An Interview with Reinhard Astleithner


How did the idea of that story come to your mind?

After I had written, produced and directed lots of short movies and helped other filmmakers on their projects, I thought it was time to try a feature film.
I did not want to get funding for it in order to stay completely independent.
I had some money on the side (2500 Euros) and decided to begin writing a story I knew. And set in a world I had spent some years working in. At the same time I wanted to fill the story with as many things I care about as possible and ask questions I do not have all the answers to. This last thing was probably the wisest decision, as some themes stayed fresh with me for the next 18 months of producing PROJECTIONISTS.
As I worked as a projectionist in an English speaking cinema in Vienna I knew I could get access to some places most people would never see in their lives.
The next decision was about whether I should use actors and teach them to become projectionists or use myself in front of the camera and "pretend to act". I decided it would be easier to film myself. I could put the camera on a tripod and film myself while I worked.
Soon it was clear that with our limited resources and our Mini-DV camera there was no way to make the film look like a proper feature film....

When I watched the movie, I felt I was watching a documentary; is it a documentary itself or a fiction piece?

Because of our limitations we decided to have PROJECTIONISTS look like a documentary. This way we could get away with inferior picture quality and just-OK sound.
As one of my favorite films is BEST IN SHOW by Christopher Guest, I jumped at the opportunity to shoot large quantities of the film while improvising. We had a screenplay but more than 50% of the dialogue were improvised. We knew what each scene was about. We knew where we came from and where we had to be at the end, the rest was on the fly. In some ways, we shot a documentary because we often did not know what would happen next.
At the same time almost everything you see happened in my life before. Except the death of my father. He is still alive and well.
I used PROJECTIONISTS to end a chapter in my life using things that have been important to me and opened a new one with producing my first full length movie.
Therefore I cannot say whether we made a fiction film or a documentary. I would say it is rather on the fiction-side because if we had not filmed ourselves, we would not have acted that way. But we love it that a lot of people think everything happened for real.

It's a journey, a simple journey, yes it is meaningful to me in my way, but the director has his own thought, he wishes to tell something or to mean something that may differ from what the audience thinks. What did you want to tell to your audience, what message did you want to give? 

I love road movies. Every time I have a new idea for a story, I think about doing it as a road-movie. I don't know why. The feeling of having my protagonists going on a journey frees me, maybe, of having to find a dramatic arch for the whole film. I don't know.
Not only is a road movie a journey. It is also a hunt. And hunting for something always makes for an interesting film. Looking for the truth, or an answer, is archetypal.
PROJECTIONISTS is not only a story about my life but also shows my quest for answers.
Where do I come from? How much of who and what I am is heteronomous? Are my passions really my passions or are they things I got recognized for early on in my life?
In the end it is about one question: Who am I?
And I think that's one of the most basic questions there are out there.
At the same time I try to entertain my audience. I try to make them laugh and then imbue some information into them while they don't see it coming.
A big theme in my movie is the digital revolution in cinemas worldwide. I knew that soon analogue film would vanish and all the cinemas would project digital films. I wanted to capture the 35mm cinema on film and have some kind of time capsule I could look back to whenever I wanted. Since 2010, all our projectors have been digital and PROJECTIONSTS has acquired a new quality because of it. It is a window in times past.

What is the usefulness of the character who steals the lens?

He represents morals. And ethics. Also he becomes the antagonist. While "Penki" is at first a mix of the mentor and an antagonist we needed a personification of something that slows our hero down. Something he has to overcome and become the hero he is meant to be.
The hitchhiker also speaks in a very controlled manner and has a clear way of pronouncing. Almost like a caricature. So his way of speaking represents the rules and the law.

And how do you differentiate between the mentality of Asti from the thief’s as he also steals the lens?

A very good question.
As the hitchhiker represents ethics and morals, our hero seems to act unethically. Which he does. He steals from the cinema he loves. He explains that the cinema had a second lens but his actions are not OK.
They steal a lens for a 35 mm projector so he can show movies through the lens of his dream cinema, therefore giving all the customers in his cinema a little feeling of his dreams. On their way back though they pick up the hitchhiker who steals back the lens to show them that only with a pure heart the hero can get home.

What is the significance of that light stick?

Being a STAR WARS Fan I wanted to have a homage in my movie.
At the same time, STAR WARS is the father of modern storytelling. The journey of the hero has been perfected by George Lucas. He read Joseph Campbell's Book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" and wrote STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE working with that information. Since then almost all mainstream films are built with this recipe.
Which I find tragic. But I love Hollywood movies at the same time. I hope that this dilemma shows in my film.
Also, I find it really funny that a guy wants to hit someone with a light-saber. I've never seen that before.

Why did you put the scene of blood dripping from your nose?

The funny thing about that scene is that I had planned to have "Asti" bleed from his nose when he stands in front of the cinema for the first time to show that this moment is too intense for him. And that even his body cannot cope with all the emotions.
When we were there I decided that it would be too much.
Getting back into the car I suddenly started to bleed from the nose for real. We drove away and I said to the cameraman that he should start the camera again. We improvised the whole scene in the parking lot. Penki had no idea what happened and we got a very powerful scene that way.

There are a few minutes where it is shown how the projection is done. Why do you give importance to this? Yes, this is a story of a projectionist but how much necessary is it to show how a projectionist works and why his work is hard?

This had two reasons. I started filming myself and Penki doing our jobs. I started editing the material and I fell in love with those scenes. I wanted to document this kind of work.
The second reason was that I wanted the audience to believe that they are seeing a documentary. Not a feature film.

Why would people watch this film?

I guess it is a film for film lovers.
It's about a cinema in Vienna. And a "dream"-cinema in Italy. It is about two projectionists and the whole structure is borrowed from the hero's journey.
The more you know about film the better PROJECTIONISTS can be experienced.
But it is also a window into European culture and values.
Furthermore it is a story about everybody. Because everybody has dreams, hopes and fears.

Suppose I tell you to give marks to this film, out of ten. What will you give?

I give it a 7/10. I see a lot of flaws. And I think it is too long. But it has its heart in the right place, it is honest and the rhythm of the editing and the use of music is still pretty good.
Furthermore it has the additional power of nostalgia as analogue film disappears everywhere.
But giving one's own film a rating is not very humble. I don't like to do that. But I try to be honest and answer your questions.

Would you like to tell the readers the story line or let them wait to watch your film?

A little synopsis is OK I guess...

Asti is a projectionist in a cinema in Vienna, Austria.
We get to know him through interviews and seeing him at work.
He dreams of a cinema in Toscana (Tuscany), Italy...
His colleague, Penki, is rather down to earth. He looks at the world cynically.
One day Asti realizes that his dream can come true and he takes Penki with him on a road-trip to Italy that will change both of their lives.

Do you watch Indian films? If yes, name your favorites

Sadly no.
I'd seen a bunch of them some years ago, but I do not know their names anymore.
Since most of the Indian films that get to Austria are Bollywood musicals you either love them or leave them.
Also the length of many of them is considered epic here. 4 hours+ is a test.
I know that I am talking about a special genre but sadly we do not get to see other films from India.

Now they are available on websites, even a few of them on YouTube. But what do you think, despite having the largest film market, Indian films can not reach to the film lovers like you, where does the fault lie?

It's too much of a niche product.
Too specialized.
And some people say it is the same story over and over again in mild variations.
Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They can not be together. They find a way and live happily ever after.

Have you heard of Satyajit Ray? He got the Oscar award for lifetime achievement.

No. I don't think so.
If you could send me some film names, I could check out your list. Some important, good films.

You may watch Pather Panchali. But what I meant to say is that while I know the highest number of films are released from India each year, those films have no impact on world film lovers, as you said; why ? Where is the problem, you think?

As I said... I guess that it is too specialized.
Not for "every" taste. Like the American Mainstream. Those movies are built to entertain the maximum number of people.

Who is your favorite director in world cinema ?

There are so many.
David Fincher.
Spike Jonze.
Terry Gilliam.
Michael Mann.
Paul Thomas Anderson.
Steven Spielberg.

Why do you like them ?

Well, I trust them.
I watch movies almost every day. Sometimes three to four in one day.
And I like all of them. Even the bad ones. I like to lose myself in strange new worlds. In crazy morals. In stupid situations.
But if I trust a director he can do with me whatever he wants.
And if I don't get the movie (by those directors), I know that it is my "fault".
I guess it's a love affair. If P.T. Anderson releases a new movie my heart beats faster and I want to be near his film. I listen to it with wide eyes and I see it as naively as I can.
Well that sounds really weird. But everyone should try to see each film as if they have never seen a movie before.
Films should be seen with the belly. Not with the head.
Seeing it the second time… you should activate your brain. And analyze it.

What do you think about films of Austria ?

Austria has a big problem. It produces films almost nobody wants to see. At the same time almost all of the movies in Austrian cinemas are mainstream movies from the USA.
This means that the audience is indoctrinated by American values and movie making recipes. They do not know "quality" when they see it. School children do not learn about media but consume EVERYTHING via the internet.
This produces nodding media-sheep.
On the other hand Austria is well perceived as a "festival movie making country". Slow, depressing movies. Arthouse films. Documentaries. Those films are very high in quality but very very low in entertainment value.
So our image is really good. Our films are very distinct

Who is your favorite director from Austria?

Michael  Glawogger

What is the future of independent film in Austria ?

We have a very active independent scene in Austria. But it is hard for them to get a cinema release as there is no short film culture in Austria apart from the festivals.
And getting a start in cinemas is almost impossible as there is a 90% multiplex mono-culture going on.

Have you seen Benny's Video ?

Yes. I've seen it and it blew me away.
It was the first film by Michael Haneke that I saw and I was not quite prepared.
Later the DOP, Christian Berger, became a professor of mine and I had the chance to hear some details about how they shot certain scenes.
I later saw Funny Games which destroyed me. And now I love The White Ribbon. Michael Haneke is surely one of the most important filmmakers today. And I feel honoured to have been destroyed by him. Watching his movies and getting his opinions on two of my short film screenplays. ;)