We reflect on the fantastic opportunities our Film Production students recently gained as a result of Catalyst’s partnership with ArteKino Festival 2021: a spot on the festival’s European Youth Jury and an enlightening interview with the winner of the European Audience Award, Karin Heberlein.
He applied, he succeeded, he collaborated, he learned, he networked. That’s how brilliantly first-year Film Production student Tiago Felício’s December panned out after he won a place on ArteKino Festival 2021’s European Youth Jury. The judges – all aged between 18 and 25 and selected from a handful of partnering film institutes, including Catalyst – were given the opportunity to award one film from the competition.
“The experience has been great!” Tiago tells us. “I decided to apply because I really love cinema and I am always interested in what festivals have to offer because they are usually films I would have no opportunity to see otherwise. So far, the most rewarding part was probably the Zoom call we had with all the members of the youth jury to decide on the winner. It was very interesting to discuss these movies with other passionate people and to listen to everyone's opinion.”
The sixth edition of ArteKino Festival took place online throughout December, presenting 12 European films in six language versions on the ARTE website and ARTE Cinema Youtube channel. The goal of the festival – an initiative of ARTE France Cinéma, ARTE GEIE, and Festival Scope – is to give greater exposure to original feature films which might otherwise have difficulty finding distribution in European movie theatres, despite critical success and inclusion in festivals.
Sami, Joe and I by Karin Heberlein
The winner of the European Audience Award – as voted by the public – was Swiss writer and director Karin Heberlein. Her feature film Sami, Joe and I (2020) follows three friends who are ready for a truly epic summer after finishing school. But what is to come is diametrically opposed to their expectations and of a different magnitude then they anticipated. Determined to stand up for themselves, the trio find out how right Leyla’s mom was when she told them: “Always keep more dreams in your soul than reality can destroy.”
Heberlein initially trained as an actress, working for various UK theatres, co-writing and performing in a number of ensembles and touring festivals across the globe. Her focus later shifted to film, after a masterclass and a scholarship ignited her passion.
What did she learn from creating her first feature film? As part of Catalyst’s partnership with ArteKino Festival this year, a group of our Film Production students were blessed with an hour of Heberlein’s time, in which they were free to fire off all their burning filmmaking questions.
“The collaborative parts are the best parts, where the magic happens”
The power of not knowing
First-year student Viktorija Baltusyte led the upbeat interview. “One of the most vital steps of making a truly good film, as mentioned by Heberlein, is to discover and to really solidify its core,” Viktorija gives as her major takeaway. “What is its essence? Once that is defined, you become the ‘keeper of the heart of the film’ and are able to stay true to the message that you want to deliver, whilst still being open to new ideas and spontaneous change.”
Spontaneity, in fact, was one of Heberlein’s favourite parts of the project. When Viktorija asked her what she wished she knew before she started her first feature film, she emphasised the value and beauty of a filmmaker not knowing all the answers when they are starting out.
“Knowledge comes at the price of innocence,” she said. “When you don’t know how to do things, you just do them because you don’t know what problems can occur. In a way, my first film is a kind of coming-of-age story. I feel very grateful for the experience of having been able to do that.” She stressed that a director should never be embarrassed on set if they don’t know something: “If you don’t know something, ask. If you don’t know, the actor will know. If you both don’t know, try to find it together.”
One thing Heberlein learned about the creative process during the course of the project was the true power of collaboration – our favourite word at Catalyst. “All the people that you meet along the way give so much to that project and I think that didn’t cease to amaze me up to the editing, to the colour grading, to the last sound mix,” she explained. “All those stages, all those different people that come in, and each one has a different perspective on that same thing and adds their knowledge… The collaborative parts are the best parts, where the magic happens.”
Jayden Bailey, who is currently working on his final-year film, Slow Rush, was impressed with Heberlein’s approach to one potentially challenging collaboration: directing children. “Karin’s sensitivity and care for the youth story is an inspiring reminder of our connection to our childhood and furthermore its importance,” he says. “Working with younger actors is a challenge I'm very much looking forward to in future. Karin reminds me of the beautiful possibilities that can surface from that challenge.”
“The more stories we tell, the richer and more inclusive our culture gets,” Heberlein pointed out. Still, “how can you tell stories if you don't have a life?” Indeed, in order to tell great, culture-enriching, stories, it is important to seek out remarkable experiences. At the time Heberlein came up with the idea for Sami, Joe and I, she was leading storytelling and filmmaking workshops for 16-year-olds, which reminded her of her own experience of growing up, whilst also giving her new, inspiring, perspectives on young womanhood.
“From a writer’s perspective, Heberlein’s question inspired me to explore and experience life around me,” Lior Klein reflects, “and not to be afraid to write about personal and meaningful events in my life, because these are the kind of stories only I can tell.”