Hilda Péter as Katalin Varga
Reading film director Peter Strickland's first feature-length film is up for nomination at the world-famous Berlin Film Festival 2009. Peter talks us through his inspirations and why he shot the film in Transylvania.
A Reading director's independent budget film is up against Reading actress Kate Winslet's Hollywood blockbuster at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Peter Strickland's Katalin Varga is his first feature film and was made entirely independently over four years, costing less than 30,000 euros to make.
Katalin Varga is competing with films such as The Reader, starring Kate Winslet; Rage, starring Dame Judi Dench and Jude Law; and Pink Panther II, starring Steve Martin.
So how does an first-time director come out of nowhere to be nominated at the world famous Berlinale?
"There hasn't been a single year between 1992 and 2008 in which I wasn't involved in some form of theatre, film or music," says the 36-year-old.
"It was a 'nowhere' in the sense that I and a small group of friends were completely invisible to the establishment.
Peter Strickland on set
"We made our work available and everything we've done is still out there if people care to look for it.
"But the doors we knocked on were always closed.
"This 'nowhere' was a very real and exciting place where lots of work got done; not all of it good, but all relevant to what is happening now."
Peter was first inspired by the world of cinema when in 1990 he saw David Lynch's Eraserhead in the cinema. It changed his life.
"I was just a 16-year-old kid from Reading and this strange, beautiful piece of atmosphere absolutely set me alight," he remembers.
"It was such a strong, intense experience, especially with the industrial hiss and clank of the soundtrack."
Zsolt Pall in Katalin Varga
Peter went on to study fine arts and in 1996 founded the musique-culinary group The Sonic Catering Band in 1996 with friends from Reading, releasing several records and performing live throughout Europe.
He honed his directing skills at Reading's amateur Progress Theatre.
"I learnt much about directing by taking small roles in plays and working my way up to directing my own adaptation of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis," he says.
"Afterwards, making short films and stupid mistakes in the process was a big education. I learnt that to work quickly with have as few people on set as possible."
His film Katalin Varga is a far cry from life in Reading.
Filmed in Transylvania, the film follows Katalin Varga when she is banished from her village. She is left with no other choice than to set out on a quest to find the real father of her son, Orbán.
Katalin and Orbán travel through the Carpathians where she decides to reopen a sinister chapter from her past and take revenge.
The hunt leads her to a place where she prayed 11 years prior she would never set foot in again.
Scene from Katalin Varga
"For Katalin Varga I wanted to write around very traditional themes of revenge and redemption," says Peter, who moved to Hungary while making the film.
"The subject of revenge runs so deep in society and is full of contradictions.
"Personal revenge is by law a crime whereas political revenge is sanctioned. And it's one of the few crimes that we can all understand.
"Revenge brings on counter-revenge and where do you go from there?"
It's filmed in Romanian, though the country itself has nothing to do with the story, says Peter.
"For me, this film represents a movie Transylvania – not in the Dracula sense," he says.
"But everything is heightened – the goat bells, crickets, wind et cetera. It's a conglomeration of what I felt as an outsider."
Scene from Katalin Varga
He adds: "Everything about this film is about being an outsider. Katalin's character, my English status, and the fact that we were outside the film industry fighting to do something on our own terms.
"That energy - and sometimes desperation - is there and I'm quite proud that we communicated that.
"If people find the film sympathetic to Romanian or Transylvanian life, I'm incredibly flattered. But I would never be so presumptuous to say we are making a Romanian film."
The 59th Berlin International Film Festival is from Thursday 5 February to Sunday 15 February 2009.
Watch a trailer for Katalin Varga here:
last updated: 30/01/2009 at 12:18