Officially Selected Alumni Interviews

Paul Philipp: Lift-Off Filmmaker Interview

German Filmmaker Paul Philipp’s short “The Peculiar Abilities of Mr Mahler” tackles issues of politics and family in Germany 1987. This brilliantly gripping mystery will screen at Berlin Lift-Off Film Festival on Friday 9th February at 8:45pm at the Union Filmtheater as part of the Local Filmmakers Showcase. We interviewed director Paul to hear a little more about how this film came to be, and his path as a filmmaker.

Interview by Sneh Rupra

First of all, how did it feel seeing The Peculiar Abilities of Mr Mahler honoured at the Lift-Off Season Awards? 

Being awarded at one of the biggest and most prestigious film festival networks with two Season Awards was unbelievable because we did not expect it at all!

How did you come across the idea behind this film?

When I became a father, I was confronted with the fear of losing the most valuable thing: my child. So I started researching the topic of how children disappear. Then I stumbled across an unbelievable topic, and the idea was born.

What is it about short film as a medium that drew you for this project?

Since we wanted to concentrate on the subject in just one situation, it was clear that the story would have more impact if it was not too long.

How did you go about casting such a unique and charismatic title role?

Not being shy to ask a famous and very charismatic actor, and then being very obstinate in convincing him that this character will be something special for him. Luckily we were right, and André has already won 10 awards for `best actor´ in his role as Mr Mahler.

The period styling (clothes, cars, etc.) creates such a strong atmosphere – how did you go about getting that so perfect?

With a short film budget we did not have the possibility to get all the original styling and production design from that specific period. But we had a very creative team, and in the end we just used very striking props from the original period and stuffed everything around it with things that had the same feeling, atmosphere, and look, so hardly anyone can notice the difference.

Were there any unexpected challenges you faced during production?

A week before we started shooting the owner of the exterior house location told us that he had changed his mind and did not want us to shoot around his house. At that point we were quite frustrated because we had to stick to our time slot, since the actors just had these few days. So the challenge was to find a new house within a few days, otherwise we would have had to cancel the film as it was planned.

The score is such a vibrant part of this film – how did you go about getting the perfect sound?

The composer started to develop a mood which describes the main character. When we had the feeling that we found it, we then started to find a instrument and melody for each emotion of the other characters. For example, a different melody was composed for the sadness of the boy, the sadness of the mother, and her hope, and so on. Because the film is more or less an ensemble play in one room, an intimate play, we decided to use just a chamber orchestra, so the volume fits the small setting of the film.

How has the experience of making this film changed your perception of the history involved?

Making that film did not change my perspective, but I think that history in general is never “old”. It can always be new, or new aspects can rise out of history by combining and comparing things in a new way. This can bring new aspects to the surface, even when everybody thinks that everything has been said about it.

Are you looking forward to screening The Peculiar Abilities of Mr Mahler in Berlin?

Our film being screened in Berlin is always something special, first of all because the film is set in Berlin and we shot a lot of scenes here. And secondly because our film received its first award in Berlin. So it always feels like coming home to the roots of Mahler here in Berlin.

Tickets are now on sale for Berlin Lift-Off, where “The Peculiar Abilities of Mr Mahler” will be screening.

View the programme and buy tickets here.