Meet six talented filmmakers and their award-winning projects from our 2019 Film Awards, at Kreuzkölln’s Refugio.
At Catalyst, we don’t just teach our students; we share a story. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. And in that story, we see our courses as a catalyst of events. We watch with bated breath as the protagonists’ journeys unfold and build, each character arc as unique as the rest. Sadly, at the school year’s end, the credits have to roll. But as everybody knows, only in the best stories is the ending also a beginning.
Our 2019 Film Awards, at Kreuzkölln’s Refugio, marked the end of an action-packed school year, and for some, the end of their Catalyst journey altogether. The celebration was the culmination of months spent honing and hard grafting in Film Production and Screen Acting. The showstopping short films and performances that were awarded on the evening were a testament to the exceptional creative skill our students have built. What’s just beginning is a rip-roaring roller coaster ride of international film festival screenings, and a rocket launch of many wonderful careers.
The award winners were decided by our seasoned tutors, with guest lecturer and Club Europa director Franziska Hoenisch judging the Best Director award. Of the many winners, we chatted to six talented filmmakers to learn more about their short films and music videos, and how they felt to win.
“Will, eight, wakes up in the middle of the night,” says Aunt‘s director Tumi Valdimarsson of the film. “He sees his aunt, Liz, push a car into the backyard and cover it up. He is curious about the car. The next morning at breakfast, Will mentions the car, which creates tension between his mum, Ann, and Liz. Will’s perception of people starts to change as he unravels the mystery surrounding the car, which opens up a new and sinister world to him.”
For just ten minutes of film, Aunt has an incredible storytelling pay-off. A consistent point of view, a strong visual language and good character development were just a couple of points from the long list of accolades Franziska Hoenisch provided to justify her decision for Best Director. “It’s like a very early coming of age,” she commented, “but a passive one. It looks beyond the surface of the supposed adults’ lives.”
“The inspiration for Aunt came from a couple of places,” Tumi continues. “One: wanting to tell a story from the point of view of a kid who realises that adults are far from perfect. Two: the notion of accidentally hurting someone – not being able to turn back the clock – and the moral conflict that arises therein.”
When we asked Tumi how it felt to win the Best Director award, he replied, “the recognition means a lot, especially knowing that people connect with the story and how it is told. That inspires me to continue directing.”
What happens when you take up a project outside of your comfort zone? Pure magic – and dark fairy tale Herzblut is proof. “In the Film Production course, I had the opportunity and the challenge to direct a horror film,” Herzblut director Filippos Papazoglou tells us. “While I hate horror films, I thought that this was a great chance for me to bring the genre to my standards and change it.”
The short film is about a young man, Hans, who lives with his sister, Greta, in a small wooden house – and before you say you see where this is going, trust us, you absolutely do not! “Hans has a strong impulse for human flesh,” Filippos explains. “His sister is trying to suspend his cannibalistic tendencies in various ways, but they don’t seem to work. One night, Hans meets a young man and has the chance to fully embrace himself. What will it take for Hans to embrace his nature? And what makes us human if not our desires?” *mic drop*
The deeper Filippos got into the story, referencing many films he loves and admires, the more it grew on him. How he and his team managed to make us sympathise with the bloodthirsty protagonist is beyond us. It felt even more disconcerting when we learnt from Filippos that cannibalism is legal in Germany.
Herzblut earnt not one but two awards. Adam Munnings won Best Cinematography. “Filippos had a strong vision from the very beginning and was such a pleasure to work with,” Adam reveals. “We share a similar visual aesthetic which really helped us to achieve the shots we wanted. Lighting the film was so much fun and we went for a more-is-more approach, inspired by films like Suspiria (1977). The bloody cannibal scenes were intense to shoot, knowing we only had one or two takes to get it. I worked a lot with pulling focus in and out to create the drama. Still, carefully framed shots provided contrast in the other scenes.”
“Making a film is a fascinating experience,” Filippos adds. “Winning an award for a film you made is nothing more or nothing less than the feeling that people appreciate your and your team’s work. Winning the Best Narrative Film award made me feel that my peculiar story is especially important. It made me feel that you can be provocative while also celebrating weirdness and sexuality. And that’s what I wanted to do; to celebrate sexuality and to explore the darkest side of it. So, thank you everyone and thank you cannibals [laughing].”
Adam Munnings’ biggest win was Best First Year Film with I AM – a love story as deep as it is delicious. “I AM follows two men, Kun and Lucian, who are both navigating their way through certain dependencies or insecurities they have somehow learnt to live with,” Adam explains. “This is represented both metaphorically and physically by Kun consulting a Magic 8-Ball for all of his decisions. Similarly, Lucian ploughs through personal baggage, which surrounds him and follows him wherever he goes. It takes a long red noodle to bring them together and finally love wins. They drop what’s holding them down and let fate take the wheel.”
While writing the script, Adam himself was on a romantic journey. “I’m a big believer in taking chances and following my heart,” he expresses, “and in a way, this film was motivation to practice what I preach! Luc Bruyere, who played Kun, was the man who inspired me to write the script and now he’s my fiancé! No Magic 8-Ball needed to make that decision.” Wow, where is the heart-eyes emoji when you need it?
How did it feel to win awards for both I AM and Herzblut? “Incredible! We work so hard on these films. To have a team that believes in your vision is one thing, but for others to acknowledge your work as something worthy of extra recognition is truly amazing. I’m so thankful to everyone who has worked with me and the platform Catalyst has given us as creatives.”
We fell in love with the Black Mirror-esque, sci-fi vibe of Andrea Riba’s short film Memory Lane. “In the hope of making amends with her past, the protagonist Mia attends therapy at Memory Lane,” Andrea tells us. “It’s a service offered in the near-future; one that claims to help patients face and heal from past traumas by recreating memories in staged rooms.”
Memory Lane‘s aesthetics are beautifully dystopian. “Throughout the film,” Andrea explains, “the production design is replicated. For example, with the chairs and hourglass. This allows the audience to enter a world where everyone and everything is reproduced; just like the memories being recreated with actors at the Memory Lane facilities. More specifically, the objects used reflect the idea of a simulation. My producer, Alba Llach, and I had the idea of using an hourglass to tell the time. The memory being recreated is a simulation of a past time and the hourglass served to reflect that notion.”
For Andrea, Best Production Design wasn’t just an award, but a sign! “It was interesting to win the award for best production design,” she says, “because a few days prior, I was talking to my classmate Isabel about how I’d like to pursue this field a bit more seriously. I have a passion for building future dystopian or imaginary worlds and I would like to push this further in the near future!”
Follow Andrea Riba on Instagram.
Nickolas Menescal also came home with two awards. The first was Best Second Year Film for his short comedy High Hopes. “High Hopes tries to break away from the classic chick-flick conventions, while still following the main aspects of the genre,” he says. “The film presents two girlfriends who plan to invite a boy over with the intent of doing it for the first time. When he meets the girls, he is surprised by what they actually mean by doing it.” If you like your expectations to be turned upside-down, High Hopes is for you; we haven’t seen a punchline quite like it.
Earning Nickolas the Best Music Video award was his dreamy video for Catalyst Music student Louissa Akila‘s track ‘We Still Seem Alone.’ “This music video was mostly inspired by Solange‘s video for ‘Cranes In The Sky,’ Nickolas tells us. “European architecture and image composition from classic paintings such as The Creation of Adam also played a big role when coming up with the concept for the video.”
So how does the creative process of making a short film like High Hopes differ to that of a music video? “When preparing for a music video as a director, you have to take into consideration the artist you’re working with – their public image and their personal tastes – in order to work coherently and efficiently,” he explains. “In contrast, directing a short film gives you more freedom to make your own aesthetic choices without having to get the approval of a client.”
When we asked Nickolas how it felt to win two awards, he replied, “It feels incredibly nice to have my hard work and effort recognised. Both projects meant a lot to me and I am flabbergasted with the tutors’ decision to pick them as winners, considering I was competing against my classmates’ extremely well-made films.”
Follow Nickolas Menescal on Instagram.
Song of Myself follows a young man mourning the death of a past lover. Due to the nature of the death, water triggers his post-traumatic stress disorder. “There was a lot of pressure for the edit,” Isabelle Schmitz, Best Editing award winner, explains. “This was back when we were making microfilms in class – making a film in a week – so we had to edit the picture and sound all in one night. We took a few beers and worked until the early morning to finish it. I think the best part for me was editing the film to the music, and problem-solving to fix the many continuity issues so that it flowed together naturally.”
Isabelle says that editing is one of her favourite roles, although her goal is to become an all-round filmmaker. “I was really shocked to win best editing – I was not expecting that. My speech the night of the ceremony was a bit rushed since it was unprepared, but I really am grateful.”
Follow Isabelle Schmitz on Instagram.