Kino! 2018 Countdown: Sonja Maria Kröner (The Garden)

In the 1970s, one extended family’s lazy days of idyllic summer are interrupted by simmering rivalries, a foreboding local disappearance, and thorny disagreements about the future.

The Garden tells the story of one extended family of adults and children gathering after the funeral of a deceased matriarch not only to commemorate her life but to lounge away their holidays. The film is a perfectly accomplished atmosphere piece about resentment and sibling disputes, innocence and endangerment.

Sonja Maria Kröner was born in Munich. She studied literature and philosophy at the Ludwig Maximilian University and later screenwriting and directing at the University of Television and Film Munich. After her graduation film ZUCCHINIBLÜTEN (2012) was screened at numerous festivals, including the Hof International Film Festival, The Garden is her first feature film.

Kino!2018 is held this year at New York City’s The Landmark at 57 West and will deliver once again quality German Films to American audiences, year after year. This year’s edition takes place in the arthouse theatre complex located on the Upper West Side from April 6- April 12, 2018. Anticipating the festival and The Garden screening at the event, we spoke with Director Sonja Maria Kröner about the cinematic style approach of a 1970’s German family, spanning three generations, the challenge of filming in a Summer with severe weather conditions and advice from the talented debut feature film director. The Garden premiered at the Munich Film Festival 2017 (won Best Production & Best Direction), Toronto 2017, Göteborg 2018 and screens on the Kino!2018 festival Saturday, April 7 and Wednesday, April 11, 2018, at the Landmark Theatre in New York City.

Find more information & tickets to “The Garden” at Kino!2018 HERE

Where did the story of the film come from?
This is a very personal film. In fact, the garden, in which the story unfolds, is an autobiographical place. My family owned a garden very similar to it, where I spent a better part of my childhood. It doesn’t exist anymore. But to me, it was and still is one of the most beautiful and captivating places in the world. With “The Garden” I wanted to bring the special atmosphere and the secret of that place back to life. Undisturbed nature in the wee hours of the morning. Collecting slug traps from the vegetable patches. Never-ending sticky hot summer days. Eating the grandaunt’s way-too-sweet cakes. Aching wasp stings. Mashing the annoying creatures with forks and fly flaps. Finally the long awaited evening breeze. But the day mustn’t end! Climbing the fence to the neighbor’s garden. Ignoring the parents calling. Not home just yet!

The film delivers a portrait of an 1970’s German family. “The Garden” is beautifully and naturally set up as present. How did you achieve this approach? 
I wanted to portray a vital family with all their problems and needs and longings. Of course all of the family members feelings and their behavior towards each other somehow originate from their mutual past. But life is so complex and extensive that to me it can’t be reduced to only some highlighted moments. Life is a riddle and that’s why I love films with a riddle, which don’t reveal everything at once, but can be watched again and again still disclosing some small hints towards the big picture.

What was the main challenge in The Garden?
I think, there really were three main challenges. Finding the perfect location took us over 5 months. I absolutely wanted to shoot the film in only one garden, thus it had to be huge, with a lot of old trees and different spaces and small houses from before the 1970’s. Funnily enough one of our location scouts found the perfect garden only 20 minutes from where I live! The casting was, of course, another issue. We had to find 10 talented actors, who could convincingly constitute a family of 3 generations. Above all, during the peak filming season! I always try to model the characters of my films after real people – relations, friends, acquaintances… Thus the casting process is always quite hard for me, as I have to replace those “real” people, that already have appearances and voices of their own, with “real” actors. And last but not least the weather was a real problem. We shot almost eighty percent of the film outside, which meant that we needed more than 5 weeks of great summer, sunshine weather. Unfortunately, we had a really bad summer. Therefore we had to fiddle a lot. Constantly switching the days of shooting, sometimes relocating a scene into one of the small houses or often modify the frames, so that the small lakes, that evolved here and there, were not seen. Fortunately, so far no one seems to have noticed our weather problems!

The Garden is your debut film in directing. Any advice to aspiring filmmakers?
I’d like to recycle some advice I received when I was a film student. It really helped me to get “The Garden“ funded. “Be proactive! Find out with whom you want to work instead of waiting until someone “discovers” your talent!”

— Interview conducted by Lia Fietz

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