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Berlinale Women Directors: Meet Anja Marquardt

Interviews
by Melissa Silverstein
February 7, 2014 12:00 PM
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"She's Lost Control."

Writer-director Anja Marquardt was born and raised in Berlin when the city was still divided in two. Her personal and national background have strongly shaped her artistic interests. "Having felt the impact of decades of disruption on my own family, I am far more interested in acceptance and reconciliation than in keeping up walls," she says.

Ronah, the protagonist of Marquardt's debut She's Lost Control, is a sexual surrogate like Helen Hunt's character in The Sessions. But Marquardt's film focuses on her sex-surrogate character's inability to open up and trust others, while still attempting to make a positive impact on her patients' lives. 

Partially funded by Kickstarter, the English-language film is a compassionate story about human connection forged in spite of modern alienation. It will play at the Berlin International Film Festival and South by Southwest. 

Please give us your description of the film.

She's Lost Control is a simple story that I think will take audiences places that they didn't expect. It's not a love story, really, more an anti-love story. There are two people who meet under peculiar circumstances. There is the human desire to connect and feel close to another person, but it's not that easy to achieve. One of the sparks to this film came when I read an article about a Japanese geriatrics care facility that uses robots to "caress" patients. "Professional intimacy" -- this idea that there is a separate, slick, exhilarating but also dangerous alternative to "real" intimacy -- is what drew me to making this film. I'm really interested in human/machine interfaces and interaction.

What made you write this story?

When writing the script, the basic grid of the story was clear very early on. I was curious to explore exactly how strong, self-sufficient, insightful and courageous someone like Ronah needs to be in order to teach their clients how to be intimate. It's really a position of power that she's in, but at the same time it's very vulnerable. I became interested in looking at what she is going through, and what she's getting out of it -- something essential that her profession is giving her. She's a surrogate partner, but at the same time her work is a substitute for something else in her life that's missing.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film? 

Casting this film, especially the lead role, was a journey. My casting director Allison Twardziak and I had a real sense of how Ronah should be. We looked at a lot of up-and-coming actresses in NYC, but it wasn't so easy to find her because she needed to be mature enough to carry the role, yet independent and fearless enough to be on set fully nude. There's this thing called the "nudity rider" that's a part of the contract with any SAG actor when nudity is involved, and I had to convince people that it wasn't my intention to make porn or be gratuitous. At some point I realized that we have to either limit the nudity to "above waist" or cast an actress who doesn't have an agent. I was prepared to go for the latter, but then Brooke [Bloom] happened. I have to thank Robert Longstreet (who plays C.T.) for introducing me to her. Suddenly, I saw the movie. Brooke was working in LA at the time and then was scheduled to be in NY for a play. I ended up pushing the shoot for 6 months so I could work with her.

What advice do you have for other female directors? 

Probably the same advice I would give to anyone. It's all-consuming and it never ends, so you better find a way to enjoy the process. In quoting Steven Soderbergh, gather people around you who know what they're doing (and, you like what they're doing). Mutual respect is key. I was very fortunate on She's Lost Control that I was able to work with an amazing creative team and crew, many of whom are dear friends. 

Make good movies! Take risks! But then, I'm not sure other female directors need any of this advice. To anyone who wants to make films, or is working towards their first feature, there's no reason why you can't make a film right now. The mechanisms have changed, but it's not been this easy to make a first feature since maybe the 70s.

What's the biggest misconception about you and your work?

I don't think I've been in this deep enough to have encountered misconceived notions about what it is I'm trying to do. I'll probably have a different answer after our premiere! As a filmmaker you try to set the language of how people talk about your work, but there's no guarantee. Thinking about my next film and the stories I'm developing, it would be a misconception to think that I'm focused on female protagonists, psycho-paranoia, and sex. I don't really plan on revisiting any of that, but I guess who knows. Before She's Lost Control I had never directed any type of sex scene, and going forward I'd love to be able to try other things.

Do you have any thoughts on what are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films? 

My thoughts about this are fragmented and there are far more qualified people who are having this discussion. Is TV, which wasn't initially a director-driven medium, becoming more like what independent film used to be? That's exciting. Will audiences ever want to binge-watch independent films? Probably not. Personally, I think it's an almost super-human challenge to be the director that can do it all, promote and sell their own work, much like Orson Welles as the trumpet-playing drum-kit music maker from F as in Fake. It's a certain kind of film that can be made this way. 

On a practical note, it could be cool to have some sort of cloud-based collection agency for smaller independent films.

Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

This is tougher than I thought. I've always loved the films of Kathryn Bigelow and her ability to create hybrid narratives that are infused with a very specific tone and extremely eclectic as a whole. The idea of Strange Days, of course, but also Point Break, which always surprises me. The question of male or female perspectives never seems to enter the equation for her, which is also something I relate to. I love Maren Ade's first feature, The Forest For the Trees, love Andrea Arnold's work, and one of my all-time favorites is a film from the 60s, Zur Sache, Schatzchen, by May Spils. I'm also excited about Claudia Llosa's new film, Aloft, premiering at this year's Berlinale.

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