Interview with Stephan Richter- director of "One of Us"

San Sebastian Film Festival  2015 - New Directors

Director and scriptwriter, photographer and experimental shorts director, Stephan Richter, came to San Sebastian International Film Festival with his first feature film. One of Us is a movie based on true events. The scenery for the drama was an Austrian suburban supermarket.

Do you often visit supermarkets?
SR: Yes, I do (laugh). I go as often as any other person. Actually, you have no choice.

One of Us is based on a true story. How did you find out about it and why did you decide to make it the story of your film?
SR: It happened one night in 2009. Two teenagers, 14-year and 16-year old, decided to break into a supermarket. We will probably never know what was the reason, but very likely it was kind of a childish idea. When the police arrived, they tried to run away. As a result, the 14-year old boy was shot in the back. It was a huge scandal in Austria. I was shocked because those boys were treated like criminals. The media reported: “Whoever is old enough to steal, is old enough to die” – they said. I was touched because I also did stupid things in my youth and I realized that I could find myself in a similar situation.

Do you agree with the statement that the supermarket from your film could be a symbol of the current geopolitical order?
SR: Yes, I do. The story happened in one of the supermarkets located in a suburban area so I didn’t think it up, just took it how it was. I visited the supermarket where the incident happened and I was surprised that there wasn’t any sign to remind of this event. For example, when a car hits a tree and someone dies, there will be a cross or someone will put flowers there. In a supermarket this is impossible. You cannot disturb people with such emotions, so everything is cleaned up again. I realized that it became a kind of metaphor which refers to something bigger – to the Austrian (or maybe even European) society. It shows how we deal with issues like these. Something tragic happens, but we just throw it away and pretend that everything is perfect.

Do you think that places influence us?
SR: Yes, definitely. In anthropology, locations like malls, highways, stations or supermarkets are called non-places. In every city there are spaces like that. The supermarket is kind of a strange non-place without any social meaning and any history. You enter there and the owners don’t see you as a human, but as a consumer. People go there by car and they leave, go and live. In this case, it was really interesting because the teenagers who were the prototypes for the film lived in a really small village, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by highways. They adapted this non-place as a playground – they settled there. The space which hadn’t had any special function before, gained a personal meaning. We created the characters based on the real people with all respect. The actors were trying to find something in common with those teenagers.

How did you find the actors?
SR: We did casting, but we were focused on suburban schools and youth centers around Vienna. Finally, we have a mixture of actors with different experiences. Simon Morzé who plays Marco appeared in different movies in Austria before. Then, it’s a debut for Jack Hofer (the main character of the story), but he wants to be an actor in the future. There were also kids who, we can say, were picked from the street. It was a very inspiring mix – they had a good influence on each other. We especially tried to find authentic language and make the script more realistic. “What I would do now? How I would come up with the idea to do this?” – they were trying to answer questions like that.

Did other films inspire you for this story?
SR: Elephant by Gus Van Sant was a big inspiration for One of Us. I liked the way the director portrayed the society. It wasn’t just the individual characters, but they were settled in a bigger context. “We need to talk about Kevin” by Lynne Ramsay is a really disturbing movie which is also worth mentioning.

How do you feel after the premiere of your first feature film and what are your plans for the future?

SR: Being in San Sebastian is like a rollercoaster – I feel different every two hours. It’s my first big festival so everything is new for me. Afterwards, I‘m going to Zurich film festival and I’m really excited about it because One of Us will have its premiere in a German speaking country.

Read the review of One of Ushere. 

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Name: Monika Martyniuk

Nationality: Poland