Of course, the phrase is strictly correct: SYSTEM CRASHER, an energy-charged drama about a wild and furious nine-year-old girl, is Nora Fingscheidt’s feature film debut. At this year’s Berlinale in February, her movie received one of the main awards, the Silver Bear. But the idea that someone arrived fresh from film school to present her very first effort would be quite wrong in this context. For the 35-year-old director, who was born in Brunswick in Lower Saxony and lives in Hamburg, has many faces. And her actual first, full-length film had already been presented, too. It was all pretty laid back.
OHNE DIESE WELT (2017) observed a group of former colonizing Mennonites in Argentina – women, men and children living in a strict conservative community of faith and rejecting modernity, the descendants of Germans who emigrated there 500 years ago. Observation is meant literally, for the film’s tempo is slow but its optical impression striking. A very special two-hour documentary film, which Nora Fingscheidt allowed herself the appropriate length of time to make. There were prizes for that work, too, and OHNE DIESE WELT was shown in cinemas in Switzerland.
“Film has always been a medium that really fascinates me,” Nora Fingscheidt says in conversation with GFQ. As a child, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s THE BEAR was a first moving, as well as influential and at the same time shocking cinema experience. “Later, I always wanted to make films. But because I come from a family that had never produced any artistic professionals before, first of all I had to sort out a kind of alibi.”
After her school days, during which she already spent a year in Argentina as well as gaining work experience at the Brunswick Theater, Nora Fingscheidt moved to Berlin in 2003. There, she registered at the Freie Universität to study Latin American Studies, Journalism and Law. It would have been tempting to get into the “film bubble” right from the start, but in the end, she believes she also profited considerably from her “alibi”.
Later on, even the film-linked activities didn’t really belong to a self-contained system. Nora Fingscheidt was involved in setting up the filmArche, a completely self-organized film school for screenplay, direction, cinematography, cutting/editing and production: the biggest in Europe, so they say. She was a board member, organized youth projects as well, and was a committed member of the European network NISI MASA. And as if all this was not yet enough, in parallel she completed one-and-a-half years training as an acting coach in Sigrid Andersson’s TANKSTELLE. Fingscheidt: “Sigrid is a really special woman, from whom I have learned a lot. I am very, very grateful to her.” It was a matter of familiarizing herself with role work, scene analysis and acting. Only afterwards did Nora Fingscheidt apply to study direction at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg in Ludwigsburg, where she was accepted and graduated successfully in 2017.
Seen from outside, this may have been an extraordinary path and one could even call it a detour. But for Nora Fingscheidt it was exactly the right way. Because she would like “to try out as many genres, forms and narrative languages as possible. After all, I myself love to be overwhelmed in an audiovisual sense at the cinema.”
Her SYSTEM CRASHER has certainly turned out to be overwhelming. Wild, unbridled and radical. A new German film with a universal touch. Who doesn’t know them or hasn’t heard about them? Children who don’t have the good fortune to grow up in a sheltered environment, who repeatedly explode the existing inadequate, all too rigid models of supervision. Children like blond Benni, who scream, strike out, the ones we need to fear for; ones who still simply long for a parent’s love. Nora Fingscheidt researched for five years in residential groups, schools, offices and children’s psychiatry units before making her first long feature film. Until what she had experienced there affected her too much: “My picture of the world became extremely dismal.”
Her SYSTEM CRASHER screenplay was refined and improved during the writing with assistance from acclaimed authors and directors like Christoph Fromm, Bernd Lange, Thomas Schadt and Hans-Christian Schmid. Again, there were prizes and awards for the screenplay. Nora Fingscheidt describes the true significance of those screenplay awards in retrospect: “They watch your back, financially, for the pre-production stage, and lend the project a kind of certificate of quality. A kind of autonomy that grows from that is very helpful, too.”
SYSTEM CRASHER had its world premiere at the 2019 Berlinale and triggered some powerful reactions – positive as well as critical. “Ultimately, it’s a good balance: we put extreme amounts of energy into this film and now it’s being received with suitable energy, as well.” In Germany it will be released in cinemas this September, but it will also be shown internationally. “It’s a dream,” Nora Fingscheidt enthuses now that a number of weeks have passed. “The Berlinale was like a tornado for me. I wasn’t sure what it actually means when a film breaks free, developing a life of its own, stimulating reactions and comments that can be wounding, shocking or even make you incredibly happy. But the nicest thing was experiencing those reactions together with the team, the actors and producers, the sound mixers and composers, the costume designer and the casting director – simply everyone.”
And then, finally, to celebrate with them.