Axel Ranisch must be one of the busiest directors in German cinema with a career that also encompasses opera, theatre, television, and radio.In June alone, he saw his latest film ORPHEA IN LOVE open in German cinemas, his staging of Handel’s oratorio SAUL being the last production at Berlin’s Komische Oper before its closure for renovation, the world premiere of two episodes from his first TV series NAKED ABOVE BERLIN in the New German TV Movies sidebar at the 40th edition of Filmfest München, and serving as one of the jury members for the Filmfest’s CineRebels competition. But his journey to becoming a filmmaker was more by accident than a conscious plan. “As a young boy, I was more interested in going to the opera,” the self-confessed classical nerd says. “And when I applied to take part in a theatre workshop in Brandenburg one summer, all the places were booked up, but there were some free in a video workshop.”
“In the first week, I began to learn how to make films using a mini-DV camera and a simple editing system, and saw how I could bring all the disciplines together in one place: think up a story, put music on the soundtrack, act a role like in the theatre, and compose images.” From that moment on, he was infected by the film bug and couldn’t imagine doing anything else in the future other than making films. “Seeing Andreas Dresen’s GRILL POINT was a real inspiration for me. It was so new and different, and so naturalistic and warm that I thought if I could be able to make films I would like to make them like that one,” Ranisch recalls.
Initially, he trained as a media educator working on film projects with inmates in prisons or with school children. “It was like a film school in itself and the most influential period in my development as a filmmaker because it enabled me to improvise, and work with amateurs and not be afraid of doing this.” His formal training as a director then came when he started studies at the Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf in 2004. “Within the first two weeks, I had gathered my own film family together and they are the ones I’ve made all films ever since – editor, DoP, sound mixer, sound designer, production designer and producer,” Ranisch says.
His graduation film DICKE MÄDCHEN premiered at the Hof International Film Festival in October 2011 when he was hailed as a leading exponent of the German mumblecore subgenre along other filmmakers such as brothers Jakob and Tom Lass. A year later, he founded his own production company Sehr gut Filme with fellow students Dennis Pauls and Anne Banker and the actor Heiko Pinkowski, and followed his debut with such films as ICH FÜHL MICH DISCO (2013) and ALKI ALKI (2015) and FAMILIE LOTZMANN AUF DEN BARRIKADEN (2016) for television. “The joy of spontaneity and the enthusiasm for the moment always play a big role for me,” he explains. “Another common trait in my films is that music plays a very important role – in fact, I always start them all with first having the music.”
“I’m a student of Rosa von Praunheim and he drilled into us that we should tell stories about things we have a clue about, i.e. not that every film has to be autobiographical, but it makes sense to tell stories about things that come from our own world of experience,” Ranisch continues. “So, that’s my very first approach whenever I read a script is to see what my perspective would be and how to tell the story in an authentic way.” Moreover, he isn’t a filmmaker who likes working only in a particular genre: “I am not a fan of pigeonholes. I like to mix genres and you can see that especially in ORPHEA IN LOVE and my series NAKED OVER BERLIN. It’s hard to categorise it because there’s a bit of thriller here, then there’s coming of age, a family story, and a musical strand, of course. And that’s actually what I enjoy doing is having this mixture of genres.”
Meanwhile, Ranisch has plenty on the boil in the coming months. This December will be the premiere at the Berliner Ensemble of the comedy MUTTI, WAS MACHST DU DA?, written with husband Paul Zacher, and they are currently developing their audio play ANTON UND PEPE for a TV series. In addition, June 2024 will see the premiere of his staging for the Komische Oper of Gerd Natschinski’s “GDR operetta” MESSESCHLAGER GISELA, with Gisa Flake and Thorsten Merten, one of the leads in NAKED OVER BERLIN.