K-BACH's Janine Miller, mid-day host and self described film-lover, caught up with 24 year old filmmaker, Sarah Lofti, about her film, "Menschen", which screened April 6th & 7th at the 2013 Phoenix Film Festival.
1) Please tell us in a few sentences about your film, "Menschen" including what the title means.
Menschen is the German word for people or humans. And as a title it characterizes how we are all human no matter where we come from or what our functionality is. Menschen is set during the last week of WWII as an Austrian captain guides his men behind the Russian lines and ends up championing a young developmentally disabled boy bringing the loyalty of his men to the test. The captain's reasons for being the boy's advocate end up bringing a dark secret from his past to light.
2) Most movies about World II don't address the subject of how people with disabilities were treated. How did you get the idea to focus on an individual with Down Syndrome?
I had done another WWII film in 2009 The Last Bogatyr and I wanted to return to the era again but tell a completely different story. On The Last Bogatyr I collaborated with several WWII re-enacting groups who portray the Wehrmacht forces. I started reading all these memoirs of soldiers from that side of the war my heart was moved to share their voice. Our executive producer Robert Dassanowsky, shared with me some of his own Austrian family history in the war and Hauptmann Himmelbauer was loosely based off of his father. The disability inspiration is deeply personal. My brother and sister were born with Down Syndrome. My sister Hannah has Autism as well as Down Syndrome and the Autistic behaviors began to translate over into Radek's character. Disabilities are not an invention of the 20th century, and I wanted to find out where they were in the conflict. I found that sadly many of them were lost in the Holocaust because of Hitler's "Action T-4" program that targeted any an all handicapped people. Menschen was written to tell a story of hope in a dark time where one boy hidden away in the woods was saved.
3) I understand classical music plays a significant role in your soundtrack---what pieces did you choose and why?
Classical music plays a large part in my process when I write screenplays. Mozart's Requiem is quite epic even in our day and age and I kept coming back to Introitus Aetnum when Menschen was still just a concept. I looked into the process of obtaining the appropriate licenses and I wrote it in to the film, to play in the context of a scene on a record player and then to carry over into a scenic montage and even to this day it's one of my most favorite moments of the film. There's something mournful and noble in the piece and I felt like it really conveyed the loss and acceptance of their fate for the Austrian soldiers. Mozart is such an integral part of the Austrian heritage and playing his music transports my characters out of the Third Reich to the bygone days of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Enlightenment. I believe original music is very important to the filmmaking process and with Daniel Vendt, the film's composer he knew from the very beginning that I would be using the Mozart piece and planned around it accordingly. His score is largely string and horn and he creates a very haunting nostalgia to underscore the picture.
4) I understand your film, "Menschen" will be featured on the Phoenix Film Festival's "shorts" screenings to be held Saturday, April 6th. Are there any plans to expand this film to full length?
It was concieved as a concept for a feature film, but it was easier for us to write and produce as short film that could then be used as the pitch film for a feature. It is our hope that we will be releasing it theatrically some day as a feature film.
5) What do you hope that people watching "Menschen" will take away from their viewing experience? Is there a call to action?
I hope people will watch Menschen with an open mind. I hope the film will move them. There are so many victims of the Holocaust and not all of them died in gas chambers. The post-war POW situation was equally tragic for the Wehrmacht soldiers who were deported into the Eastern labor camps. Menschen's tagline is "life worthy of life". We wanted to tell a story about how precious a life is. In our day and age with prenatal screenings unborn babies with disabilities are the new targets in many ways and the power rests with each individual.
The 13th Annual Phoenix Film Festival runs every April at the Harkins 101, 7000 E. Mayo Boulevard in Phoenix. The festival annually screens more than 150 films; this year’s offerings include four feature films making their world premieres.