Andreas Horvath on ‘Lillian’ Secrets, Working With Ulrich Seidl

·4-min read

Returning to Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival, where his documentary short “Views of a Retired Night Porter” was awarded in 2006, Austrian helmer Andreas Horvath decided to focus on his fiction feature debut “Lillian” when addressing the participants of European Film Promotion’s Future Frames during an exclusive masterclass. The showcase, now in its seventh edition, presents 10 young directors from Europe and their latest work, selected by the artistic team of KVIFF.

Inspired by the true story of Lillian Alling, a Russian woman in New York who decided to walk back to her homeland in the 1920s, the film was borne out of Horvath’s restlessness.

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“I was at a film festival in Montreal and decided to go to Toronto. I often do that – I don’t necessarily watch all the films but go to museums, explore the city. My friends had a guest and he told me about her,” he said. Alling, who disappeared during her journey, proved to be an elusive figure.

“She was discovered in British Columbia by some workers. She came out of the forest, malnourished, hardly spoke any English and basically said, ‘I am Russian and I want to go back to Russia.’ Two local papers wrote articles about this ‘crazy woman’ and that’s how this story survived.”

Reimagining it in a contemporary setting, Horvath shot the film over the course of one year with Polish newcomer Patrycja Planik. Enlisting the help of a powerful ally, Ulrich Seidl, known for the “Paradise” trilogy and taking on the role of a producer.

“I was at a small film festival and met this Lithuanian guy. He said we needed an Austrian producer and without thinking, I went, ‘Ulrich Seidl.’ I just blurted out the name! Three days later Ulrich called, wanting to meet,” he said, admitting that other potential collaborators struggled with his loose plans for the story and the lack of script.

“I don’t know if he likes the film in the end, I am not sure. But there aren’t many people who would understand the process of making it. Seidl always says, ‘I never go over budget but I take a lot of time,’ ” he added, mentioning Nicolas Roeg’s “Walkabout,” the 1971 drama about two siblings abandoned in the Australian outback, as another important inspiration.

“It was based on the 30-page treatment, I think. There was no script, the director’s son [producer Luc Roeg] played the role of a boy, they were travelling with two buses and talking to locals. My goal was to work like that too,” he said.

Replying to a question from one of the participants, concerned about the lack of Black representation in the film, Horvath admitted that many scenes ended up on the editing floor.

“It occurred to me only later when somebody asked the same question. We shot with Black people in New York and Cleveland. Beautiful scenes, but they had to go. Also, the route that we took, you don’t meet that many Black people there. It’s just the way it is,” he said, also mentioning the North American continent and its nature as Lillian’s “antagonist” in the film. Horvath ended up lensing “Lillian” himself, as well as providing the soundtrack which gave his silent protagonist a voice. Welcoming Planik’s contribution as the two embarked on the journey, but also resorting to more practical solutions when needed.

“There are two images that I haven’t shot, unfortunately. There were no goddamn northern lights, so we found the right footage on this website. They probably use it for screensavers or something, but it was in 4K, it was cheap and it had northern lights. What can you do?”

The seventh edition of EFP’s Future Frames – Generation NEXT of European Cinema showcased the films of Mathias Seebacher (Austria), Hyun Lories (Belgium), Glen Bay Grant (Denmark), German Golub (Estonia), Jerry Hoffmann (Germany), Marcell Farkas (Hungary), Ninna Pálmadóttir (Iceland, Croatia, U.S.), Magdalena Gajewska (Poland), Kateřina Hroníková (Slovak Republic) and Irene Albanell Mellado (Spain).

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