Tuesday, February 27, 2007

THE LIVES OF OTHERS, AND THE LIFE OF A STRUGGLING STUDENT FILMMAKER

It took Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck close to two years to research and write The Lives of Others, the gripping tale of police-state East Germany in the 1980s, when the Stasi -- the government's many-tentacled secret police force -- spied on citizens, arrested them, tortured them, and sometimes killed them. On Sunday night, Donnersmarck, a strapping 6'9'' German who speaks flawless English (he spent a good part of his childhood in New York), took the stage at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood to accept the Oscar for best foreign-language film for his poignant, potent directorial debut.

So how did he manage life in those days when he was an unknown, struggling, yet-to-be filmmaker, poring over government files, interviewing former Stasi agents, Stasi informants and victims, writing and researching day and night, month after month?

"I was still a student in film school," Donnersmarck explained in an interview a few weeks before he nabbed the Academy Award. "I actually managed to make a little money out of my short films, and some award money. I sold a short film -- Doberman, a four-minute black-and-white action film about a dog chasing a man -- to Steven Spielberg, to a website that he and Ron Howard had started up in the '90s called pop.com.

"But I had a meager life, actually, until about a half a year ago. I’m still repaying debts to my father, my brother, and friends. You have to swallow quite a lot of humiliation, you really do.… What people admire about artists once they’re successful is the fact that they were willing to take that absurd risk of just living with that kind of humiliation for all of their life, because it’s crazy. As a person working in the arts, you have to have a certain pride and confidence, but everything around you conspires to make you lose that, you know. It really is tough.

"And especially, with this one, it took me so long. Sometimes, you have people who can live with that type of thing because they feel that there is nothing else they can do, so the opportunity cost is not that great. My opportunity cost was pretty high, because I was offered lots of really interesting things and jobs -- in the film field, but also in other fields. And, also [for a] macho-minded man, it’s painful to have your wife making so much more money than you and pulling far more than her weight in support of the family. That’s not something that I wish upon any man."

1 Comments:

Anonymous paul said...

amen.

11:04 AM  

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