Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Interview: STORM's Hans-Christian Schmid & the International Criminal Tribunal

Hans-Christian Schmid, the co-writer and director of Storm -- the new film, playing in NYC now, about the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague - -currently looks a little weary (though we must say, he also looks at least a full decade younger than his 44 years). Schmid is tired, and for good reason: Since mid-August, he's been traveling the world -- tracking the openings of his film theatrically, as here in NYC; at various festivals, such as the London film fest of two weeks ago; and at the German Institutes worldwide that offer German culture in foreign countries, some of which are showing Storm in their venues. If your film is opening anywhere, it’s smart, if you are able, to attend that showing. So Schmid was in town to do Q&As at the two cinemas at which Storm is currently playing: the Lincoln Plaza and the Quad.

TrustMovies: Because your film deals meeting out justice for the war crimes that took place in the former Yugoslavia, how was Storm received in at the Kosovo Film Festival, for instance?

Hans-Christian Schmid: It was received very well, but this may be due to the fact that this a very Muslim-dominated area in Sarajevo.

Will you be showing in at any Serb-dominated areas?

We will: in two weeks at another film festival.

With bullet-proof vests?

No, even without! There’s a young and culturally western-orientated part of society there.

In talking with various directors from this area, I have noticed that the way in which certain directors stand off – back off, really – from certain subjects is telling, I think. What I really want to ask about are your feelings & experience with the ICC.

Do you mean the ICC (International Criminal Court) rather than the ICT (International Criminal Tribunal)? Our movie is about the ICT, the Tribunal. These are easy to mix up and a lot of people do this. (Ed's note: Clearly, TrustMovies is one of these people.) This Tribunal only deals with the the international criminal cases for the former Yugoslavia. The ICC deals with the whole world, and then there is another one for Rwanda – but that one is only set up for a certain period of time. The idea for the ICC is to be a permanent international criminal court.

My experience with the ICT was that these people were very, very good. They were really quite positive and helpful, although our approach was a critical one. But we found the people there even shared this criticism because of the time pressure and budget lim-
itations. These bring the prosecutors, defense counsels and judges together – because they all want more time to finish their cases.

Your movie showed this very clearly, and yet it was critical, too. What also impressed me was your analysis of how the tribunal works from both a personal and public perspective: the way in which your lead character, though she did not get the promotion she probably deserved, does her job anyway. And in her relationship with both her boyfriend, who turns out to betray her in a way, and her boss, who is also a betrayer. The sense of things being off-balance, of people trying to maintain their balance despite all that is going on. Was this what you wanted to do, going into the film?

We started without knowing anything about the Tribunal or international law or even the war. And then we realized, when we were doing the research, that there was a danger here because all these things we researched took too much space in our draft and treatment. It’s kind of an easier way to get the information, which seems to be solid, but then you realize that the interest should be in the main characters, the story of the two women. What you need to do as a writer is to collect as much info as possible but then push it aside, lock it away and forget about it so you can develop your story – from the second or third draft onwards.

How many drafts did you do in all?

We usually work with the same amount for each film: the more treatment-drafts you have, the less script-drafts you need. All together we had up to four or five treatments of 20 to 25 pages each, then altogether six drafts of the script.

Wow. And this is all before you even think about shooting?

We started financing after we had the first draft, and the sixth draft was developed with the actors. I like to do this. I read the last draft with them and write down a lot of things and do a rewrite just before we start.

You’ve done a great job of weaving everything together -- the personal story, with all the facts and the history. I think this may be one of the most difficult things to do in a film because, so often, the filmmaker ends up with chunk of expository dialog that explains too much too badly and then sticks out noticeably. Yours really flowed and was woven together very well.

Thank you. I had this problem because we had to give a certain amount of information because of our subject. Maybe the first fifteen minutes has a lot of exposition.

It was wonderful to see Kerry Fox again, who is one of my favorite actresses. But we have seen her so little of her over here in America during the last few years.

She is best known is Europe for Intimacy, An Angel at My Table, and Shallow Grave.

Until I checked the IMDB, I had forgotten than Jane Campion directed Angel at My Table.

Yes, and even the people who have seen Kerry in the Jane Campion film would not recognize her in this film.

She has turned into a wonderful middle-aged actress with such strength and intelligence at her command.

Kerry (shown above, left) tried for a couple of years to start a career in Hollywood, but though that did not work out, she did do some theater there. And the other actress, Anamaria Marinca (shown above right), also had done theater in her home country.

Yes, Anamaria is amazingly versatile. If you see her three films: 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days; Five Minutes of Heaven, and now Storm. I found your movie wonderfully feminist – in the right way, without announcing it or pushing it too much.

I believe that the ICT is made up of mainly male prosecutors. Once we had a basic interest in international law -- in the Tribunal -- this became important for us. We saw an article in a German paper about one of the prosecutors, a woman, in the Tribunal, and this intrigued us very much: the way she talked about her work. When we met with her, it seemed that she was not pleased that we were there. She did not even offer us a drink or anything. Just very busi-
ness-like: "What do you want to know?" Then back to business.

Usually, if you are a filmmaker, you find that people are very eager to work with you and to be your role model. But not this woman She was, from the first meeting right through the five or six times we met, always very strict, very professional.

What did she think of the final film?

She liked it a lot. And this was a relief for me. She also read the early scripts, about which she told us, “If I were to make that many mistakes, I would be a very bad prosecutor!” But regarding the final draft, she also told us– “From my point of view, what you people do in a professional way, this is all fine." But she never wrote a line that said, “Oh, very good.” So by the time we were finished with the film, I was quite worried. We had arranged a special screening for the Tribunal, and we did this in late September. Afterward, she was the first to come up to me and say, Very good. Two prosecu-
tors and the defense counselor also liked it a lot. They said, This is as close as you can get to what we are doing.” Only one man came up and said, "I would not show this to the public. It is not good for our image." But then another judge came and took him aside and said, “Let’s talk about this,” because he thought that was not true.

By the end, I really wanted something good to come out of all this that I was willing to accept, against realistic odds, that there might be a positive thing here.

For me the ending is quite bittersweet. Between the two women this is quite clearly a positive thing. Hannah has earned her "thank you." As to everything else: Will Hannah be able to go back to work? Will Mira be able to come to terms with her husband and continue with her family? We just don’t know. It would not be in my or my co-writer's ethics to be too dark. If there is a person like the real Hildegard (our Hannah), then she can accomplish certain things. But she also must pay the price for it.

Anything else you like to say at this point?

There are so many aspects that we could talk about. Like the victims themselves.

Or the rapes and the murders.

Yes. Last Monday a new trial opened for the criminal most important next to Milosevic. 160 victims traveled to The Hague and put up their signs saying, “No Short Cuts. You must give the whole picture." This need of the victims and witnesses to talk about what happened is very strong. They need a quiet situation, a one-on-one interview rather than a courtroom with limited time. This came clear to me after watching trials for some time. The victims and witnesses, they need something different from what they get during the trial.

There is a very fine book out now by Eric Stover called The Witnesses which gives these people the chance to talk at length about what happened.

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