Interview: HEIMSPIEL Award Winner Katharina Marie Schubert about THE GIRL WITH THE GOLDEN HANDS at the 35th Braunschweig International Film Festival

DAS MÄDCHEN MIT DEN GOLDENEN HÄNDEN starts in cinema at the 17th February 2022

"[...] arthouse film had it hard before Corona and will have it so much harder now. It's horrible for people like me because I love these films so much. Because I'm so happy to see great, challenging, amazing films by smart people from all over the world and the idea that that's not happening anymore is the absolute horror for me."

Synopsis of the film:

Gudrun wants to celebrate her 60th birthday where she grew up in GDR times. All the residents are invited to the party in the former children's home of the provincial village. On the evening of the celebration, Gudrun learns that the mayor wants to sell the empty manor house to investors in order to give the village a future. Economic perspective or selling out one's own history? The villagers' opinions differ on this question. For Gudrun, who still feels very attached to this place, this is a loss she does not want to accept. Her struggle for her own past and identity increasingly strains the already difficult relationship with her daughter, who has travelled from Berlin.


As a native of Gifhorn, your participation in the Braunschweig International Film Festival is really a home game for you in a way. How does it feel to have your film screened in the Heimspiel series? Especially against the background that your film also deals with the question "What is home?"


Katharina Marie Schubert: Yes, that's right. Well, I'm very happy that it's running there. I was born in Gifhorn, but was immediately carried out of the Gifhorn hospital and brought to Braunschweig, so it's really a home game for me because I grew up there. Because my parents still live in Braunschweig, this is of course a nice additional opportunity to visit them and yes, I am curious to see how the film is received and how the people of Braunschweig like it. 


In a way, one could say that your work is an autoreflexive film: a German woman talks about German history, or more precisely: the GDR. Can't we ask polemically: Isn't the subject boring and endlessly negotiated by now?


Katharina Marie Schubert:

Well, I obviously didn't find it boring! And then it is the case that the former GDR is told differently in our film than has predominantly been the case up to now. Neither the STASI nor the fall of the Wall nor any of the usual sensational topics are featured. Rather, it is the story of an East German town in 1999 and the everyday problems and residues that result from such an extreme upheaval. I was interested in these questions, "Where do the misunderstandings between East and West come from?", "What is our recent history and does it define us?"  - that hasn't been explored that much in film so far.  Until now, the former GDR has been portrayed as a "STASI country with shoot-to-kill orders", but what it means that a political system and thus all the things that are taken for granted change has been less of an issue. This is almost a migrant experience: while in West Germany only the postcode has changed, as is always said. This is a very big experience that many people in our country have had, and I think it also has to do with young people, because this is of course the identity of our country. The topic of loss of identity is very topical with regard to North Rhine-Westphalia, for example. There, the coal miners have to stop mining their coal, among other things because of climate protection. This is and was for many years the identity and pride of thousands of families. Now they have to give it all up. These are, I think, similar experiences that one makes there, and they are told through the story of the film.


In general, would you say that in "The Girl with the Golden Hands" this identity complex is the aspect of the subject matter that interests her most?


Katharina Marie Schubert: Identity and meaning! As I said, I am also of the opinion that there are enough films about the order to shoot, about the GDR as a criminal state in such a lurid, plot-driven horror manner. Of course, something like this is great for a two-parter on television: Injustice in the GDR. But I think there are enough films about that. I don't mean to say that it shouldn't still be dealt with seriously, no. Then I think that of course it is above all about identity; about identity that is taken away from you or valued differently. That's one of the experiences that people from the East had to make on a massive scale: "What you've done all your life" - let it be 40 years, it was all worthless. Your whole life is worthless or was dedicated to the wrong thing." It is understandable that there is resistance to this and that misunderstandings and sensitivities arise. But what was much more interesting for me were the experiences we had with the film at the Munich Film Festival.  Because the subject matter does not seem to be completely foreign in Bavaria either. It seemed to me that these were experiences that occur to a greater or lesser extent in every life. That's why there is such a big conflict between mother and daughter. The mother doesn't understand the daughter and vice versa. Because this "becoming unimportant" also happens within a lifetime. You're young, you think: "I'm turning the world upside down!", and then you're 50 or 60 and you have children and then the children suddenly say to you: "You're so boring." and "What you think is all wrong and we're turning the world upside down now." That can also cause pain, that is also a loss of identity, so suddenly you are no longer the doers, but the old people who are actually no longer needed, whose opinions no longer seem important. That is also a painful experience in the sense of "you are no longer needed, you are no longer important".


Identities, as we have now established, are central to this film and this whole theme, in other words: Who am I? Who am I dealing with? On a meta-level, that is also the case with films. Based on that, I wonder if there is a backstory to how you came up with the idea for the film.


Katharina Marie Schubert: I've always had a great affinity for Eastern European filmmakers. In Romania, for example, there is the so-called New Romanian School; these are incredibly great films. In recent years, I have always been totally interested in and touched by this. Now, the political and social problems in Romania, for example, which is a really corrupt and deeply divided country, seem to be much greater than in our rich country where there was already a political system that the East simply joined. Nevertheless, these films made me think about what it is that defines us, what occupies us. The last great historical event after the Nazi era was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of two divided parts of the country, of two very different systems, which was also divided into winners and losers. What actually happened there? To what extent does this continue in our everyday life and in our identity, and what was actually the trigger? To take a look, to ask: What was actually lost? What was perhaps also gained? For me, the whole thing is based on the fact that the main character Gudrun - the film begins on the evening of her sixtieth birthday - was born in 1940, which means that she is above all a child of the Nazi era. That, in turn, is something she has in common with my father, who was born around the same time, but in Hamburg. That means that the first years, the big imprint, the whole childhood was spent in a system that both East and West Germans know and in which discipline and obedience played a big role. In West Germany this has supposedly been worked through and in East Germany a new system has emerged - but the old "virtues" of discipline, punctuality, selflessness - have been adopted and a new political system has exploited them.  The common root, however, is the Nazi era, that is still a defining root of us, otherwise we wouldn't have such Nazi problems in Germany. That's why East Germany was interesting, because everything was overturned there and you no longer had any certainties. People came and were promised a great certainty: "You're super, you may be Ossis but you're still better than all the other ... foreigners". That this was the easy answer and that one is susceptible to it, that is "understandable", not to be approved of, but first understandable as a reflex. That is still what defines us, so to speak, and that was my basic consideration for the film.


This is definitely a topic that affects everyone in some way, especially the elderly in some way, and is therefore a potential minefield. What problems did you encounter when conceptualising and producing the film? Also against the background that this is your debut film.


Katharina Marie Schubert:

There weren't so many problems. I started writing the film and when I found the producer and we said "We're doing it!" it took just under a year from "We're doing it now!" to the first day of shooting. That means that the topic was also well received by the editors. Of course I did a lot of research and talked to contemporary witnesses and got advice, because I didn't live there myself. I wanted to strike the right note. Then there was certainly luck and coincidence and, of course, Corinna Harfouch's agreement to play the lead role.

Organisationally - that's perhaps a bit more exciting: the film is set in 1999, just before the millennium, so to speak. So we had to find an old children's home or an old mansion and streets and so on where it looks like it did in East Germany in 1999. But now, if you go to East Germany, everything is freshly renovated or in too much disrepair. That means it was not so easy to find a place that was in the right condition. We had to go back and forth a lot and sort of piece it together. So, where do you find something where you can still see a little bit of the GDR and at the same time everything doesn't look extremely dreary. That wasn't impossible, but it was an exciting task. It was also a lot of fun and you always discover a lot. We discovered the city of Zeitz, which is in Saxony-Anhalt, but only half an hour away from Leipzig by train and a beautiful old city. Parts of it are completely dilapidated. That's because of a Dutch investor who bought a whole street in 1989 and hasn't touched it since. That means this street is falling apart and it really looks like the former GDR. That was crazy, of course. You immediately come across other stories and monstrosities. For example, that the Dutch investor waits until everything is full in Leipzig and a half-hour train ride becomes attractive to live in a very beautiful city, only to sell these streets with their beautiful old Gründerzeit villas.


What you just described sounds like a process of constant relearning, of always discovering something new. What was the one aspect where you were most surprised, perhaps also by yourself, during the filming?


Katharina Marie Schubert: Being an actress, I knew the acting side of filming quite well. I found it most amazing to experience what it's like to stand on the other side of the camera and watch your colleagues act and direct. That is, to discuss how you want what, how you do what best, what that means in terms of content. I understood my profession in a completely different way and I was also infinitely grateful to the actors for their work. As an actress, I'm always extremely pragmatic: I think I'll go there, I'll do it, of course I'll do it well and with passion, but you don't have to applaud me a thousand times for it - that's just my job! But standing on the other side, as a director, I suddenly wanted to hug and applaud them all the time, because I found them so incredible. That they make themselves so available, that they learn their lines, that they are there, that they make an effort, that they ask questions. I found that crazy. I learned to love and appreciate the profession and the people who do it in a completely different way. That's one of the things I found most surprising.


You have already mentioned that you are an actress yourself and that you have a connection to the topic through your acquaintances. To what extent did the topic and your previous career have an influence on the choice of actors?


Katharina Marie Schubert: It has to be said that I have already acted with 99% of the actors* or that I have known them for some time. Actually, Peter René Lüdicke and Jörg Schüttauf are the only ones I didn't know personally before and with whom you know what they can do and with whom you can be sure that if I drop out completely, it will still be good. I think I do have a certain taste in actors - there's a certain depth to it. I think you can see very quickly how good someone is, and it was great that so many incredibly talented actors and actresses took part. They did, of course, because they knew me as a colleague and wanted to support me and, I think, because they liked the book. Because it is an unusual story about the former GDR and East Germany after the fall of the Wall, but more about: What is life?


I can understand that very well. Finally, I have a very last obligatory question for you: Is there anything you hope for the future of the film?


Katharina Marie Schubert: Yes, I probably have to say the same boring thing that everyone says: I wish and hope so much that the cinema survives! When I go to the cinema in Kreuzberg - there are two or three great arthouse cinemas there (FSK or the Babylon in Dresdener Strasse) - I always have the feeling that all is well with the world because the films I watch there are sold out. But then I look at the Germany-wide numbers of films that I think are great, and then I see: they don't show up at all. That means arthouse film was already having a hard time before Corona and will have it even harder now. That's horrible for people like me, because I love those films so much. Because I'm so happy to see great, challenging, great films by smart people from all over the world, and the idea that this is no longer happening is an absolute horror for me. Especially in Germany, where there seems to be so little love for arthouse cinema, I wish that the people in charge, by the way also from television, would wake up and realise that subsidies are there to make films that may not find a big audience at first, but can still have a big impact in the long run. You don't have to subsidise a film that brings in a lot of money anyway, like the films of Matthias Schweighöfer or Til Schweiger - these are just a few of the many names that can be mentioned. I don't want to attack them at all, because it is important that they make their films and there is obviously a large audience for them. But there is also a large audience that wants to see other films - and if not throughout Germany, then throughout Europe. It shows how many people are awarded prizes internationally. In other countries, the percentage is much higher: Denmark has six million inhabitants and is constantly represented at some international film festival or other, and we constantly see Danish films that win Oscars. It can't be that all German filmmakers are more untalented than Danish filmmakers. No, it has something to do with the system and I hope people realise that.


That is a very nice closing statement. Thank you very much for the interview!

[Translate to Englisch:] © Patrick Slesiona

[Translate to Englisch:] © Andreas Rudolph

[Translate to Englisch:] © Patrick Slesiona