Kino! 2016: Interview: – Isabelle Stever (Writer/Director) and Maria Furtwängler (Actress) – The Weather Inside

‘The Weather Inside’ gives us a view into the business of foreign aid work, in the Arab conflict zone.

Dorothea, an aid worker with a humanitarian organization, has launched a project to help the people of a land menaced by civil war. The luxury of her wealthy world finds a cynical reflection in the poverty evident all around. Then she embarks upon an affair with the much younger Alec, who seems to be simply an attractive 24-year-old Arab drifter. Their two worlds collide, impelled by their mutual lust for adventure. What appears to be reality becomes unbalanced, raising the question of having and being. Who exactly is helping whom? As her passion increased, Dorothea loses control, jeopardizing not only the project but also her life.

‘The Weather Inside’ (Das Wetter in Geschlossenen Räumen”) screened as part of Kino! 2016, where the year’s best German films come to New York City for a week of quality cinema. We spoke with the powerful film Director Isabelle Stever and talented actress Maria Furtwängler about women filmmakers breaking through the film industry, challenges of the film, the complexity of the lead character, casting process and more.

Find more information on ‘The Weather Inside’ at Kino!2016

There have been a lot of talks since last year about diversity and women filmmakers. How hard is it to be part of the industry as a female director?
Isabelle:  It can be more difficult to get funding as a woman. But I never really understood that it was harder. That said, I don’t think in these terms. There is a good thing about being a woman because you don’t have so many role models. You want to shoot a film. You don’t compare yourself so much. You don’t think, where am I in my life at this age.

How did you come across this particular story?
Isabelle: It’s inspired from the reality. I met a woman that works for the development aid business and she told me about the situation during the Iraqi war  in 2003.

She described how aid workers, war reporters, politicians, and businessman met up in a luxury hotel in Amman, waiting for Iraq’s borders to open. She told me how they’d self-medicate with drugs and have wild parties. This nearby war sensation, being in a foreign country, sometimes in life danger, with a well-paid job. You want to treat yourself, go shopping in the hotel, get manicures and pedicures, go to the hair salon. You take care of yourself because life could be short. This image of the luxury hotel next to the war zone is for me a reflection of the helpers dependency to the ones being helped. It is an image that has to do with our world. That was intriguing for me.

What made you decide for the title The Weather Inside?
Isabelle: The title is a little bit different in German, more concrete, Weather In Closed Rooms. I think The Weather Inside sounds very catchy and poetic, not that it’s a bad title, but The Weather In Closed Rooms is more about this paradox, the weather that people make themselves, they kind of built it. Also, you can’t get out or really connect with the outside.

Can you talk about the main challenges of the film?
Isabelle: There were many challenges. One of the biggest challenges was I wanted to shoot the film in March 2014 and then three days before Christmas 2013, my producer said he doesn’t want to do this film because one-third of the finance was missing. Again, it was three days before Christmas and you can’t do anything during this time until January 10th. Nobody answers the phone. It was quite unsure if I will find a new producer that fast and keep the already approved funding. So I behaved like a lunatic, I booked a flight to Amman, spent new years eve there, looking for locations and that’s actually how I got everybody involved in the film. I met the new producer and we started shooting in May. Another challenge, there was a much bigger scene with the tank in front of the luxury hotel that is not in the film. We couldn’t shoot it properly because the tank couldn’t get it’s barrel up. All in all the entire shoot was a challenge, we had only 29 days with 120 pages and one-third of finance missing. I should have cut out a lot of scenes, before shooting. Then I would have had more time to shoot the one that stayed in the film.

Maria: Working with Isabelle (laughs). it was challenging with the rewrites, there was a lot of improvisation and a great deal of emotion to play in this ambivalent character. It was challenging to see this person trying to survive, playing all the stages of taking drugs and the alcohol abuse; without overdoing it and being authentic.

How did you find each other?
Isabelle:Maria was recommended to me. I saw her work online and knew she was the right one to be in my film. I always have one lead women character and I always know which actress I want for that part. I asked her and she replied no. I didn’t know what to do as I took it for granted she would be in the film. I tried to cast other women but none of them were what I was looking for. I got back to her through a mutual friend and Maria said she didn’t like the script. For two years I tried to get her on board, writing her long letters. After that, she met me and said okay let’s do a rehearsal to see how it works. It took a while to conquer her and I’m really happy she accepted and found confidence.

Maria: I’m glad that Isabel insisted and am very grateful. Looking back I wonder how could I not have accepted it the first time. I’m a person that likes to take risks. I was interested to see what it would be like to work with Isabelle. As I mentioned before, Isabel likes a lot of improvisation and I was curious to see where this would lead me, step outside of my comfort zone.

Did you have contact with any real aid workers to play Dorothea?
Maria: I’ve done a lot of charity work in the past, in a lot of crisis areas, so I know somewhat of the work that is done. When you are involved with these charities, you realize how there is a huge craving for funding for these organizations, you want to do good but you need money for it. This was very helpful to know this world exists, although it’s fictionalized in the film. I do believe that these people under the circumstances where there is  possible death and torture, that have a different type of work, unrelated to the conflict, can lead to an extreme, with alcohol abuse and getting involved with a younger man. I think this is a very human characteristic.

What did you learn from this character?
Maria: She’s a very powerful and gutsy person. I learned from that. but at the same time, she also loses power and loses control. The great thing is that she is such an ambivalent character and you hardly ever get those characters. Sometimes she doesn’t want the best for the world and I realized that there is more to us, more to myself.

— Interview conducted by Lia Fietz


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