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Interview with Lukas Feigelfeld, director of Hagazussa
By James Whittington, Friday 17th April 2020

The themes of witchcraft and the occult are making a bit of a come back at the moment. Movies such as The Witch and Midsommer have brought the genre back into focus and now Hagazussa from writer/director Lukas Feigelfeld takes the genre to another, even darker level. Here he chats about this incredibly atmospheric movie which is being released on May 11th thanks to Arrow Video.

HC: Where did the idea for Hagazussa come from and how long did it take to write?

LF: I had been living with the idea of doing something witch and folklore related for many years. Part of my family originates from this particular area in the Austrian Alps, and from a young age on I was greatly fascinated, as well as scared, by the old folklore traditions and fairy tales about witches that roam those mountains. There is something fascinatingly dark but beautiful about the mountain woods; something that is, on a subconscious level, closely related to the sentiment of witchcraft. It is based on nature, on an old truth, on different believes and ultimately, for the "modern" civilisation, on the fear of the other, the unexplainable. Based on this I started developing the script, not necessarily wanting to write horror, but as my research deepened and the sheer horror and tragedy of the suffering of Albrun formed, the horror aspect naturally came to it. It took me good year, with lots of research and many hours of meditation in the dark, to finally get an intimate feeling for Albrun and what made her this so-called witch.

HC: How did you go about casting the movie?

LF: As for adult Albrun, I already had worked with Aleksandra Cwen on a previous medium length film, where she had a smaller part. I took the decision to work with her, as I knew that she would bring a great physicality to the film, that I had seen in her theatre work in Poland. Because she is polish, we had to work on the German lines, implementing the old countryside dialect, etc. Aleksandra was really a great gift for this project. Ultimately she had an immense understanding what Albrun's suffering meant to her and with this as a base, we could work on the set very organically. The young Albrun is actually my cousin's daughter and she really grew up in those mountains. Again I was very lucky to have her, as the trust we have for being family, was something that is gold on set. She understood my aim and it came easy to us. I guess for her it felt like a little vacation adventure to shoot with the team and later being able to see herself on the big screen.

HC: As this is your horror debut were you nervous first day on set?

LF: I guess everyone is nervous on a first day on the set, no matter how many films you shot. Many things can go wrong, but I had already shot a couple of medium-length and short films, so it did not feel to new for me. We had several blocks of shooting scattered over 1-5 years and I was happy every time we could go back and gather more footage for this. 4 years in the making, it turned out better than we had expected in the beginning of our little student feature.

HC: Was it a difficult shoot as it all seems to have been completed on location?

LF: As mentioned, there were several shooting blocks. Some in the winter on the mountains, which is very hard to shoot, others in the studio (the inside of the hut) and others in swamps or at the skull-chapel in Poland. I guess the hardest part is to come to peace with the force of nature that the mountain can bring to you. You can't force anything onto it. The whole team stayed more than 2 weeks on the mountain, living in a farm house, and you really get an understanding for the power of mountain-weather, of the blackness of the nights, the coldness of the wind, but also the immens beauty of it.

HC: Everything from the location, to the sets to the costumes exude immaculate research, did you have much of a budget to play with?

LF: Hagazussa was not only my feature debut, but also my thesis project from film school in Berlin. It was really a student film, and that means no budget. We got equipment and post-production facilities from the film academy, but everything else was achieved with crowdfunding and some sponsoring. We were very lucky to at least have the time to do everything right, so that we could distribute the small amount of budget to the right things, trying to still make the film look good and up to a certain cinematic level.

HC: The movie has a unique atmosphere relying on visuals rather than words, how difficult is it to direct such a piece?

LF: I think it is not so much a question of difficulty, but of style and vision. The film was already written and conceptualized in this way. I have a very subconscious and atmospheric approach on creating a story and making the viewer dive into the innermost world of the main character. Added to this is a strong layer of cinematic language. I rather use cinematography, imagery, sound, time and rhythm to create a film, than rely on dialogue and dramatic structures. I strongly believe in the audience and think, that, if you are willing to let yourself fall into it, you can in the end achieve a much deeper experience for the viewer.

HC: The score is incredible, how did you go about creating such a soundscape?

LF: I had the great pleasure in working with the musicians of MMMD (Mohammad) on the score for this film. I had been a follower of their work for a while and listened to their music extensively throughout the writing process. Later on I got in contact and they were interested in producing the score, which had a very strong impact on the intensity and overall mood of the film. Recently I did another music video for their new release "Egoismo", which is to be found online.

HC: The film has been a critical hit, does this put pressure on you for your next project?

LF: The film surely opened a lot of doors, but it is never easy to walk through the right one. I am grateful for all the people that watch it and made it available all over the globe.

HC: Do you believe that things such as "dark forces" etc exist?

LF: I could talk hours about this, as it ultimately is the big question of the film. I personally think that the question should be raised, if it actually makes a difference. In Albrun's psychotic mind everything she, together with the viewer, experiences is very real. So this is the "dark force" already. The fear of the demon IS the demon; the moment you think there is a witch following you in the dark forest, she actually IS there... and of course, when you turn around she will be gone. That is the nature of the unknown and the ultimate horror.

HC: There have been a number of movies that look into witchcraft etc, do you think have a favourite?

LF: Being a fan of classics, I have to mention the great Haxan from 1922. I also grew up watching Czech fairy tale films, like Perinbab, that had a great impact. On the other side of the spectrum I would mention The Sacrifice by Andreij Tarkovsky, which also features a sort of witch. No to forget that Tarkovsky's cinema is a big inspiration for my work.

HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?

LF: I am currently in financing for a German film that talks about the current rise of neo fascism in Europe and the struggle of urban society under violence and political uncertainty; an intense story. Besides this I am writing on an idea in English language, as well as a horror-series set in 1900 Wisconsin.

HC: Lukas Feigelfeld, thank you very much.


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