Christian Alvart • Director of Dogs of Berlin
“The film has to have a voice“
- Coming off the successful Netflix series Dogs of Berlin, Christian Alvart talks to German Films about his past, current and future projects
Coming off the phenomenally successful Netflix series Dogs of Berlin, Christian Alvart is proving to be a consummate filmmaker, through his ability to convey the bigger, perhaps the biggest picture of all, within internationally popular, entertainment formats. According to him, people, the characters and thus the audience, come first.
“The Jack Ryan series”, he explains, “shows there is more than just Tom Clancy’s own views. Because the serial format allows for expansion and explanation, we get to know the characters and are not so quick to condemn. And this is what Dogs of Berlin meant to me. The figures are looked at with love and empathy. The world building was all about tension, but I soon realized there had to be feeling as well.” And feeling there is.
The core idea of Dogs of Berlin was a cop with a former rightwing background who misses the fighting and companionship. He’s a gambler who one day stumbles, by accident, on a crime scene: Germany’s most famous footballer, one with a migration background, dead and the next day Germany plays Turkey. “He’s the guy on which the whole socio-political-sporting discussion is turning and he’s dead!”, Alvart, who has a solid Tatort background and loves what Germans call ‘Krimis’, explains. “Football’s close to a religion and the city will explode if this gets out! Plus, the lead guy can place some bets and win big, too!” But then a second cop arrives, a Turkish-German. He’s “good for the politicians,” Alvart continues, “gay and left-liberal, so not your classic Turkish cliché!”
The story and characters, both of which originate from Alvart, started as a 160-page series bible he wrote “before Netflix’s Eric Barmack came asking: ‘Do I have a show?’ I first had to check this was for real! But then I sent him the bible and pilot, pitched it and they wanted it. The problem was I was already working on a two-parter with Til Schweiger, had written Cut Off [+see also:
film profile] and was working on Don’t.Get.Out! [+see also:
film profile] – I couldn’t deliver! They just told me to come back later. I was scared it would be dropped, but I kept in touch, pitched again and it all moved so fast, I even had to get co-writers in to deliver the scripts. Now I’m very proud of it, 100% behind it, controversy and all!” He is also unstinting in his praise for Netflix’s handling of the show: “They did a super marketing job; giant posters everywhere, adverts on the trains, the underground, trams, character posters, everything, and really stylish.”
So what is a ‘Christian Alvart’ film, then? “My taste is very broad but my approach is very detailed,” he explains. “What does the project need? What does the story need? The most important thing is that the camera tells the story, it’s the language, the story is told with pictures, so it cannot be random. I hate shooting coverage. I’ve always used storyboards and I don’t want coincidence to play any greater role than that, coincidence. The viewer must feel the director’s stance as a narrator/storyteller.”
“The film has to have a voice,” Alvart continues, “and tell the story well. The actors must understand that their being positioned is to tell the story. The highest compliment is when people watch a film and are entertained and understand it even if they don’t speak the actual language! Steven Spielberg is a master of this. Also Luc Besson! My two masters!”
Alvart is currently making Django Lives! with Franco Nero, “and the lack of backstory is part of the suspense. In the first scene of the original he saves a woman from robbers, brings her to a village... and then hands her to Mexican bandits! Only later do we learn he wants the gold and still has a shred of decency. When we get Darth Vader’s or Snake Plissken’s backstory they become banal.”
Also amongst the current projects in his entrepreneurial loop is a remake of Spanish thriller Marshland [+see also:
interview: Alberto Rodríguez
film profile]. As Free Country [+see also:
film profile], the film ditches the politics of the Franco era, “which is very hard to convey to a German audience,” and is set in 1991 in the state of Mecklenburg Western-Pommerania, and individual fates following German reunification: “There is deindustrialization, West Germans buying things up, young women leaving and it turns out some have been murdered. An East German cop teams with a West German colleague. It’s a portrait of the soul of Germans at this time.”
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