Interview with Paul Rosdy

How did you meet Alfred Schreyer?
Originally I wanted to make a very different movie, but when I met Alfred Schreyer, during my research in Drohobych, I knew that I must make this movie. He showed me his photos and began to tell his remarkable story. Other then the concentration camps and post-war time, he had spent his whole life in Drohobych, but he experienced everything that life has to offer, in the bad as well as in the good. I was deeply moved. 

He was a student of Bruno Schulz.
When one, like me, spends a lot of time in Drohobych and knows his humble, small but so important works of writing, it becomes clear; The Street of Crocodiles and The Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass are felt and seen on every street corner in Drohobych. Just like Alfred Schreyer, Bruno Schulz spent most of his life in Drohobych. His great pieces of world literature owe so much to this wonderful, but neglected, city in Western Ukraine.

What is the evil, in the context of Alfred Schreyer’s life?
The evil for him is, of course, the Nazis, the forced labor camps, and the inconceivable story of what happened in Drohobych. In the Broniza Woods, where you can find these mass graves plates, hell has a face. And I find this to be very important. From the beginning it was clear, the film must end here. And when Alfred told me that the only music composition he ever wrote was the song, Broniza Woods, well, as a film author, there was nothing else to ask for.

And the good?
The fact that Alfred has not lost his optimism is somehow reflected in this truly unique tradition of the Cinema Lobby Orchestra culture of the Soviet Union. I admire his resilience. Here was this young man who lost everything one can lose, but his life. He survived due to luck and in part to the songs he sang in the dark hours in the concentration camps. Spontaneously, he decided to return where there was no one and nothing left for him. If he would have stayed two or three months longer in the barracks of the Red Cross in Berlin, he most likely would have ended up in Buenos Aires and his life would have taken a very different route. Everyone of us has made decisions that shaped the rest of our lives. Usually one realizes this much later. But one must reconcile that and move forward. Alfred Schreyer moved his life forward in a wonderful way. He tells and leads us – in the present time – from hell in his hometown to a world of music and endurance.

He found his luck, despite everything, in the fantastic Cinema Lobby Orchestra tradition. For me, the Cinema Lobby Orchestra is like a dream that I was never able to dream, because, for example in Vienna, we only had rather tacky fashion shows before the movies. I remember in my youth that everything from the Soviet Union was rejected. But the Soviets had romance in the Cinema Lobby, when the orchestra played, which would have been great to experience. Many older people in the former Soviet Union still dream about these orchestras, and now I do as well. I am very grateful to Alfred Schreyer for this.

You made this film almost completely alone, not taking into consideration the camera work.
Yes, thanks to fantastic technical developments, we shot this film with a photo camera. Considering this, the quality of the images is breathtaking. In the beginning I had very little money, but I knew we had to shoot this film as soon as possible. So I asked Peter Roehsler if he would come with me to Drohobych and shoot it. Being aware of Drohobych, he said yes right away. I am grateful to him, because he took a risk with me, since the financing was not yet secured. I then got some good microphones and we shot the movie in a week in September 2010, and then two more days in May 2011. But, aside from Peter and me, I must mention our driver Vasyl Levtschyk, because we had some difficulties getting access to locations. Vasyl did not speak German or English and we did not speak Ukrainian or Russian, but he always understood right away. He always knew what the problem was and solved it with a chicken and a bottle of Vodka. So he was not only our driver but also an intelligent line producer for us. Thank you, Vasyl.

And the editing, how did that go?
Well, that was hard work, but nice. There were two things that I discovered. In the beginning I used archival film footage for two segments. But then I was thinking, wouldn’t it be interesting if I can do without it? Archival film footage was not, as in most of my previous films, a leading element for this story. So, while shooting, I said to Peter that I need shots from the car driving through town. I didn’t know why yet, but I wanted to have them, just in case. Well, in the editing it worked quite well. I used some of these shots from the driving car through town whenever Alfred Schreyer spoke about the war, deportation and mass murder. And I think it works very well, because I only used these shots in the context of war, deportation and mass murder, so there was a clear connection.

The second thing that I discovered has to do with the archival photos and postcards. In the current 16:9 format it is impossible to show these photos and postcards in their entirety. You either have to lose something on top and bottom or you put black space left and right. I did not like that. Then I heard all kinds of 3D discussions on current documentary films, but I knew, this has nothing to do with this story. And then I tried to simply show the archival photos and postcards completely, and at the same time use a detail of the same picture to underline it. I think that works also very well. I am very happy with it.