“My work as a director is linked inextricably to issues that concern me.” If you ask Julia von Heinz whether her motivation is still the same after more than 20 years behind the camera, she replies without hesitation: “Originally, I wanted to make films out of political activism. It would be too easy to say that’s what drives me today. But it still helps me a lot if I have a concern with my film. It can be political or personal. But I need this pressing concern in order to muster the strength, creativity and patience required for every project.”
After making several short films alongside her training as a media designer and her cinematography course at Beuth University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, as well as her feature film debut WAS AM ENDE ZÄHLT, which received the German Film Award after its Berlinale prem–iere, she focused less on her own stories during the first few years of her career. “If you don’t go through one of the established film schools in Germany, where you learn the craft of directing and are eased into your career, you can’t necessarily gather the money to realise your own projects,” she explains in our interview. She is referring to the mainstream audience successes she directed, such as HANNI & NANNI 2 or ICH BIN DANN MAL WEG. “First, I had to prove that I could do my job. So, commissioned work gave me a vital opportunity to show what I could do, it helped me to develop some visibility, to gain the confidence to realise my own material – more personal material.”
Nowadays, von Heinz openly shares her own, often painstakingly-gathered experience with the next generation in her second job as a professor at the University of Television and Film in Munich: “I find teaching – like making films – really rewarding. Passing on my knowledge and learning in turn from the next generation is truly inspiring.”
She wants to help shape the industry of the future through her work at the university: “For too long, stories have always been told from the same perspectives: male, heteronormative, white. But a lot has changed in recent years. We professors can shape the selection process accordingly. We can help decide who will tell their stories in future. After all, I know myself how important such visibility is. Who knows if I would have dared to make my own films if I hadn’t seen colleagues like Doris Dörrie, Caroline Link or, of course, Margarethe von Trotta, who had already done so before me.”
In her own work, von Heinz, who is – rather appropriately – sitting in front of a poster of Alfonso Cuarón’s autobiographical film ROMA in her office at the HFF during our video call, has long since reached a phase in which she is primarily interested in telling stories with a strong personal connection. The spectrum ranges from MY FATHERS, a documentary short film about her own father, to the award-winning series ELDORADO KADEWE. And not forgetting, of course, AND TOMORROW THE ENTIRE WORLD, inspired by her own experiences, which tells the story of a young activist’s politicization and was invited to compete in Venice in 2020.
The contacts and encounters arising from this film and its progress (as a German Oscar nominee, for example) have given her career another new direction. She is now also represented by an agency in the USA; her new film TREASURE, which will celebrate its world premiere at the Berlinale in February 2024, was the first to be shot in English.
The adaptation of Lily Brett’s novel TOO MANY MEN, in which a father and daughter duo explore their Jewish roots on a trip to Poland, was again realised with – alongside US partners – the production company Seven Elephants, for which she collaborates with Fabian Gasmia, David Wnendt and Erik Schmitt. And it is a direct outcome of its predecessor. “On the night of our Venice premiere, I had an interview with Variety and mentioned that Lena Dunham was the ideal candidate for the protagonist in my next film,” von Heinz recalls with a laugh. “A day later, her agent got in touch with me – and now she’s actually my leading lady alongside Stephen Fry.”