The German director's second feature film premieres at Slamdance Film Festival on January 27, 2022—we caught up with Havemann in Berlin to discuss the film and her return to the festival.
We had the opportunity to connect with Frauke Havemann virtually in Berlin to discuss her latest film Be Right Back and her return to Slamdance. Based in Berlin, the filmmaker, theater director and choreographer founded her production company, ON AIR together with film editor Eric Schefter in 2002. Havemann's films and live projects explore the intersections of performance, theater, film and media art. Her extensive body of work has been shown at festivals and theaters throughout Europe with her first feature film Weather House having premiered at Slamdance Film Festival in 2017 as an Official Selection in the Narrative Competition. In addition to filmmaking, Havemann is a an instructor at the Inter-University Centre for Dance Berlin and she manages the AULA, an independent rehearsal and performance space.
Havemann is honored to be back at Slamdance this year with the world premiere of Be Right Back in the Breakouts Section. The film is set to premiere on January 27, 2022 at the festival for it's twenty-eighth edition which will be presented virtually. The film focuses on a small group of people living isolated in an abandoned vacation resort in the forest. Their absurd daily routine is thrown into disarray by the arrival of a mysterious stranger. When it turns out that their food supply has disappeared, the unsettled residents must set out into the forest in search of something to eat, but the group encounters unforeseen obstacles—or is the forest laying false trails? The film humorously illuminates the darker side of human nature in the twilight of the forest.
Havemann shared with us insight into her use of the theme of isolation in Be Right Back, her inspiration for the film, how horror films played a role and more in our interview. You can enjoy Frauke Havemann's other feature film, Weather House co-directed with Eric Shefter, written by Mark Johnson and streaming on Vimeo. Be sure to lookout for her mid-length feature film, The Woman Who Swallowed Her House as well.
Slay Away: It’s your second year with a feature film at Slamdance, this year in the Breakouts section, how does it feel to be back?
Havemann: It feels wonderful. I love the philosophy and practice of the festival, the way the team runs it and how dedicated they are. I feel honored to “be back”.
Slay Away: Would you say you have an adoration for the horror genre given that both your films, Weather House and Be Right Back deal with themes of isolation?
Havemann: I see a connection there which is super interesting for me, especially for example in relation to the consequences and mechanisms of human behaviours which might rise in a situation of isolation. I was probably first impressed that way by George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. John Carpenter’s The Thing and Dan O’Bannon’s original script for Alien inspired a Video-Performance I directed (Truckers and Trackers) in which the question of fear of the "other" is central. In that piece, identifying who is who by their appearance get’s totally turned on its head. Horror films have also taught me about suspense, in the sense of what is seen and what not.
Slay Away: How does the theme and fear of isolation play a key role in Be Right Back?
Havemann: For me in Be Right Back the isolation could be a self-chosen one. The structures, or one could say habits, people develop for themselves, are like crutches, something to hold on to in their idiosyncratic lives. That’s maybe where absurdity and also humor enters the picture, but not only that. In Be Right Back the characters are probably afraid to leave. The question remains, why? What’s out there or not?
Slay Away: What personal experience, if any, inspired the film?
Grech: After my first feature Weather House, I was interested to develop another film which deals with isolation. In Be Right Back (human) isolation plays a role again but I wanted to lure the characters into the forest–a cultivated forest, not a wilderness. So, at the beginning of the process in order to start working on the concept for the film, I traveled with my dramaturg Rose Beermann to a small vacation camp, one and a half hours north of Berlin, a beautiful place housed in the middle of the forest. At that time the spread of Covid-19 had just begun in Germany.
So from the moment we arrived, every day, every hour, news about the spread of the virus rushed into the forest idyll via our smartphones and laptops. When we started to imagine that we would not be able to leave the place, our perception of time started to shift and the mood in the forest seemed to change. During a long walk in the woods the tension around us seemed to be rising, but of course actually nothing around us changed—the forest didn’t care about our feelings and imaginings. This experienced discrepancy became one source for the fiction.
Slay Away: In a previous statement about the film, you said that “These five (characters) increasingly get overwhelmed by their self-chosen exile and what they project onto the forest (and onto each other), can you elaborate on how those projections take shape?
Havemann: I was playing cinematically with how the characters envision the forest as something that seems increasingly inexplicable, by the look of the forest. Through the cinematography and later color correction we tried to produce subtle changes, like shifting color or color intensity. We were interested in highlighting the different mindsets of the characters in their environment. I am also always interested in what is not seen but heard, so a lot of space is given to the acoustic level. Through the sound design. atmospheres are intensified, or suddenly changed.
Slay Away: What do you hope viewers take away from their Be Right Back viewing experience?
Havemann: I hope the audience can share the trip.
Slay Away: Do you have any other film projects in the works that we can be on the lookout for?
Havemann: I am planning another film in which isolation will play, one more time, a key role. Look out for us on some island in the not too distant future.