packed 40-minute thriller, full of disorientating imagery. The central figures are a young couple who've been taking part in a medical study. 22-year-old Christian and his girlfriend Anna discover that one of the patients has died and the doctors are hushing it up. Christian wants to rescue his girlfriend and get her out of the clinic, but he soon realizes someone is after him. To complicate matters still further, Christian suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and the line between dream and reality starts to blur.
Founding a production company
The young director was interested in playing with reality partly because he also sees it as a metaphor for film in general. "We spend the whole time staring at a projection - it's just light being transmitted through a little picture," Ruff explained. "And yet our feelings are real."
And that's exactly what his film his about, he said. "In the end it's not all that relevant whether Christian really had this experience or not, because he did experience it emotionally."
"Nocebo" was a co-production that not only involved the two major television channels Bayerischer Rundfunk and Arte, but also two production companies that were started by students and graduates of the film school.
The HFF network
Tobias Huber, one of the founders of the production company Menelaos-Film, is still a student. He says it's quite usual for people at the HFF to start their own company before they graduate.
Huber really values all the contacts the students get to make during their studies. He said precisely because the HFF is a small school, one gets to meet many people of all ages and nationalities - and make numerous contacts.
"It's very useful if you want to produce," Huber said. People often stay in touch after a student has graduated, and these contacts can help with the production and financing of a film, as well as with tax and legal advice.
Lennart Ruff said he also enjoys the school's international atmosphere. There are students in his year from Colombia, Finland, Korea, Austria - quite the mixture. "There are also lots of successful film people working at the HFF and sitting with you in the cutting room," he says.
Mentors support the students whenever they can. "That's no coincidence; it's part of the school's concept," emphasized Andreas Gruber. The HFF film professor spoke especially highly of the program "Learning from the Best," which supported the film "Nocebo."
The HFF in Munich can justifiably call itself the cradle of Germany's future Oscar-winners. It has already produced numerous award-winning young directors, two of whom also boast Academy Awards: Florian Henkel von Donnersmarck for "The Lives of Others" in 2007, and Caroline Link in 2003 for "Nowhere in Africa."
No wonder, then, that the HFF receives hundreds of applications each year. It only takes 30 students, of whom only 10 get onto the Cinema and Feature Film course. Applicants have to solve two video tasks, and hand in a short narrative film and a self-portrait as well as photo documentation and a short film pitch.
"The most important thing is that your decision to make films has to be a wholehearted one," says Lennart Ruff. "You can't do this halfway."