Sebastian LEITNER: „Classical music isn’t boring” – interview

4 ianuarie 2013
Sebastian LEITNER: „Classical music isn’t boring” – interview jpeg

Noseland is a film built around the classical music festival „Julian Rachlin & Friends” – which is organised every year in Dubrovnik, Croatia – and it has a somewhat unusual cast of characters: from famous musicians, such as violinist Julian Rachlin, cellist Mischa Maisky or pianist Stefan Vladar, to actors John Malkovich and Sir Roger Moore. The mockumentary ("a docu-comedy-feature") was directed by another famous musician, Aleksey Igudesman, who was helped by the young filmmaker Sebastian Leitner, who is the director of photography and the editor of the film. Before the special screening at this year’s SoNoRo International Chamber Music Festival in Bucharest, Romania, we had a nice, long chat with Sebastian Leitner who, despite currently working on his diploma thesis in Applied Physics at the University of Vienna in conjunction with the University of Technology, remains very passionate about cinema and has been working in the movie business since 2004.

Noseland had its world premiere at the Transilvania International Film Festival (TIFF) 2012. After that, you’ve taken the film to various countries, at numerous other festivals, including DOCmiami: International Documentary Film Festival, where, on December 8th, 2012, the film was the winner of Most Entertaining Documentary. How was the film received in Romania and how did audiences react around the globe?

TIFF was such a nice festival, with an interesting (and interested) audience. Indeed, we’ve been to different festivals – Karlovy Vary, in the Czech Republic, or festivals in Germany, Austria, Norway, Georgia, USA, Russia –, but I’m sure it’s never been as intense as in Romania. We were very happy to see there is such a keen interest from the press, as well as the general public.
By contrast, we’ve had our German premiere with only 15 people in the audience... And the way viewers perceive it differs from one screening to another. For example, in Norway there were 40-50 people and no one asked questions at the end. But they made so much noise during the movie, laughing louder than 300 people. And they laughed at places we’ve never heard laughter before. Because they have the same crazy humour we have. They’ve got it. Anyway, the best reception is from native speakers or from those who are really good at English.

What is the aim of this film and which is your target audience?

The movie represents an experiment, combining fiction with reality, and also very different styles, in order to attract the public’s attention. Our goal would be to get younger people to see this movie and to show them that there’s nothing boring about classical music. It’s just the business of classical music that’s boring and stiff, very conservative and not so nice. But as far as the musicians are concerned – they just want to do music, with one another, for the people. Most of them don’t really care about the business or the money, but about the music and about transmitting its message. That’s why they keep practicing hours and hours, trying to reach perfection. For us, it was important to show the real, human faces of these talented and prestigious musicians.
And that’s also the main reason that Julian does his festival, and he’s been doing it for twelve years now, in Dubrovnik, Croatia, where he invites all of his musician friends – some of them are said to be the best of their instrument – and they all play together, for free. The festival is called „Julian Rachlin and Friends”, and the tickets are very cheap, so that everyone can come. You can enjoy this incredible music played by artists whom you’d normally pay hundreds of euros to see perform. That is Julian’s mission. And we wanted to take it on and put it into a movie that would then be seen by a different audience, which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with classical music.
We’ve basically worked on it for one year, with zero budget, and when we started editing we had no idea what it was going to be, because we started off with hundreds of hours of material. No one had ever done such a film before, and we didn’t know if it’s going to be good, if we’ll get the money we needed to finish it... That’s why it’s so difficult to sell it or to promote it. Festivals get hundreds of submissions and our film doesn’t fit under any category... It’s hard to distribute a film like this, because you have to know the classical music market, as well as the movie market. And the documentary market is set to be rather dead, because nobody buys documentaries, apart from TV. We are still trying to find worldwide distribution in cinemas.

Although – I don’t know how much viewers realise this – there is a lot of classical music in films...

Yes. Aleksey, for example, does a lot of work on film soundtracks – one of his most recent is Sherlock Holmes. Also, a lot of classical musicians really get to enter this new field and benefit other opportunities – taking a composer and reinterpreting it for different projects.
Mischa Maisky, who was also in the film, collects Bach variations. He has, at home, hundreds of different productions of the same Bach piece, but played differently by different people. It’s his passion, and every time it’s new for him. And that’s the main idea: every time you play it, classical music is new. It depends on the whole – acoustics, the audience, the energy, the mood...

How did you get involved in this project?

Noseland was my feature length debut. I’ve been working on the movie scene for a while, but that was my first long project, which also made it to festivals. I’ve been working with Aleksey for quite a long time. We first met in 2006, in Vienna, where he was having his first musical comedy show. And we produced a DVD, which is still selling on the website. From that moment on, we basically stuck together – we like the same stuff, we have the same image of things, the same taste. And we have these funny ideas and we do all sorts of clips as promotions for his projects or some live recordings of his shows...

How are you connected to the classical music world? Do you play any instruments?

I’ve always listened to classical music; I tried learning to play the cello, but I wasn’t very interested in that. I’ve always enjoyed movies and the combination of music and motion pictures. My link to classical music is through Aleksey, and because of him I’ve met a lot of extraordinary, famous musicians, who are very inspiring. They are very determined and passionate and they know what they want, what they need and how to get it.

Aleksey Igudesman (director and producer) and Sabina Hasanova (associate producer) are both classical musicians. How did that help the entire filming process?

When filming, it didn’t really help, because there were only four of us in Dubrovnik – me, doing camera, one person doing sound, Aleksey (who was in front of the camera) and Sabina (who was doing all of the other things).
During post-production though, of course it helped a lot. The three of us sat together, and we developed the whole thing in the editing room. We created the feel of the movie, first choosing the music we wanted to use. And then we edited to the music, building around it, which helped with the rhythm of the film. (Normally, it’s the other way around.)

How much did you improvise, while shooting?

There was no actual script, we just had a few basic ideas, and so we improvised a lot. That’s why it’s all so natural, so fresh... It seems to be acted very well, but it's not. Each interview needed only one take and all of those interviewed are, actually, really nice and friendly. But they didn’t know what they were going to be asked. Of course, they are old friends of Aleksey’s, so they knew it was going to be weird and crazy. And they knew that, in the end, they’ll have to be offended. And that is because Aleksey hates standard classical music documentaries, which are extremely boring. We wanted to do something a little more daring, and experimental, and creative... And that meant that sometimes in the interviews you had to be drastic and different.
Anyway, it helps to get to know the people on stage, to read about them, to talk to them. That is why we want to continue using the classical music scene and its characters. Aleksey hates it when Hollywood actors, rehearsing for two weeks, play musicians of classical music. Every classical musician disbelieves what he sees. Why not have real musicians in the role of musicians? Most of them can be good actors; plus, they are much more natural when interpreting, especially when it comes to playing an instrument.

How long did making the film last?

The actual shooting took place during the two weeks of festival. After that, it took one more year to put it together. We felt that it had a lot of potential, but we thought the only way to get this to festivals and in cinemas is with money. And getting money for creative things, nowadays, is very hard, because art always seems to be the least founded. Take SoNoRo Festival, for example – it’s 85% private investing. And it’s great that it works in Romania. In Austria it would never work. There’s more money there, but they don’t give it away for cultural things. They only give it to certain people, who get it every year, and if you want to create something new, you basically have no chance...

How did John Malkovich and Sir Roger Moore become involved with the film?

Malkovich was part of the festival, as he was involved in a project initiated by Aleksey, and called „The Music Critic”, where he interpreted different parts of classical music critics. And everything ended with him playing the role of a very enraged theatre critic from Turkey, who is talking about... John Malkovich. It’s very intense, and straightforward, and rude, so to speak, and it was a lot of fun for him to recite them. Julian got to know both John Malkovich and Gérard Depardieu on the set of Napoléon – a TV series coproduction of France and Germany –, where Julian played the role of Paganini. And then Julian just went up to Malkovich and told him about the festival, inviting him there.
Sir Roger Moore has a wonderful personality, he tells jokes all the time... He is also an old friend of Aleksey’s and Julian’s. Being an UNICEF ambassador, he was in the audience at a Charity Gala where Julian was playing. That’s where they met and, because Julian also wanted to become an UNICEF ambassador, they’ve started collaborating on various charity projects. For example, they organise a football match: musicians versus sports legends. All in aid of UNICEF.
During the festival, he recited a letter from Beethoven to his brother.

Why „Noseland”?

The title of the film could be interpreted as a double metaphor. On the one hand, it’s true, a lot of musicians have their noses up. But, more than that, the name comes from Julian’s fetish for noses. He likes to touch the noses of all of his friends. Basically, it’s his way of expressing friendship. Next to his doorbell in Vienna it’s not written „Julian Rachlin”, but „Noseland”. And you’re pressing the button for „Noseland”. It’s his world, where it’s not that important where you are, where you’re coming from, but what you do and can do, how you can inspire others with your music. „Noseland” is a metaphor for a beautiful, peaceful place.

In other words, as a musician, you have to be serious, but without „taking yourself too seriously”...

Exactly. Otherwise you can’t be honest with those around you, you can’t say whatever it is on your mind, and that is something very important when you’re working with someone.

an interview by Patricia MIHAIL

Photo copyright: Şerban Mestecăneanu

For the Romanian version of this interview, click here.

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