Crystal meth smuggling and a police killing were heavy topics for a student film. However, they could win filmmaker Felix Ahrens gold at the Student Oscars in Hollywood on Thursday. He's one of three Germans to qualify.
Three films made at German film schools are among the winners at the Student Academy Awards in Los Angeles. At the awards ceremony on September 22, the placement (gold, silver, bronze) will be announced. DW spoke with winning filmmaker Felix Ahrens about his movie.
DW: Mr. Ahrens, congratulations on your nomination for this year's student Oscars. "And the winner is Felix Ahrens." How does that sound to you?
Ahrens: I have done as much as I could to keep my distance from it and tried not to think too much about it so that I won't be disappointed if I am not part of the winner's circle. But then I got the phone call from the Oscar Academy in the Los Angeles and nearly fell of my chair.
Even if you don't take gold, silver or bronze, you'll still be at the gala event on September 22 in Hollywood and will get a chance to stand on the stage, though. How strong was the competition?
There were more than 1,700 films submitted internationally. And that a jury is sitting there, going through over 1,700 films and then decides that yours is one of the best seven movies - that is an unbelievable feeling. And that I could still win is totally surprising.
The film was a sort of rush job; we had to hurry through production since public broadcaster MDR had called for proposals. We applied and won, so had to hurriedly write the script and then rush into filming. In retrospect, I think that if we had had more time, I would have done a few other things differently, but I guess that doesn't mater anymore because I've already won.
Your film is 30 minutes long and is called, "At the end of the woods," ("Am Ende der Wald"). What's it about?
It's about Elke, a young police officer who works at the German-Czech border. During a routine vehicle check, the driver of the car, a Czech, begins to resist and Elke shoots him. The event leaves a deep hole in her and a guilty feeling that she struggles with. One day she decides to travel to The Czech Republic in order to find the family of the man she had killed. When she meets them, their reaction is, understandably, different from what she had naively wished for.
How did you come up with the idea?
The camera man, Stephan Buske, had been on vacation in the Czech Republic and quite by accident crossed the border during a walk through the woods. Two German policemen then took him aside and warned him to be more careful as there was a lot of smuggling happening on foot across the border, including with the drug crystal meth. When Stephan told me that, I found it really interesting and it stuck with me. Then I did a bit more research and came across the idea to include the meth issue.
Where and when can the film be viewed?
Well, it is a student production and such films are most often short movies, which are unfortunately a bit of smoke and mirrors. Short productions don't really ever arrive in movie theaters and are rarely picked up for television because they are usually too short and don't have much of an audience. The film actually already had its television premiere back in April, but is no longer available in online media archives. I could imagine that at some point in the future, the MDR might show it again as it belongs to the winner's category.
You've been a student at the film university in Babelsberg since 2012. Did you always have this desire, as a kid growing up in Buxtehude, to make films?
At 20, I thought I wanted to be an actor and invested a lot of pocket money in acting training. But then I realized that it's not the work of an actor that I enjoy as much as the work I do withactors. The impetus likely stems from my attraction to photography because my dad is a hobby photographer and film fanatic. And my mother is someone who can analyze people's psychological profiles pretty spot-on. So my parents have given me the pieces of myself that are important to being creative.
The Student Oscars have been handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 1972 to directing students from the US and abroad. Has it been a springboard to success for those winners who have come before you?
Of course there are a few. One current example is Lennart Ruff, who won the Student Oscar in 2014 and made his Hollywood debut this year with, among others, actor Jake Gyllenhaal. That's a phenomenal career.
Felix Ahrens was born in 1986 and comes from Buxthude, southeast of Hamburg.The Babelsberg Film Aacademy Konrad Wolf in Potsdam is a state-funded art and film production university specializing in promotional law. It is the oldest and largest and since 2014, only film university in Germany.