Luxembourg Mystery Tale – Production Diary 14 (UK)

A word of introduction

This is the production blog of Camera Obskura’s second feature film, so why are we dedicating this column to Feierblumm’s World War II epic Heemwéi? One reason is certainly, that the author of these lines must have been among the most impatient and excited people in the audience which was lucky enough to discover the movie last Tuesday on the sold-out avant-premiere in Utopolis’ screening room n°10 (their biggest). There are indeed many reasons to be excited about the long-awaited release of Feierblumm’s second feature film. For us at Camera Obskura, one of the reasons is simply that Heemwéi is a project that in its scope, its ambition, its challenges and – most importantly – in its approach to the filmmaking process is very similar to Camera Obskura’s own feature film project Luxembourg Mystery Tale (LMT). How so? First of all – and that’s more of a coincidence than a similarity – the shooting of Heemwéistarted the very same month the shooting of LMT did (July 2008). Back then Camera Obskura had been approached by Feierblumm to collaborate on Heemwéi and would certainly have helped out if the dates of the principal photography of the two movies hadn’t overlapped. Not having been able to collaborate on such a stimulating project, of course doesn’t mean that we were not interested in it. Ever since 2008, we’ve been following the development of Heemwéi. Another similarity is the declared production budget. While Feierblumm announces a budget of 25.000 EUR for Heemwéi, the budget of LMT – depending on how you formulate it – will vary between 25.000 and 35.000 EUR, making both movies no-budget or micro-budget productions. A third analogy is found in the production gear used for the shooting of the two movies. Both used a Panasonic HVX200 (remember, this was 2008, no DSLRs back then). Another common point of the two projects is their ambition. Heemwéi, just like LMT, clearly aims for the big screen and targets a broad audience of moviegoers. And it does so without relying on public funding, hence circumventing the “traditional way” of making films in Luxembourg (more on this later).

Much more could be said about the resemblance of Heemwéi and LMT, but the aforementioned parallels should be enough to explain why we take such a keen interest in Feierblumm’s latest release and why we feel compelled to add some thoughts to the debate Heemwéi will certainly launch about filmmaking in Luxembourg (be sure to also read Patrick Védie’s interesting take on the subject).

After this somewhat lengthy introduction, let’s cut to the chase and try to answer one simple question : Why should anyone care about seeing Heemwéi? Well, there are at least 7 good reasons why everyone should see the movie:

1) It’s the most ambitious amateur/independent movie ever released in Luxembourg

A movie should never be reduced to its budget. So, even if Feierblumm uses Heemwéi’s shoestring budget of 25.000 EUR as a clever marketing ploy to promote the movie as a David among Goliaths, the budget says nothing about the real ambition of the movie. The ambition was set long before any budget had been raised, it was set when Sacha Bachim and Steve Hoegener – right after finishing their first feature film “Who’s Quentin?” – decided to write a script about two young Luxembourgers trying to escape the clutches of the Wehrmacht in the last days of WW2. It’s the choice of subject that set the ambition. Even if the generation who actually remember the WW2 period is dying out, the subject still remains highly sensitive for a lot of Luxembourgers. It takes guts to cover such a touchy topic in a second feature film and it takes even more guts to try to pull it off without a proper budget or the help of a professional film crew. I have to admit, that when I first read the script to Heemwéi(which I liked) I thought Sacha and his team were crazy. I’m happy to see that they managed to prove me wrong (and everybody else who thought they’d never be able to deliver anything that would remotely stand up to their ambition). So just for the incredible achievement of making a WW2 full-length feature movie (yes, with tanks, planes, explosions and everything you’d expect from a war movie) on a non-existing budget with an amateur crew and delivering a result which is anything but ridicule, the movie deserves to be seen.

2) It’s a product of passion and idealism

Anybody who’s ever been involved in a moviemaking process knows how hard it is to actually make a movie. When you’re not a professional filmmaker and still try to make a movie, you’re either delusional or incredibly passionate because writing, planning, shooting, editing and marketing a movie is no walk in the park. It takes determination, persistence, resilience and more than a fair amount of passion and idealism. The spirited people behind Heemwéi have proven that they possess all of these qualities in spades. Just for putting so much of themselves into their movie, it deserves to be seen.

3) It’s a showcase for new talent

At the time of shooting Heemwéi, none of the crew or actors involved in the project were considered professionals. Six years later, Luc Lamesch, one of the two main actors in Heemwéi, has joined the ranks of professional actors with appearances in the Luxembourg sitcom Weemseesdet, the indie movie The Cuddly Toy or Andy Bausch’s final chapter of the Trouble-trilogy, Trouble No More. The same can be said about Michel Tereba, who, since the shooting of Heemwéi, has been seen in many professional productions and TV and cinema ads, and is certainly remembered for his whacky interpretation of “Bob” in the Lucil-produced sitcom Comeback. Laurence Streitz has been seen in Pol Cruchten’s documentary Never die young and the French-Luxembourgish-Belgian coproduction Une histoire d’amour starring Benoît Poelvoorde and Laetita Casta. Not to mention Nilton Martins who seems to be in every major movie shot in Luxembourg. It’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll be hearing more about the actors and crew of Heemwéi in upcoming productions. It’s a pity that Steve Hoegener announced that he has no ambition of pursuing a career as an actor, since his performance in Heemwéi certainly is one of the elements which contribute to the overall quality of the movie.

4) It’s a textbook case of how to successfully market a movie

It’s a truism: No movie exists without a marketing campaign. And yet, despite this evidence, many heavily subsidized Luxembourgish film productions fail to orchestrate a marketing campaign worthy of its name. With close to zero marketing budget, Feierblumm has managed to turn Heemwéi in some kind of indie film phenomenon, an event everybody seems to be talking about. And the means they have used to achieve that goal are anything but original. They used posters, viral campaigns on facebook, marketing agreements with local TV and radio stations, they run ads on buses, put up a professional website, informed the press and convinced a multiplex to actually show the movie. In other words, they did what they had to to get their movie out and to let people know about it. Feierblumm takes care of its baby and takes responsibility in making it a success. Something that unfortunately can’t be said about all national movie productions and/or co-productions as you sometimes can’t shake the feeling that some just won’t put a penny into a marketing effort unless the Film Fund pays for it. So Kudos for a well-run marketing campaign and yet another reason to see the movie.

Let me add that I personally think that the teaser of Heemwéi is one of the most effective and clever in movie history. For those who haven’t seen it yet, watch it below and remember that it’s a movie about two young soldiers trying to find their way back home in a nazi-occupied territory. One word : Genius!

5) It’s a hell of an inspiration for any aspiring filmmaker

Anybody who’s seriously considering making a movie, should feel inspired by Heemwéi. If anything, it shows that if you commit to putting your heart, time and guts into a project, you will be able to actually pull it off even if you don’t have a budget. It’s just hard work and no excuses. Heemwéi proves right the words of famous directors like Tarantino, Rodriguez, Cameron and Burton, who all agree that “If you want to be a filmmaker, just grab a camera and start shooting”. So to all aspiring filmmakers : Go and see Heemwéi! You’ll get a pretty good idea of what can (and can’t) be done with guerilla filmmaking techniques. And the best : Feierblumm is always looking for new members and projects, so there’s really no excuse…

6) It is (or rather it should be) a wake-up call for starting to rethink film-funding rules

Heemwéi didn’t get subsidized by the Film Fund. Though it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone knowing how film funding works in Luxembourg (the rules for getting support from the Film Fund are pretty straightforward, very strict and just don’t apply to independent or amateur productions), the government should seriously consider establishing some rules on how to support film projects which are not “professional” in the sense defined by the Film Fund. There are many possibilities how it could be done. Whereas professional writers and filmmakers – based on a treatment for a movie – can claim money for sitting down and actually start developing a script, you could for instance imagine that independent/amateur filmmakers who actually show up with a finished product would at least get a chance to get some support for marketing their movie, after submitting their finished product for evaluation to the Film Fund.  It would only be fitting, that the Film Fund or the CNA, which don’t hesitate to send amateur applicants for subsidies over to Feierblumm to make their first steps in the movie business, would consider helping the association when it actually manages to turn one of its projects into a tangible result. Many other possibilities could be imagined. The point in this particular case being : If you want to see what you can achieve without funding from the Film Fund, go and see Heemwéiand decide for yourself if it should have got some government support.

7) It’s an academy nominee!

While the government is still struggling on how to deal with the likes of Feierblumm, the film industry seems to have much less concerns about independently produced films since it has decided to let Heemwéi run for best motion picture at the local industry’s Oscars, the “Lëtzebuerger Filmpräis”. Even if the chances of Heemwéi winning an award are slim, the mere fact that the “Filmakademie” – which is composed mainly of professional filmmakers, producers and technicians – chose to let Heemwéi run alongside Doudege Wénkel and Schatzritter in the category “Best feature film” is an accolade in itself. An amateur production nominated for the “Filmpräis”! What more reason do you need to go out and buy a ticket?

If after seeing the movie, you’ll feel like discussing the pro and cons of Heemwéi, please head over to the forum of the folks from “Koler Movies Luxembourg”. We’ll be discussing the movie over there in Luxembourgish language.

Oh, and one last thing. Camera Obskura always took pride in claiming that its first feature film, the 2005 released amateur trash comedy Zombie Film was the most successful Luxembourgish amateur movie of all times (it ran for 6 consecutive weeks in local cinemas selling 1.010 tickets and 800 DVDs). No doubt, that with the release of Feierblumm’s latest movie, Zombie Film will have to hand that crown over to Heemwéi. Congratulations for that! And though it will indeed be very, very tough to rise to the game now set by Heemwéi for all upcoming independent movie productions, I’d like to finish with the words of Barney Stinson:

Challenge accepted!

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