Film Scouts Interviews

Stefan Ruzowitzky on "Siebtelbauern, Die (The Inheritors)"

by Karen Jaehne
Some of the best German filmmakers come from Austria. Pabst, Lubitsch, Bill Wilder...yes, they were all known in Vienna before they got to the UFA Studios in Berlin.

Perhaps, things have not changed that much. The very talented director of "The Inheritors" (Die Siebtelbauer) is an Austrian so intent on getting to America, he had to leapfrog over Berlin. We had the chance to quiz him about his ambitions during the New York Film Festival, where his film got such a terrific reaction - "so good you wouldn't know it's German," per one wag. Stefan Ruzowitsky is proud of his heritage, particularly of the cinematic forefathers he's following to Hollywood. But he comes under a new tradition: Techno. The score of The Inheritors is a beautiful undercurrent in the film, and it's an ultra-hip trend in music called Techno that lets us know Ruzowitsky is a cutting edge kind of guy.

Q: Stefan, at the end of your film, the peasants seem to be headed to America. Was that their only choice?

Ruzowitsky: Well, this is also a historical fact: America was the only dream, an illusion maybe, especially for people stuck in a traditional society with no social dynamics for a little guy to make his way and become something bigger and better. In Austria you're supposed to stay where you're born. The aristocracy is still a factor - which is totally bizarre, if you ask me.

Q: Why bizarre?

Ruzowitsky: Because they have no money, they're important only because of some vague thing done in the past - beyond memory. For your social importance to depend on that, well, it's ludicrous. In the States, everything is valued by money, but in Austria, history also has an impact on your's not enough.

Q: Where is your family from?

Ruzowitsky: We're old Poles, but during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, you found Polish, Czech and Romanian names - the borders were very different then. Even in Austria, they don't know how to pronounce my name; it was probably Rougowitzky, adding a letter, which got means Little Rose.

Q: So are you planning to come to America?

Ruzowitsky: Well, being a filmmaker, one looks to Hollywood, and now that I have an agent...a childhood dream looks closer! I suppose it depends on whether the person approaching you wants you or your name - assuming I had a reputation, I mean. But I hear that agents are very different from company to company...

Q: So what did Howard Cohn say to you that convinced you to work with him?

Ruzowitsky: I saw him at Telluride, which was a fantastic experience, then at Toronto, he was there again, and he expressed a lot of interest in my work. He's based in Los Angeles, and this seems to be a good time to have an agent. My next project is for Columbia Germany, because Columbia TriStar intends to produce in Germany with German stars, and I'm going to make a commercial horror film for them. They have this concept of making genre films with me. It will be interesting for me, because my first two movies were 100% independent films, and this will give me a taste of a bigger budget and different kinds of responsibilities. The big difference to me is that, in Austria, you make a movie for art, and nobody expects people to go. If they do, they think, oh, how nice for it to make a profit.. Whereas here, they want people to see it - it's a business.

Q. It's interesting to watch Europeans adapt to American production norms. Sometimes it seems easier to learn art than to learn the business end. What kind of film would you make if you were totally free from any artistic or commercial influence?

Ruzowitsky: Well, I have one project that is a medieval story about the Minnesänger -

Q: The wandering bards who sang of love to other men's ladies...?

Ruzowitsky: Yes, I never thought I could do it, but now, it seems not so remote. Well, this man loves a woman so much, he dresses up in women's clothing - and it's very operatic...

Q: Do you write music?

Ruzowitsky: No, but I worked on a TV program that used a lot of music, and to me, the role of music in film is very, very important. I knew the music for "Siebtelbauer" as I was writing the script; tender, subtle, then very dramatic, this up and down corresponds to the mood of the film and it set the pace. Knowing the atmosphere also helps you to direct the actors and of course, it guides the editor. Let's just say, it helps everybody to know the score.

Q: So to speak. It's a very European approach to have the music guide your so-called Weltanschauung (world-view or point of view in a very big sense). It also guides us into seeing the images as part of a big, major movie. Not some little film with tacky music.

Ruzowitsky: Well, good, but that Weltanschauung also corresponds to the total confidence in the music - like in techno. My first film was about techno music and the scene around Raves - you know, these concerts that are about the music and the internet and ecstacy in joining people together through the music - it's techno. I come out of that.

Q: Well, that's about the hippest thing you could be doing in today's world. Raves are the thing; techno rules. That's a kingdom about as far from the Austro-Hungarian Empire as you can get.

Ruzowitsky: Good. That's where I'm at.

The End

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