Dennis Gansel riding on the crest of the wave


There are many situations in which we ask ourselves what would have happened if…But most of the time we can’t do anything about it. Nevertheless, there are some people who can.

Dennis Gansel, who made movies such as “Before The Fall”, “We Are The Night” or “The Fourth State”, among others, is best known for directing “The Wave”, in which he could ask himself whether it was possible or not that another dictatorship could be established in modern Germany.

He approached recurrently the theme about fascism and World War II in his films but he also directed other genres.

In a conversation with The Outsider Argentina, Dennis spoke about his beginnings, the making of “The Wave” and his new movie called “Grimm Night”.

How did you start your interest in movies?

I was a child actor in a theatre in Hanover. My fellow actor and “Father” in the play was also the director. I became fascinated with his work and decided that’s what I want to do. Later I saw “The Trial” by Orson Welles and thought, no movies… THAT’S what I want to do.

You work as an actor and director in some of your movies how is it to combine both things?

I enjoy it very much. The parts I play in my movies are always very small, so it is not a problem to fit them in. It is good for a director to stand in front of the camera sometimes. You get another level of respect for the actors. And…it is fun!

How are you as a director?

I would say friendly, sometimes impatient. I know what I want and if not I always end up making bad decisions. So I always try to be as prepared as I can before shooting.

The story in The Wave was first a real experiment in Palo Alto, then a novel, a play and a short movie. What was your intention in reviving that story and making it in a German school?

I think the question whether it is possible or not that something like fascism can rise again in Germany is something a lot of people think about in our country. So when I did read the novel back in 1986 it was something I asked myself, even as a 12 year old. So when I was in my thirties and the chance came up to get the rights to the story I really wanted to explore that question.

Have you done some research in schools to make the film? What did you do?

Yes, my cowriter Peter Thorwarth and I spend a lot of time in high schools just to get a feeling of what it is like. How students think, talk, interact today. It was like going to school again. Interesting and frightening.

And the end is not the same in the experiment and the novel, why did you change it?

We wanted to have a more drastic ending because I think the times changed between the original experiment back in 1967 and now. School shooting happened also in Germany and you can’t scare someone today with a picture of Adolf Hitler anymore (like it was in the experiment). I really wanted to make a point. THIS is where fascism leads us to.

How did the people in Germany take the film? Did they like it or did you have some criticism?

They loved it, it was a huge success. Some of the criticism was about the question: is it really possible? Some people think there is no way because our society is so democratic and people would not react that way. I am okay with that, because you know it is exactly about this question: “what if…” we wanted to start a discussion. And that’s what we did.

With The Wave and Before The Fall you approach the theme about fascism, World War II, etc., do you plan on making another film with these subjects or do you consider that your work is done?

I thought I was done with it. But now I have three more projects. All dealing with that kind of questions. It is interesting; maybe I am not done yet. There are still fascinating stories out there to tell.

In which moment do you think is the German cinema?

I think it was very interesting 5 years ago, but right now all the big successes are comedies. A lot of smaller, more interesting stuff doesn’t get an audience. The audience in Germany is tough, they don’t like experiments. If something is new you always need a very good campaign to get the people into the theatres. And often the distributors don’t want to spend that money. And we need more stories with an international approach. The ones Bernd Eichinger did for example. His death is a big loss for the German cinema.

What can you tell us about your next movie Grimm Night?

It is a supernatural horror movie for Universal. The idea is terrific and I hope we get it off the ground.

Samantha Schuster