Director Philipp Stözl’s new film Nordwand (North Face) is centered around the attempt of two German soldiers, Toni Kurz and Andreas Hinterstoisser, to be the first to climb the North Face of the Eiger mountain in the Swiss Alps. The film, set in 1936, is based on a true story, and follows in the steps of previous German mountain climbing films. The film’s breathtaking scenery (it was filmed in part on the Eiger), stirring musical score and solid characterization of the two heroes make the film inspiring to watch.
Stözl took the time to answer some of MovieMaker’s questions about the film, which opens in New York City on January 29th.
Rebecca Pahle (MM): The film has some political aspects to it; Andi and Toni were technically Nazis, and then you have the newspaper editor Arau, who seems more convinced regarding Nazi ideology. Were you at any point tempted to make the film anti-war, or was it always going to be more about the characters, and Andi and Toni’s struggles?
Philipp Stözl (PS): It was actually the mix of adventure/genre elements and the political aspects that made me want to tell that story. You can read the film as a vertical anti-war movie. Two young guys are driven into a dangerous climb basically because their time and the Nazi regime are so hungry for heroes. And they pay with their life for believing in the wrong idea.
MM: In America most people don’t know about Eiger films, much less the story of Andi and Toni specifically. I imagine that in Germany their story is more well-known. How do you think audiences outside Germany will react to the film? How much did you consider that aspect during production?
PS: The story is pretty well known by everybody who is a little bit interested in mountaineering—which is definitely not enough of an audience for a bigger movie. We therefore tried to develop the film in a way that it would reach a wider audience, added the fictional love story, etc. The international journey of the movie is a total surprise to us; we did not consider that beforehand. Audiences outside Germany have reacted pretty good to the movie so far; it had a release in the U.K., in Asia and in New Zealand.
MM: You must have faced massive challenges while filming the movie, given its location. How much did you film on the mountain, and then what was shot on a set?
PS: We spent quite some time in a mountain cabin at the Eiger filming with doubles in a documentary style. It was pretty exhausting. Sometimes you wait for days and the weather does not get right, sometimes you climb for hours to your location and you just get a single lousy shot. Half a year later we went to other, logistically easier mountains and built a rock set in a freezer for the close-ups. I guess in the final edit we have about 60 percent shots from real mountains, 40 percent that were done in our freezer-studio.
MM: What’s up next for you?
PS: I am just editing another movie that I shot last summer, it is about the young Johann Goethe, set in the 18th century, it is sort of an Amadeus-type of movie, a biopic with a lot of fictional elements. That is supposed to be released in autumn. Then I just directed an opera, a early Wagner piece. Opera directing is my second profession; I do it about once a year.