Despite a whole host of problems, I managed to interview director Nora Fingscheidt, director of a movie on the London Film Festival line-up called System Crasher, a German film about Bennie, a young girl who has major problems with her temper. She is too wild for a normal foster care system, so she is placed in a special one that attempts to deal with her and help her become normal enough to live with her mother. The film itself is rather intense and harrowing, probably the most uncomfortable watch I’ve had all year, so I’d recommend it when it comes out in December, but it won’t be for everyone. Here is the (abbreviated) interview, I only had the opportunity to ask 4 questions due to a lack of time, but she gave some strong answers:
I’m in Bold, she is not.
In the making of this film, did you envision how it would turn out at the end? What was your vision?
Yeah, I mean, this vision changes all the time as you go. It’s like, you have an imagination of how it could be, then you find the actress and she is blonde, then the vision changes and then you find that location. So there is always a vision but it is not a fixed concept. It is something that goes with the flow, during editing we experimented a lot because we wanted to translate (Bennie’s) rough energy into the film-making, into the rhythm, into the music and into the story itself. So the film is always wild or too long or too much or a bit annoying. And playing with this “edginess” was tough, so we had to do a lot of test screenings with audiences because we had a lot more tantrums and the audience were just like “We can’t anymore”, so now we have found a version that is almost too much but you don’t leave the cinema. We had two more scenes, actually.
Where did the concept come from?
I always wanted to make a film about a girl who is wild, unruly and energetic ever since I started movie-making. I guess because I was myself an ADHD child. But I was never put on medication, I just remember the feeling of when you get on the nerves of adults and I never really had the story for it. I tried to write the script for it, but it was somehow meaningless, so I left it and held this character with me in my heart and mind. A year ago, when I was making this documentary on a shelter for homeless women, a really dark depressive kind of dead-end place, this 14-year-old girl walked in and I was shocked. I was like “What the hell is this 14 year old girl doing her” and this social worker said “She is a System Crasher, you can always take them in on your 14th birthday, because no institution in the whole country is willing to take them in” And that was the moment when I thought “I’ve got my story” and when the character finally met the surrounding. It’s not meant to be part of a huge discussion, I didn’t make a political statement, it was just my love for this character, this edgy 12-year-old. And the only antagonist in the story is inside her, you fear for her because of herself.
Something about the film that I quite appreciated was the performances all around, but especially of the lead girl (Helena), the way she played the role managed to make you feel scared for her and of her. Was she naturally good at playing that role?
Yeah. I mean, we had a lot of time. That is something that is important with child actors. Helena and I prepared this role for 6 months, just preparation. Sometimes we would just go shopping for Bennie’s clothes or we would think about “How would Helena react vs how would Bennie react?” then sometimes she was part of the casting process so we would select a child and they would play with Helena and slowly she would understand Bennie’s universe, so it was a really slow process. Helena in real life is very energetic and super smart, but she is not aggressive, she has a heart and she plays the piano at school. There is a big difference. The shooting process was 67 days. Because in Germany you can only work with a child 5 hours per day, at least with a nine year old. So that makes the days very short, but that’s good because the scenes are so hard. That’s enough to shoot one scene a day. And then we tried on the next day to make a quiet scene or a funny scene to keep that balance. Then on one shooting day, we wrote one page of a diary together, reflecting the day, what was good/bad/fun. Then we rehearsed the day before so that she could sleep over it. She never came on set not knowing what was going to happen. It’s a huge responsibility. The whole film stands and falls on this performance, she had that pressure, but she did an incredible job.
After this film, do you think you will want to make any more films about this subject matter?
No, definitely not. I mean I worked 7 years on this project and I’m done. It’s like, there’s nothing more for me to say on this topic. Before this, I made a documentary about a Christian sect in the 17th century and it was super interesting, but I’m done on that as well. Then I move onto something new. Right now, I have parallel stuff because there are too many opportunities now, you must take chances. System Crasher has won 23 international awards. But I know that if the next one is bad, nobody writes about it, nobody wants to see it. It’s better that you take opportunities, now I am working on a project where I hadn’t written the script, I will just direct it. Then I will move back to my own projects.