90 Grad Nord – Detsky Graffam
A stunningly realized, bizarre and ultimately horrifying fantasy about a deadly traffic island in the middle of a German forest and the attempts of it’s prisoners to escape it’s lethal embrace…
Winner of the Silver Busho at the Budapest Short Film Festival, 90 Grad Nord screens at the ESFF on Friday 13th November.
Q1 Tell us about the inspiration behind 90 Grad Nord and what drove you to make the short film?
The inspiration for 90 Grad Nord (90 Degrees North) came when I saw Germans wait religiously at pedestrian lights. It’s 5 o’clock in the morning, there’s no car in sight and you’ll still find three Germans huddled together in the winter chill waiting for the green man. It made me think about systems and rules. Traffic lights are often used as an analogy for democracy. As one of the characters in the film says, they “regulate the harmonious interchange between vehicles and pedestrians” – they keep society in order. But what happens if these systems turn against you? How long do you hold on to the rules? What do you need to do to survive in the face of an evil system intent on destroying you…such as a man-eating traffic island? The film took a heck of a lot of time and energy to make. What drove us on was a sustaining enthusiasm for the images and story. Beyond the high ideas of systems, democracy and what not, I think we’ve all been on our own metaphorical evil traffic island. Times where all seems to conspire against us and we’re stuck. It takes some ingenuity and a fresh look at the situation to find hope for escape!
Q2 Clearly the sets and props for the film must have been challenging, tell us how you created the world of 90 Grad Nord?
We had a very strict colour palette for the film. Our stranded hero had to be surrounded by green (the pine forest) as he is waiting for the blasted green man! We liked the irony of that. We wanted the traffic light to have ownership of the colour red. So you’ll find very little red anywhere else. Merlin Ortner (production designer), Philip Wolf (VFX producer) and I were in agreement that everything had to be real and only slightly augmented by CGI. There were no green screens used or studio shoots. We invested a lot of the budget in live visual effects. After months of searching we found the ideal road on a remote disused Russian airfield in Brandenburg. The monster traffic island was built into the location by Merlin and his team. It had fully functioning and controllable traffic lights. The body-sucking grates were a live practical effect that was operated with hydraulics. The bodies were life-sized models which were pulled into the grates via wires, later speeded up, motion blurred and embellished with digital blood trails. We hired a black truck for a couple of days and filmed drive-by plates that were composited on top of plates of the actors being blasted with wind machines. The plan was to make it as real for the actors as possible and to avoid any digital sheen. It had to feel gritty and earthy.
Q3 What were the influences behind the film?
I always say: around one corner from the traffic island you’ll find the butchers from Delicatessen. Around the other you’ll find an open air cinema showing Spielberg’s Duel. Kafka’s beetle from Metamorphosis is scrabbling around somewhere in the forest and Terry Gilliam is having a picnic in a glade reading Grimm’s fairy tales.
Q4 The ending is slightly unsettling – almost as though you were planning a sequel! Would you consider re-visiting the idea?
I have had a few people say that they can see the film as a theatre play – Waiting for Godot but with a man-eating traffic island. But at the moment I want to move onto other stories – leave the island in peace in it’s forest…eating people. Perhaps we’ll have a reunion in 30 years time and make 90 Grad Nord the sequel. There’ll be interviews with a wizened Carsten Clemens (our lead) saying how great it feels to be back home. I don’t know where this is going…I’ve been watching too many Star Wars 7 trailers.
Q5 The action takes place over many months, how did you cope creating the changing seasons in 90 Grad Nord?
We wanted the film to take place in a Grimmesque-fairy-tale pine forest. This had the bonus side effect that we didn’t need to worry about falling or budding leaves between the seasons. For the winter scenes we used fake snow on the set. I never knew how many different materials can be used to create snow in it’s various guises. There’s celluloid, bubble-bath-like-foam and the icicles are made out of sugar. We shot the winter scenes last and then had to spend a good day cleaning away all the snow with huge hoovers from the grass and trees. Fun! Fun! Fun!
Q6 Do you hate traffic and motorways?
Yes. I also hate people who talk about traffic and motorways…and about their sat nav and how wrong it is or how accurate it is or what voice it uses – “I’ve installed Brian Blessed!” I want to live in Venice. I love boats.
Q7 What ambitions do you have for the film and what projects are you planning next?
Lots of people have told me that they always think about 90 Grad Nord when stood at a red pedestrian light. So if it’s helped further the cause of the green cross code then I suppose that’s a good thing. The film has already accomplished what we wanted it to do. It has won some awards. We got the attention of producers who want to work with us. Finally it’s taking us around the world to festivals where we’ve met and will meet a lot of talented filmmakers that we want to collaborate with. We are planning a black-comedy-sinister-modern-fairy-tale feature film set in a Berlin courtyard…it gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.