Interaction - Reinhard Astleithner and Mrigankasekhar


Here we come with two film directors sharing their ideas, views & thoughts on both of their films- 'Projectionists' directed by Reinhard Astleithner from Austria and 'Stark Electric Jesus' directed by Mrigankasekhar Ganguly(& Hyash Tanmoy) from India.

MRIGANKASEKHAR: When I started to watch your film, for the first time, I thought it to be a documentary. The actors are so lively, so down to earth. I never felt that I’m watching fiction. And both of you acted so natural. The story is very simple and nowhere had you tried to give any kind of message or anything like that in your film. You did not try to make it complicated. Most of alI I loved your film’s simplicity. My films are very different from yours- experimental ones, and if we try to compare these two genres of our films, they are completely different. What’s your view(s)?

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: I thought about it a lot. Technically our films are quite different genres, and at first glance, thematically we have created different pieces. But our common denominator is the attempt to translate our feelings and our concerns into moving pictures, things that matter to us, things that occupy our thoughts. I'd like to think that both of us try to share our feelings with the world, in order to get rid of some of our inner turmoil. But, I guess your films deal with more severe issues than mine. Your themes seem to be more global, broader, and much more important to the human race; whereas my films deal with individual problems.

MRIGANKASEKHAR: In my film Stark Electric Jesus, a number of references, metaphors, Indian myth and Baul philosophy have been used and it’s an imagery kind where I try to express my emotions through images. I must say from own experience that this film has turned out to be very complex to common people, while your film is for everyone. But it might be that in this way I loved it. Others may or may not love it for the same reason. What strikes me is you never tried to deliver any direct message, but audiences received the messages anyhow. I was a part throughout your journey and hoped that "we" find the cinema your protagonists are looking for. I think that most of the audiences would be engaged with your film the same way.

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: See, this is what we have in common as well. We fill our movies with references and metaphor. A lot of autobiographical themes get used. I tried to create a moving diary about my life, my hopes, my dreams and my fears. In this case "moving" has a lot of meanings. "Moving pictures"- emotionally moving... moving as in Road Movie. Most of what you’ve seen has really happened in my life. But everything is heightened and dramatized. In German, a poet is called "Dichter", which literally means "denser"; as in compress. And I think that film has to compress, distill, and condense. So you have seen fifteen years of my life in just 86 minutes, filled up with thoughts and themes that mattered to me. And most still matter. But I like to think that I’ve played a caricature of myself and my life. But what you do, you show the hard reality. The heightened version of the world that surrounds you.

MRIGANKASEKHAR: But one thing happened to me. I showed my film to two types of people. First, people who study film and secondly, the common people who don’t know how to make movies. The first one appreciated it, but the second one didn’t. Can you throw some light on why this could be? 

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: I think that your film has unsettled many things in your viewers. It presses buttons a lot of people don’t want to get pressed. Your film asks questions. It even questions our existence. It is hard viewing. You experience blood, death, sexuality, tradition, myth, pain… Most people want to have a quiet life, a painless life. Showing things that are challenging, disturbs most of them. Modern mainstream movies for instance do not ask such questions. They offer easy solutions to easy problems. And in the end, the man defeats the dragon and loves the princess. A happy ending. No questions remain.

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: Really? How was it? Has it become better or worse, the second time around?

MRIGANKASEKHAR: It feels I’m seeing my friends after long time again.

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: Aaaw. That's nice. Thank you. That’s such a fine compliment. I found it to become more about details and rhythm, when you already know what’s going to happen. Especially the music becomes more important, the more you see my film.

MRIGANKASEKHAR: Yes that happens from the beginning. Mainly I concentrated on the music and how it connects the visuals. I wonder that you say the same thing!

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: While editing the movie I had to see scenes hundreds of times. So I really put a lot of effort in the details of editing. And I had to maintain a distance to myself from the "actor-me". My theatre work taught me to watch scenes always for the first time, even if you've seen them a hundred times. So I think that I can see my own work through new eyes. Or, even more importantly, through the eyes of the people who are watching it with me. Sometimes I invite friends to see rough cuts. So I can see my movies through their eyes and get a new perspective on everything.

MRIGANKASEKHAR: Yes and what I think, actually there is only one thing in the world or in the universe; all of us see all of these because of others’ eyes.

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: That brings me to a saying that all the stories are already within us. And books and paintings and films- all these just remind us of them. So it’s more like uncovering and discovering. I always say that when for the first time you watch a movie you should watch it with the belly. And for the second time, watch it with your brain. Therefore I drink wine or beer before a premiere so that my head reacts slower, and emotions get heightened. Hunter S. Thompson said: "I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me." I do not do drugs. But a glass of wine before visiting the cinema works for me.

MRIGANKASEKHAR: Actually what I’ve noticed, when I see a movie, a good movie, I don't have to do anything. The movie behaves like a master, it instructs my emotions, my brain and my body. I am just a toy to it.

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: But that only works when you trust the cinema and you let yourself taken away. This takes humility and respect. And I feel that that is getting lost. Everybody thinks he is a film critic. Everybody becomes a specialist and tries to show that he is bitter about what he sees. The joy and the wonder are getting lost. My heart still beats faster when the cinema hall gets dark and you hear the fanfares of the distributor.

MRIGANKASEKHAR: I always watch a film for enjoyment. I just can’t remember who said it that when a person cannot do anything in any subject he becomes a critic.

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: I feel a lot of people become sarcastic in order to shield themselves from getting hurt. But that is at the wrong direction. We should embrace emotions and be proud of our imperfections. We are not machines. We are unfinished. And that makes us so interesting. But a critic needs to criticize. Or copy the review of another critic…

MRIGANKASEKHAR: What I believe, I should be honest in every step of my life. When I watch a film, when I make a film, when I write a review of a film and art is for relaxation. I do not know why people take pressures.

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: Mostly they try to protect themselves. So many people think they are not enough. So they develop protective mechanisms. What I learned in my late twenties is that if people behave mean to you it’s not your fault. But what stays is, that they are mean people. So if someone acts like an asshole that does not make you small or incompetent or irrelevant. But this someone is still an asshole.

MRIGANKASEKHAR: I like Projectionists for its honesty. I never feel that there is anything imposed. All are so natural and never pretend to be natural.

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: Yes. I tried to show a naive hero, someone who is unsure of himself but has lots of passion and heart. I think that brings many viewers on his side because they wish they could be as passionate as him. And Penki, the second hero, is like a mirror image. He is cynical. But he also goes on this adventure. So he can be emotional through Asti. And together they are one "perfect" human being. Emotion and rationalism stay together. And that pretty much represents me as a filmmaker and a person. Like my parents, one is the emotional part and one the rational part. And I still bounce between those two frontiers. When you make a movie you try to produce feelings. But to achieve that you have to control the technical side as well.

MRIGANKASEKHAR: When you uttered in the film that your father died, I felt for a while that your father really died.

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: Well, thank you. That was acting. But I got this feeling out of a real experience. My father had a brain tumor and he had to have it removed. The family had to say goodbye to him because it could have happened that he wouldn't wake up anymore after having surgery. Fortunately everything went fine. But I had the experience of having to say farewell to my father. And I tried to process that artistically in my first feature film.

MRIGANKASEKHAR: And one thing I noticed that both of you hold the emotion from the first minute to the last one which never fell down or went up. 

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: As we are not actors, we always tried to be as natural as possible. So if something happened while improvising we never stopped, or did not know how to proceed. We just reacted. And we never got loud. Only intense. Because being loud and acting natural is really hard.

MRIGANKASEKHAR: A few days ago you said you are busy with a theatre production and I saw some photographs. Do you have a theatre group?

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: Yes. We just showed our play Platinherzen for the second time. The title in English would be Platinum Hearts. It’s about eight people having a get together at a big party. Everybody from nerd to rich girl meet. And then it gets complicated and ugly. Thousands of pupils saw it. And that makes me happy. I think it's awesome that we could show theatre to young people and maybe plant a little seed in them.

MRIGANKASEKHAR: Are you the director of that play? Who are the actors?

REINHARD ASTLEITHNER: Yes. I wrote it with one of the actors and directed it. The group is a healthy mix. We have actors, people from musicals, improvisationists and amateurs. But again we looked for veracity. And I think we accomplished it. Funny dialogues and big problems. That's our thing.