Interview: Wolfgang Fischer on Styx

In our first On The Clock Interview Exclusive, we talked to German director Wolfgang Fischer about the several challenges of filming in the middle of the ocean and emotional workings of his latest film Styx.


I was wondering specifically about the correlation between the film relating to the refugee crisis and the metaphors and references used in the movie, such as the River of Styx and the monkeys at the start of the film.

The main approach to make a movie out of the refugee crisis, was right from the beginning to make a feature film that can create a very profound emotional experience for the audience, that doesn’t rely on special effects nor uses a heavy documentary approach. The film’s goal was to go right into your emotions, and to share these experiences with the audience. The reason why these references and metaphors were in the film in the first place was due to the importance of getting these images in the movie, like the monkeys/apes and the title of the film which refers to the river of Styx, to convey the feeling of what those images mean in today’s society. Said images were meant for the audience to go on a journey and for them to think “what does it mean to be in this parallel world of mythological references.” There are many layers to this film, and that what I liked most about it when directing Styx.


You mentioned in the introduction, before the film started, that 90% of the footage in the film was shot on open water. What were some of the difficulties and challenges in completing this feat?

It was very tough because more of the cast and crew didn’t have much experience shooting a film live in the ocean. In most films, they usually shoot on a sound stage or artificial tanks with plenty of CGI. The approach to do everything practically was to make sure that the film felt real, due to the film’s powerful topic. I didn’t want to fake it. I wanted to recreate the experience of actually going out into this hostile world with the whole team. This idea was very complicated, because you see, the main actress Susanne (Wolff) needed to shoot the majority of the film on this 40 feet boat, with the rest of the crew either behind the railings or underneath the boat. Not to mention that all of the crew needed to fight against sea sickness, because it’s really shoot in rough weather, especially in the middle of the ocean. It took around four to five hours in total to get to the shoot location in the Atlantic alone. You can’t just control it. You have to stay on the boat. There’s no intimacy being on the boat, when there’s 10 other people in this small space. It was very hard psychologically and also from a physical approach to reach this goal.


Were there any tight time constrictions or budgetary restrictions when shooting the film?

The budget was very tight. It was a very low budget production so it was difficult in the funding process to pitch the themes of the film. People in the industry aren’t so willing to talk about, or even make a movie out of the Refugee crisis. Don’t forget that the film is mainly dialogue-less, and both the main character is not talking for the majority of run time and there’s no traditional antagonist. Many of the funders asked What’s going on on this boat? Is it really interesting to be alone in the ocean for most of the movie? This was a big problem involving production, and it limited our time.


When this film eventually hits theaters in North America this February, what do you want from audiences internationally to take away from this film?

Wolfgang- The goal from the beginning was to share empathy and to share a profound experience. That’s what cinema for me is like, to go to the movies and to get to know a world I haven’t seen before. That was the main aim for this film. I remember when something that Susanne told me when she wanted to be part of the production a while back. She wanted audience member’s to have an open heart for other people, especially those in crisis once the film ended. I think this is the main take away.



Film Movement has scheduled a February 2019 Release for Styx in North America


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