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October 30, 2011 2:20 AM
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Meet the 2011 AFI Filmmakers | "Michael" Director Markus Schleinzer

Markus Schleinzer's "Michael." Image courtesy of Strand Releasing.

From the outside, 35-year-old Michael leads a seemingly normal life. He's vying for a promotion at the insurance company where he works and goes on vacations to the mountains with friends. But inside Michael's ordinary suburban home, he is hiding a dark and troubling secret. That secret is 10-year-old Wolfgang, who Michael is holding captive in a locked, soundproof room in the basement. In his debut film, director Markus Schleinzer gives us a clinical and unbiased glimpse into the final five months in Michael and Wolfgang's life together.

Schleinzer strips away moral judgments from the film so all that remains is a portrait of a man, a boy and their interactions. What results is a superbly crafted and suspenseful thriller as Michael struggles to keep his secret safe from the outside world. [Description by Jenn Murphy of AFI FEST]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in 2011 AFI Fest's Breakthrough, New Auteurs and Young Americans section to submit responses in their own words about their films. Get to know the films before they screen. AFI Fest takes place November 3 - 11 in Los Angeles.]

Check out indieWIRE's Futures on director Markus Schleinzer from the 2011 Cannes Film Festival here.

"Michael"
Director: Markus Schleinzer
Screenwriter: Markus Schleinzer
Producer: Nikolaus, Geyrhalter, Markus Glaser, Michael Kitzberger, Wolfgang Widerhofer
Director of Photography: Gerald Kerkletz
Editor: Wolfgang Widerhofer
Production Designer: Katrin Huber, Gerhard Dohr
Cast: Michael Fuith, David Rauchenberger

Director's Bio: Born in 1971 in Vienna, Markus Schleinzer worked as a casting director from 1994 to 2010 for more than 60 feature films, including Jessica Hausner's "Lovely Rita," Ulrich Seidl's "Dog Days," and Michael Haneke's "The Piano Teacher," "Time of the Wolf" and "The White Ribbon." "Michael" is his first feature.

Responses courtesy of "Michael" director Markus Schleinzer.

Your movie: In 140 characters or less, what's it about?

"Michael" describes the last five months of 10-year-old Wolfgang and 35-year-old Michael´s involuntary life together.

OK: Now tell us what it's really about.

Let me take the liberty to copy some lines I just received: "This wonderful film draws a unique and humane portrait, made in simple cinematic language, almost documentary-like, and is fascinating. It is a morality tale that deals with human nature, whimsy and cynicism and combines them to present the drama of human existence.“ Thanks goes out to the Jury of Haifa International Film Festival.

"Michael" is about the relationship that a 35 year-old man has to the boy he has kidnapped. What does it mean to live under such conditions? For both? Victim and Perpetrator?

Giving directing a try...

I was a casting director for 17-years. I always wanted to do my own movies, but was always hiding in my comfortable position until some friends and filmmakers pressured me to finally give directing a try.

De-sensationalizing child abuse...

In late 2008, when I started to write the script, the issue of child abuse was a world wide phenomenon that dominated the media. You couldn’t read a newspaper or watch television without hearing about some horrifying crime committed against children.

To me it seemed that child abuse, like violence, had become sensationalized to the point of becoming entertainment - you could see how the way TV reportage was presented for effect and newspapers, with their catchy headlines, began to use the topic to create a sensation or a scandal for the sake of entertainment (and sellings). I wanted to take the issue back to a more serious place.

The idea of putting Michael, the perpetrator, in the middle of the story was there from the beginning.

When a crime is committed the immediate reaction of the neighborhood is typically disbelief: No one would have thought, no one could have guessed, he was always so nice, so helpful, he fed my cats when i was on vacation, etc,. After the initial shock comes the desire to distance oneself from the crime and you hear things like: He was always a little strange, shy, odd. And finally everyone comes to the conclusion that they all knew from the start that there was this monster living among them. Pretty soon people learn to protect themselves by enlarging their personal sense of normality. Because the security provided by normality is holy and must not be jeopardized. That’s where the images of monsters come from; they mean absolute security through distance.

"Monsters aren’t like us. We’re normal". The image of the monster is an excellent way of explaining things because it draws a distinct line between one’s own world and evil. Yet many of the most horrible crimes are committed by fully functioning, very normal people who no one would imagine as being capable of such things. And the discussion about these actions, deeds, crimes and perpetrators, as well as victims will never be sensible on the level of the monster image because the point of it is to distance oneself from them.

Being clear...

This is a topic that people are afraid of. It is also a topic that a lot of people have already meddled with in irresponsible ways. We were ready to go before we even started to look for funding. That was very important. We had a lot of discussions and explained what was important to us and what our plans were. I think that helped in getting "Michael" funded quickly.

The joy in not knowing...

I find it boring to speculate on what the audience might feel. It has always been the unexpected questions at the Q & As that interested me most because they help me the most as a film maker and a person.

Any specific film inspirations?

I couldn’t name any. Film itself. The great power and energy that working in this medium requires. That has always attracted me.

In the works...

There are different topics that circle around me like satellites. I’m going to lock myself up for a month this December and see which ones I gravitate to the most.

Anything else to add?

There is always anything else. For instance, the red and yellow Autumn leaves at my window. If I could stop staring out of my window I would have finished this interview much earlier.

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