“Cinema is the form that offers viewers more culture and sense of home than the world of streaming services”, director and author Kilian Riedhof asserts in a decisive statement. But there are good reasons for the fifty-one-year-old’s standpoint. After all, his film YOU WILL NOT HAVE MY HATE celebrated its world premiere in front of thousands of viewers on the Piazza Grande at Locarno Film Festival. “Series that you watch at home can’t offer you anything like that,” as he aptly points out.
Riedhof does not focus on flashy entertainment with superficial stimuli, but on a “cinema that moves people and in doing so does not shy away from reflection”. YOU WILL NOT HAVE MY HATE is an ideal example of this. The film is based on the memoirs of the French journalist Antoine Leiris, whose wife was killed in the terrorist attack at the Paris Bataclan club in 2015. “This material is extremely suited to cinema because it shows the impact of terrorism on a family – and that is an issue that disturbs us all.” The attack itself is not staged, since that would have meant “giving the assassins a stage”, according to Riedhof. “Instead, this is about overcoming our inner demons and hatred.”
STELLA. A LIFE., which Riedhof is currently completing and which is scheduled to be shown in cinemas in 2023, centres around other inner demons. Here, too, the starting point is a real story – the tragedy of the young Jewish woman Stella Goldschlag, who was caught by the Gestapo and forced to betray other Jews to the Nazis. With this, too, the filmmaker pursues the goal of “telling a story with public appeal and challenging the spectator emotionally and morally. Neither film will leave the viewer cold. They are a real physical experience. That’s what cinema is for me in its essence.”
He experienced the impact of cinema as a teenager, watching films such as VERTIGO or THE THIRD MAN with their “powerful subjective emotional focus”. “These movies captured my imagination and are the reason why I wanted to make films myself.” He trained his own narrative technique and aesthetics at what is now the Hamburg Media School - with teachers such as Michael Ballhaus, Slawomir Idziak and Nikita Michalkow. Storytelling as prime principle was their credo. Or in other words, “form follows function.”
He does not strive for simple realism, but says: “For me, the foundation of a movie is a gripping and stringent narrative structure, which is to be scratched on the surface.” By “scratching” he means “elliptical, fragmentary, unreliable storytelling”, with which he wants to make the film an “immediate experience” that has hopefully never been seen before. The “tightrope act” for him is to “risk an aesthetic experiment without losing the emotional connection to the audience.”
Luckily, he has been able to perfect this narrative style in recent years, particularly on television – especially in the two-part TV movie GLADBECK (2018) about a spectacularly tragic hostage situation in Germany in 1988, which won three German television awards and was nominated as the only non-British TV format at the BAFTA TV awards. At the same time, he also knows how to make classic crowd pleasers. The best example is the comedy HIS LAST RACE (2013) about a 70-something-year-old who wants to run one last marathon. That film drew more than 400,000 viewers to German cinemas.
He is quite ambivalent when it comes to streaming series. “I wouldn’t rule out making a series, but it’s not my first thought. I find the flood of streaming offers rather overwhelming and increasingly faceless.” He also dislikes how the supposed death of series characters is played around with, so that they can reappear in a next season. “At a certain point art is about saying, this is the end. Because that’s life. You can’t repeat it. It is only the end point that lends meaning to everything.”
Apart from that, the cinema provides the filmmaker with an experience that can never be duplicated on the television at home: “Sitting in a screening of your own film and seeing how the audience reacts is the most uplifting feeling for a film maker. Films must not become self-referential. It is always about truthfulness and unconditional emotionality. This is how I can build a relationship with an audience. And this is my hundred per cent interest as a filmmaker.”