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TIFF 2015 Women Directors: Meet Elisabeth Scharang – ‘Jack’

TIFF 2015 Women Directors: Meet Elisabeth Scharang - 'Jack'

Elisabeth Scharang was born in Austria. She worked as a journalist and radio broadcaster before directing the documentaries “Normale Zeiten,” “Octopusalarm,” “My Dear Republic” and “Kick Out Your Boss,” and the fiction feature “In Another Lifetime.” (Press materials)

Jack” will premiere at the 2015 Toronto international Film Festival on September 15. 

W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing. 

ES: “Jack” is a film about loyalty and about the misunderstanding of love. What happens when the applause of the audience ends? Who are your friends, and can there be friendship with someone who has a dark past — [someone] who once killed a woman and was in prison for 15 years? It is also a story about us: How do we judge a person?

The film is based on a true story that took place in the early ’90s.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

ES: Almost everyone in Austria has an opinion about the case of Jack Unterweger, a man who was charged with murder in eleven cases. I was working as a journalist for radio in those days, and I met Unterweger before he was a suspect and before he stood trial. So I had a face — a real picture of a man who became a myth after he committed suicide in prison.

I try to see the bigger picture. Why are people so sure about the guilt of this man though the court proceedings left a lot of open questions? Why are they so emotional about this man in the white suit who was a projection [screen]?

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

ES: The biggest challenge was to go for my own interpretation of Jack — to lose the respect for facts and real figures and create a fiction film that works, although one doesn´t know anything about the real story behind it. As a filmmaker, it´s not my job to answer questions, but to ask questions.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

ES: When you do your first film or write your first script, ask an experienced female filmmaker or producer to be your mentor. It’s very helpful to have someone who will answer all your questions and who supports you making your own decisions.

Unfortunately. I didn´t have someone like that. — that’s why I do it for young female writers and directors know. I tell them that authority needs no loud words. And artistic talent doesn´t go hand in hand with rude manners on the set.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

ES: It was funded by subsidies from the Austrian Film Institute, the Austrian Broadcasting Cooperation and the Vienna Filmfund.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

ES: I love the films of Jane Campion and I adore Kathryn Bigelow, but the work of the Spanish director Isabel Coixet is most important to me. In 2004 I saw her film “My Life Without Me,” starring Sarah Polley, and I bought the DVD to see some special features. Her long-time director of photography Jean-Claude Larrieu was preparing the light for the scene. When everything was ready, Isabel herself took the camera and shot the scene. I was thrilled, because I was shooting my documentaries by myself as well. And, like Isabel, I am self-taught.

Five years later, I shot my first feature film, “In Another Lifetime.” And my director of photography was Jean-Claude Larrieu. Although I don’t speak French and Jean Claude’s English was limited, we went on this journey together: a film with twenty Hungarian actors in a little village in Austria.

No one really understood the others’ language — so it was all about communication with pictures and confidence. Jean-Claude told me very often about the magic when Isabel takes the camera and how difficult it is at the beginning of every film to convince [people on the set], especially the technical crew, of her camera work. I hope I will have the opportunity to meet her personally somewhere sometime.

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