There was no cinema at all in the small community of Eisdorf am Harz, where Patrick Vollrath (34) grew up. At the age of 12, however, he did manage to see TITANIC on the big screen. “After that, I thought I wanted to become an actor,” he recalls today. Almost the very next day, he joined his school’s theater company, and when his drama teacher changed schools, Patrick and a few co-conspirators took the school stage into their own hands. “So then I was acting in a leading role and directing, and later I made some small films for the framework plot that we had built around the play,” Vollrath says. It’s this hands-on mentality that still distinguishes him today – an attitude that has taken him a long way in the meantime.
Using the money from his first holiday job, he bought his first film camera at the age of 16 – from Aldi. Soon, he discovered editing. After graduating from high school he knew for certain that he wanted to do “something with film”, but his applications to film schools in Munich and Ludwigsburg were rejected. Undismayed, Vollrath started training as an editor at ARRI in Munich. Then he made a “final attempt” at applying for a course in direction at the Film Academy in Vienna. Totally unexpectedly (for him), he was accepted, and from then on he studied with Michael Haneke, who has since become a professional friend.
Vollrath’s short films made during this period received a number of international awards; his half-hour graduation film EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY (2015) about a father who kidnaps his own daughter was ultimately nominated for an Oscar® in the category Best Live Action Short Film after winning numerous international prizes.
It is storytelling, Vollrath explains, that fascinates him most about filmmaking. “The cinema is a place where you can have a good cry if you want to, a place where you can be emotional and feel things.” To achieve this, films must be told credibly, he says: “I want to make honest films with honest feelings.” Vollrath has collaborated repeatedly with screenwriter Senad Halilbasic, most recently for his first feature-length film 7500, which celebrated its world premiere on the Piazza Grande of the Locarno Film Festival in August 2019.
7500, in aviation the emergency code for a plane hijacking, describes the dramatic scenes during a scheduled evening flight from Berlin to Paris that is hijacked by terrorists. Shot in a discarded cockpit in a Cologne studio, the film never leaves this narrow setting, but nevertheless – or perhaps for this very reason – captures the vast spectrum of human emotions. Former Lufthansa pilot Carlo Kitzlinger and US actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt are the pilot duo, Omid Memar and Murathan Muslu play two of the terrorists.
When shooting, there was barely enough space in the cockpit for the actors and Vollrath’s equally brilliant partner, cameraman Sebastian Thaler, who had a renewed opportunity to demonstrate his great skill. “I wanted to extend the intensity that can develop in a single space to fill an entire film,” explains Vollrath. “To enclose the viewers just as the characters are enclosed. This creates a number of blind spots that can be very useful for the imagination.”
As the action takes place almost in real time, Vollrath also allowed long sequences to play through without editing. This is indicative of his aim to be as realistic as possible – and presents a huge challenge for the actors. “The dialogues in our scripts are there for orientation,” says Vollrath. “But I do ask the actors to find their own words, their own authentic approach.” This creates freedom. “I see that the actors can get emotionally involved in situations over a long period of time,” says Vollrath. “But I’m aware that it’s very exhausting, both physically and mentally.”
Vollrath is remarkably precise in the technical and formal realization of his films. “But I never try to over-explain the content,” he says. “My concern is to discover emotional truths.” Concerning “the future of film” he is optimistic: “Even if the media that show films change, people’s need for well-told stories will continue unabated.
So he and Halilbasic are already busy writing for their next project, about which he is still keeping mum: “Something historical” – that much can be elicited from him. And: “In the direction of thriller-drama again.” That’s something he obviously feels comfortable with.