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(Orient Express Theatre Train)

Scene from “Orient Express Theatre Train” (photo © Christian Mueller)

Production Report featured in
German Films Quarterly 03/2009

Martin Andersson and Steffen Duevel, both graduates of the Baden-Wuerttemberg Film Academy in Ludwigsburg, have just spent two months accompanying a unique international theater project which followed the route of the legendary Orient Express train from the Turkish capital of Ankara to Stuttgart in south-west Germany.

The idea for their documentary Orient Express Theatre Train (working title) came after they pitched a concept to Christian Holtzhauer of the Schauspiel Stuttgart.

In one of the three open pitchings per year, Holtzhauer had called on students at the film academy to submit proposals for films on the subject of the Orient Express after he won support from the European Theater Convention for an international collaboration where theater ensembles from six European countries would perform their plays at 11 different locations in a converted railway carriage during a two-month journey from Turkey to Germany.

Following the premiere in their home town, each ensemble travelled by train to one or even several other cities where it performed again and met with the next ensemble which, in turn, performed its premiere. In terms of content, the rolling theater train project was examining 'European identity', the expectations of and past experience with the European unification process, and issues like escape, expulsion, mobility and settling down.

After beginning in Ankara and Istanbul, the train with its Turkish crew stopped in Craoiva and Bucharest (Romania), Novi Sad (Serbia), Zagreb (Croatia), Ljubljana and Nova Gorica (Slovenia), and, finally, Freiburg and Stuttgart, with a two-week long festival showing all of the plays, on its 3,000 kilometer journey.

"One of the biggest challenges on this project is having such an enormous volume of material [over 80 hours] gathered over 9 weeks, finding a focus and filtering out those moments which are interesting," says producer Christian Mueller, who had previously worked with co-director Martin Andersson on the live concert visualization Faust – Auf der Suche and two collaborations with the Stuttgarter Philharmoniker and ZDFtheaterkanal (La Valse and Der Klangkoerper).

"Having so many protagonists, six theater plays in six countries, and then only 60 minutes for the final film – it will be really fascinating to see how that all works in the edit."

Orient Express Theatre Train was the first collaboration between Swiss-born Andersson and Duevel who shared the tasks of director, DoP and sound man on this fly-on-the-wall observation. A taste of the film's shoot is provided by their daily weblog which they also produced on the road as they progressed towards Stuttgart: orientexpressfestival.blogspot.com.

"For the first two weeks, we had the German-Turkish camerawoman Inci Uensal with us for the shoot in Ankara and Istanbul, which was very good as she could also help with the translating," recalls Duevel, whose early childhood in Tanzania and Ruanda has led him to concentrate on the issue of human rights in his previous films such as Die Kinder des Gatarayiha and Unter Nachbarn – Vom Leben mit den Moerdern.

At times, it was a bit like the Tower of Babel with so many different nationalities participating. "English and French were the languages we conversed in, but then everyone of course has their own languages," Andersson says. "I think there will be quite a lot of translating to do later on. We did quite a few interviews, but there were also observations of conversations where it was better when the people spoke in their own languages – it's more natural. As time went by, the filming went really well because the actors got to know us since we were all travelling together and there was a feeling of trust towards us. We could just go in with the camera when they were discussing something and they hardly noticed we were there."

"It was a constant process of coming and going," Andersson adds. "For example, the Turkish actors were with us as far as Novi Sad and then some flew to Zagreb, the Germans stayed until Romania and were going to be on stage again in Germany. And the Romanian actors travelled by bus to join the train's performances in Novi Sad."

"So, it wasn't like a wandering circus in the classic sense where the actors are there all the time for the whole journey," Andersson notes.

The duo will now be involved in the film's post-production until the end of this year, when it should be premiered by ZDFtheaterkanal. Talks about further exploitation of this documentary or even a new film are underway and it could be picked up by ARTE for screening or aired in Turkey as part of Istanbul's European City of Culture celebrations in 2010.

On the question of whether the completed film will appear in a dubbed or subtitled version, producer Mueller says that the plans are for subtitles "which makes sense with such a multi-cultural project when you have so many different languages and emotions as they give a particular flair."

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Genre Art, Educational, Music, Road Movie
Category Documentary
Year of Production 2009
Directors Martin Andersson, Steffen Duevel
Cinematography Steffen Duevel, Inci Uensal
Silvio Herrmann
Production Company Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, in co-production with ZDFtheaterkanal/Mainz, Schauspiel Stuttgart, Eyecatch Productions/Saarbruecken
Format color
Original Version
 English/Turkish/German/Romanian/ Serbian/Croation/Slovenian/
Shooting Dates Ankara, Istanbul, Bucharest, Craiova, Timisoara, Novi Sad, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Nova Corica, Freiburg, Stuttgart, May - July 2009
Sound Technology Stereo