The People Behind The Film
To look at Arne Nostitz-Rieneck now is probably not much different to looking at him as an eight year old. An eight year old with a beard. And six foot tall. With a deep voice. So more like a twenty year old, really. Although that doesn’t quite capture the way his eyes seem to be looking at the world afresh with a sense of awe and delight and wonder. There is an unrepressed frankness that suggests the boy beneath. You get the feeling that this is a man who says what he thinks without worrying about consequences – good or bad. So he’s not gushing in his description of fellow cast and crew but any praise he has is therefore all the more meaningful simply because it is the truth.
At the same time there is a layer of something brittle which might explain why many of his earlier shorts have a strong need to be funny or have a punchline. Not that there isn’t plenty to laugh at in Declared Dead. It’s just that Arne has allowed the story and the lead character to carry the humour without telegraphing it ahead or providing cheap gags. It starts as a dark story of a man who is just as stranded and washed up as the ships in a disappearing Aral Sea. So he wants to kill himself. When he finds out he’s already dead the path leads to a happy ending. Makes sense? No? Well watch the flamin’ film then – for the rest of this article is full of spoilers.
I edit the movie in my head while I’m shooting it so…. in the editing room it goes very fast.
Arne started making films for fun during the summer holidays and continued learning through trial and error. Eventually, as he became more and more professional, he realised that his future might involve making money doing what he loved and so he went on to learn digital post production with 3D animation and then worked in commercials and Vienna TV stations all while still continuing to make his own shorts and develop his themes. From here he discovered the joy of editing actual film footage and this discipline stays with him while directing, saving time in post-production.
An uncle of mine arranged his own funeral party… Because he knew none of his friends would come to his birthday party.
It might give you an idea of where Arne is at with his career when he says that Für Tot Erklärt was made as part of his application to enter film school! The idea for the film was more evolution than divine inspiration. His founding conceit was that he didn’t want anyone dying in the story – something he’s found difficult to avoid in his other films – and what better way to create tension than to have someone so old he’s nearly dead and who’s trying to kill himself? So when he came across the story of an uncle who organised his own wake the idea started to solidify.
Oswald brought so much from his own story into the character.
Once the story was written the tricky part was finding an actor old enough, good enough and rich enough to work for food and the bus fare home. Enter camera right Oswald Fuchs who is simply wonderful on screen. An award winning actor and director on stage and screen he is known in Austria particularly for his comedy roles. But his great performance for this film hasn’t so much to do with his ability as to the fact he isn’t really acting. He simply fits the role so well. His own life story is itself worthy of a film. Being born in Vienna in 1933 to Jewish parents was already bad timing, but then they abandoned him and he spent the rest of his childhood in foster care. To avoid deportation to the camps he joined the Hitler Youth. Sometimes you have to marvel at the ability of people to survive their own lives and realise how good yours is.
Short film making is some sort of film school for me. I’m trying out stuff. The pressure is not so high.
Some film makers like short film for its own sake and will often return to the format even after they have broken out into mainstream feature cinema. Wes Anderson is an example. Short films allow directors to hone their skills in the early stages of their career but they also allow for experimentation in a way that features rarely allow. When men in suits spend $50,000,000+ on a film it’s not to discover a new camera technique or an alternative form of expression. They want to entertain and profit. Arne loves making shorts because he can perfect his technique and build up a portfolio but he also wants to make features and actually earn a living. He has a few projects in the pipeline and is working with a co-writer to help keep him on track.
As Snoovies is like a mini short film festival we wanted to ask how Arne feels about the relative merits of the festival circuit versus online platforms but alas there was a storm in Austria and we lost video connection. Undeterred we asked again via messaging.
“They both have benefits.” He love’s to attend festivals, because he can sit with the audience and feel their reaction to his films. But the online platforms are a great way to distribute films and it means that instead of working their way to the back of the shelf his films still get to be seen. “If anyone of [the viewers] can take something away from it – in this case ‘Life is wonderful. Hope!’ – it was worth the hassle and all the money I spent!”