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Ladies of the apocalypse: Endzeit’s Carolina Hellsgård

INTERVIEW! Berlin-based filmmaker Carolina Hellsgård on her surprising female-focused international hit Endzeit and what drew her to the post-apocalyptic zombie genre script. Catch it in Berlin cinemas on Aug 22.

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Berlin-based filmmaker Carolina Hellsgård on her feminist zombie thriller Endzeit.

Endzeit (Ever After) is a true rarity – a German-language genre film that’s proven a hit at international festivals. With its timely ecological subtext, strong feminist credentials, sumptuous visuals and commanding central performances from rising stars Gro Swantje Kohlhof and Maja Lehrer, it’s an impressive sophomore feature from Swedish director Carolina Hellsgård, who’s been based in Berlin for the bulk of her career to date.

The zombie market is pretty oversaturated these days. What drew you to this project?

I was sent the script in 2016, and really loved its mixture of tropes and genres – zombie, fairy tale, road trip, female buddy movie and so on. It’s also quite maximalist, at least compared to the dramas I’ve made in the past. So I saw an opportunity to make something entertaining that’s also reflective and intelligent. In genre movies there are certain things you have to deliver, but in between there’s space to focus on atmosphere or human relationships.

Were you inspired by any specific zombie or post-apocalyptic films?

My cinematographer Leah Striker loves World War Z, so we watched that when planning our action scenes, although we were quite jealous of the budget they had! It was also important to us that the zombies moved quickly, so 28 Days Later was a major reference point. And of course I’m familiar with George A. Romero. I studied film in Stockholm and we analysed how he used zombies as a metaphor, so I had this in mind to some extent.

There’s a sense in the film that an apocalypse might be just what our planet needs right now. Does that reflect your own beliefs at all?

I do believe that while we all want harmony in one way or another, we need to let go and accept chaos to a certain extent. A sense of freedom is very important to me, and I enjoyed the way that these two characters remove themselves from a society where they have roles and duties imposed on them. Then of course there’s the question of whether nature really needs humans in order to thrive. The answer is probably not!

Endzeit is elevated by the strong chemistry between your two leads. Did this come naturally?

We had extremely little time on set – I knew in advance that we’d only be able to manage between one and three takes per scene. So we rehearsed a lot. It was like planning a bank robbery or something! Gro and Maja became really close, and I think you can see this in the movie. They also spent a lot of time together on their own. At one point they went to some forest outside Berlin and actually got lost. Thankfully they made it back in the end!

Olivia Vieweg adapted the screenplay from her own graphic novel. How was it working with her?

It was the first time I didn’t use my own script, so that took some getting used to. When you produce your own script, you’re so inside that universe that you maybe find it hard to make changes that are necessary. Here I think I had a more objective, detached view of the text. I spent about a year and a half developing the script with Olivia, and she was very open and easy to work with.

Have you been surprised by the warm response?

The response tends to differ slightly between countries. In Toronto, the focus was on the ecological aspect, but in Germany this is one of very few zombie films to have been made in recent years, so people fixate on the horror aspect, and the fact that it has two female leads. People here tend to have more respect for bourgeois stories about disintegrating families or whatever, and zombie movies are seen as having less cultural worth. But having said that, we received funding very quickly. I think it’s because it’s an existential movie, and people responded to that.

Most of your key collaborators on the film are women. Was that a deliberate choice?

I was looking for people who’d be equally comfortable doing arthouse and action. Leah Striker loves Tarkovsky as much as she loves World War Z, so for me she was the perfect choice. She was really good at shooting violence and also really appreciated the subtext. It was similar with my production designer Jenny Rösler. We had initial talks about the concept and straight away she was producing these incredible sets. So it was really just about finding the best people for the project.

Endzeit hits Berlin cinemas on August 22. Check our OV search engine for showtimes.