Still from "In Between Worlds"
Still from "In Between Worlds"

Writer-director Feo Aladag's In Between Worlds was one of four German films to compete for the Golden Bear at this year's Berlinale. The Vienna-born filmmaker has been a European director to watch since her directorial debut When We Leave was selected as Germany's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film for the 2011 Oscars. 

Earlier this month, I wrote from Berlin, "Aladag takes a huge step forward with In Between Worlds, her second feature. I was very much a fan of her first film When We Leave, which dealt with 'honor killings,' but the scope and structure of this film is much larger and more complex. In this work, she ponders issues of masculinity, war, and Germany's place in a changing world.... 

"It's interesting to see a war movie from a female perspective. There are explosions, but it's really not about the explosions. Rather, it's about what connects people through war and how soldiers who are told to follow orders at all costs sometimes just can't do it."

Aladag answered some questions (by email) about her fascinating new film, why war has become a taboo topic, and the hardest thing about making a film in Afghanistan.

Please give us your description of your film. 

German soldier Jesper signs up for a mission in Afghanistan, despite having lost his brother during an operation in that war-torn country. Jesper and his squad are assigned to protect a village outpost from increasing Taliban influence. With the help of young and inexperienced interpreter Tarik, Jesper seeks the trust of the local community and the allied Afghani militia. More than ever, he discovers the immense differences between the two worlds. When the lives of Tarik and his sister Nala are threatened by the Taliban, conflicted Jesper is torn between his military obligations and his conscience.

What made you write this story?

The urge to break the taboo of telling a story about [active] German soldiers deployed to a war-torn country. Why has there been no contemporary German movie featuring German soldiers in action? The Third Reich dominates storytelling in German cinema in regards to Germany's soldiers. It seemed time to shift perspective and move beyond the trauma. It's vital to communicate, to tell stories, to trigger some sort of dialogue and empathy by generating options of identification. 

Too much of unreflected "United We Stand" makes me shiver, but too little respect for commitment and bravery makes me feel worse. It somehow seemed unfair to me how the work of German soldiers was being reflected in German society. This was my starting point. During the two years of my research on this project I became more and more intrigued by Afghanistan and its people. The more I educated myself on the needs of all sides of this conflict, the clearer it became to me where to look for the core of my story. 

Being in between cultures played a big part in the story, but also in how we created this film. Eventually, we discovered that there were more similarities than differences on the human level. There was a lot of respect, loyalty and humor involved in the making of this film. If this film makes a political statement, it is probably the hope that the sacrifices on all sides may lead to a somewhat better future for Afghanistan and its people.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

As a producer: Ensuring cooperation with the German army via a collaboration with the German and Afghan political systems and facilitating the biggest possible security for [crew] and cast.

As a writer: Dealing with the complexity of thematic aspects.

A a director: Shooting in such a complex shooting environment as Afghanistan.

What advice do you have for other female directors?

It would be the same advice I'd also give a male director: Trust your instincts. Express yourself. Be bold. Be brave. Never -- ever -- give up. Focus on your vision but always be open -- to  new ideas, changes and options: be and create in the moment.

What's the biggest misconception about you, as a female director, and your work?

Blonds can't shoot. 

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

The Internet allows smaller films to be seen by a broader audience, which gives them a valuable platform. On the other hand, it raises a lot of questions regarding rights that still need to be solved. Also, it seems that medium-budget films are getting harder to finance and that what we end up with are very low-budget ones or big-budget blockbusters. It's vital to also have the medium-budget films and keep theatrical distribution of those alive. 

Name your favorite women directed film and why.

I don't have one particular favorite film either by a female or a male director, but rather many films that I love and which influenced me in my work and life. But if I had to name some films directed by women which impressed me more than others, they would be Claire Denis' Beau Travail, Chantal Akermann's Jeanne Dielman, Magarethe von Trotta's Die Bleierne Zeit [Marianne and Juliane], and Susanne Bier's Efter brylluppet [After the Wedding] because of how these directors approached their characters in those films and the long-lasting moments they create in their work.