The five producers of coop99 filmproduktion talk about LOVELY RITA


Their first production, Lovely Rita, was invited to this year's Cannes Festival and will premiere in the Un Certain Regard section: What a start for coop99, a new Austrian production company founded by five young film professionals, who recently graduated from Vienna's Filmakademie. coop99 are Barbara Albert, Jessica Hausner, Martin Gschlacht, Gilbert Petutschnig and Antonin Svoboda.


Your efforts were rewarded with immediate success: The company's first production "a feature-film debut" was included in the Official Selection at Cannes. coop99's concept has shown that it works. What motivated you to found a company two years ago?

BARBARA ALBERT: It was a desire to do something together which resulted from our cooperation at the Vienna Filmakademie. We were primarily interested in being independent, the fact that we had certain ideas about how we wanted to make films and the importance of the general atmosphere during production for the final results.

JESSICA HAUSNER: Lovely Rita, is one example of why I thought starting this company would be such a good idea, because I noticed how circumstances influence the finished product. coop99 now includes five names, Barbara Albert, Martin Gschlacht, Jessica Hausner, Gilbert Petutschnig and Antonin Svoboda.


How are decisions made and how is work divided up within the group?

GILBERT PETUTSCHNIG: We make decisions together concerning which projects will be developed or produced, but that doesn't mean that all five of us are involved each time. Three of us direct and write screenplays, one is responsible for cinematography and production. I joined the company in January 2001, and I deal with production exclusively.

How many projects are you working on at present?

BARBARA ALBERT: We're developing three different projects: Hubert Sauper's documentary Darwin's Nightmare,, a very original docudrama entitled Telekolleg Politik,, and Böse Zellen, my next film. We're also working on Kaltfront, a screenplay by Valentin Hitz.

ANTONIN SVOBODA: We also want to take on external projects rather than concentrating solely on our own. A second Austrian production company was involved in the making of Lovely Rita. We produced it together with Prisma Film. The reason for that was because your first film to receive financing from the Austrian Film Institute must be made with an established and experienced company which is ultimately responsible for the money. We worked with Heinz Stussak, which turned out very well. We never had the feeling that someone was watching over our shoulders. Prisma Film took care of all the preparations and postproduction work - contracts, coproduction contracts and subsidies - while we were responsible for the actual shooting.


Was making Lovely Rita as an international coproduction a financial necessity or is this part of the company's philosophy?

MARTIN GSCHLACHT:  It wasn't a financial necessity in the case of Lovely Rita - on the contrary, Philippe Bober (The Coproduction Office) approached us in Cannes two years ago and offered to work with us. Making our first project as an international coproduction was a great experience.


Do you actively search for production partners?

GILBERT PETUTSCHNIG: We were in Rotterdam and Berlin this year to look for financing. It's really a complicated procedure. But we all think that, in the long run, it's worth it. The next step is to do the looking in Cannes.


How has COOP 99 dealt with the cutbacks in the government's budget for subsidies?

BARBARA ALBERT: The cutbacks have been dramatic for everybody. We're absolutely convinced that subsidies are necessary, because they're the only way to be independent.

JESSICA HAUSNER:Furthermore, this involves sums of money needed to invigorate an entire industry. Only the state is able to provide those sums. After several years of discussion, one would have to conclude that the necessary political will is just not there.

What kind of strategies are available to a young production company?

JESSICA HAUSNER: Our main intention is to produce films, not change the country's politics. I think that will eventually happen if the films we produce are successful. The important thing will then be to make good use of the available opportunities and work with foreign partners.

BARBARA ALBERT: If we're able to make films which are shown both in Austria and abroad, the politicians won't have any other choice. We're extremely open to new ideas regarding private financing. But there must first be a foundation in the form of subsidies.


What were your experiences while producing Lovely Rita?

ANTONIN SVOBODA: A long casting phase, and extensive shooting and editing were essential for this film, and there was not a lot of discussion about it. On the other hand, some things must be abandoned and made up for with a lot of imagination and conviction. Filmmaking is just very hierarchical, and breaking out of that was definitely one of the biggest challenges. But it was great.

JESSICA HAUSNER:  I found this dual role as director and producer for Lovely Rita, extremely exciting because those are the two jobs with the most power and they might end up disagreeing. That was never necessary with Lovely Rita because of the agreements we made beforehand. That worked extremely well in my opinion. Of course, directing was the most important thing for me. There's this strange superstition that directors exploit that mercilessly, but it's not true, because I want the film to be made, and there's no contradiction in my opinion.


When did The Coproduction Office join in?

MARTIN GSCHLACHT: Primarily starting with the postproduction work, most of which was done in Berlin. Otherwise, they took care of world sales in addition to being a coproducer. Of course, they began to market it long beforehand. That was a rush, having an agent for world sales before shooting started, very much the exception with Austrian films. The result was an art film which is being sold on the commercial market. The same thing is planned for our next projects. We want keep our films out of this strange dichotomy of art and commercial films.


How is coop99 positioning itself among established Austrian production companies?

MARTIN GSCHLACHT: coop99 should be seen as a chance that film will be taken seriously in this country again and that, as a result, more money will once again be made available. I don't think that coop99 will go under because of the cutbacks. The question is the amount of quality you can produce within a tight framework. Film is a large apparatus with a number of opportunities for interaction, and this requires a secure basis. We're not pessimistic about the future, we're full of ideas for projects, all with interesting people, and we expect that they'll be exciting.


Interview: Karin Schiefer