It’s not often you catch a film that truly inspires you, let alone a period film with unknown actors, subtitles, and a first time feature director. This was the case when I saw the impressive and heartfelt debut of The Holy Land of Tyrol at the first Film Festival Flix in North Hollywood. We had the chance to chat with Director Philip J. Pamer after the screening!
The Holy Land of Tyrol the story of Katharina Heimstedt, who in the year 1809 must escape her home in Bavaria to Tyrol with her husband who accidentally murdered a French soldier. The story takes place among the backdrop of political turmoil and war between Bavaria and Tyrol, during the time of Napoleon. This foreign film, in French and German with English subtitles, is at its heart a love story. The audience instantly forgets the film is not in English because you are swept up in the stellar performances by lead actors Inga Birkenfield (think a European Claire Danes) and Wolfgang Menardi. Despite being a period piece, the audience can easily identify with themes of adjusting to a new marriage/ in-laws, political animosity, discrimination based on nationality, loss, and love. It is no wonder the film won the Audience Award at the Munich Film Festival. “We entered the Munich Film Festival with 400 other films, I was filled with excitement when we won,” Pamer told the audience at the North Hollywood screening.
After the screening, Pamer discussed the film with the audience revealing he chose to shoot the entire film on 35mm film (only the aerial shots were done digitally) to truly capture the landscape of Tyrol. The film shot for 38 days over eight months so that Pamer could convey the change of seasons and authenticity of farm life in the mountains. “We often shot in one take what would normally be done in four of five takes,” said Pamer in order to complete the film on a tight shooting schedule.
The film opens with a pivitol scene in which a French soldier in murdered during a tense time of war. “It was a big scene and we shot that scene the second day,” said Pamer of the moment that set the story in motion. “The women in this film, especially the mother figure, is like a rock. She has a kind of strength. These type of women are the only ones that could live in those mountains. But they have a warm heart,” said Pamer describing the pivotal female characters with obvious affection and personal knowledge. “I modeled the mother figure after my Great Aunt,” he added. “One meal we had was this traditional food that my mother cooked once or twice a year but I hated it so much I’d spit it out. It created a type of trauma so I included it in the film as the food the family eats day in and day out when they have nothing else. We shot about fifteen or sixteen takes of that scene (which provides great family dynamics and humor to the film) and the actors had to keep eating it. I’d yell cut and they’d all spit it out!” recounts Pamer.
It is clear this is a project that is close to his heart and he has pulled it off magnificently. Here’s what Pamer had to say to PPLA about the film.
PPLA: What inspired you to do this film? It takes place in your home town, during a real time in history but the characters are fictional, correct?
PAMER: All of what you can find in the film, the historical background, is true. It all happened 200 years ago. I had the idea to show a fictional story of a family during this time. I tried to convey what happened to real people during this time. I was doing a lot of research and I discovered that there were three women from Bavaria that where living there two hundred years ago, so I knew a story like this could have happened. But the heart of this story was invented by me.
PPLA: You filmed the Holy Land of Tyrol over eight months but in only 38 shooting days, what was that like?
PAMER: It was real important for me to show the spring, the summer, the fall, the winter… to show real snow and the work on the farm. We had to divide the shoot into four blocks to get this. This also helped me because I was able to think about the film in between and I was growing as a director while shooting this film. The year before, I had only made five short films and this was my first feature.
PPLA: As a first time feature director, this film looks like the production quality of a studio blockbuster, how did you raise the funding for it as in indie film?
PAMER: As a director-writer, I came from Italy, from Tyrol, and my producer came from Germany, from Bavaria, so we were able to find money and funding in both countries and we had a lot of sponsorships to realize this film.
PPLA: You are based overseas, how do you like Los Angeles and do you ever plan to film here?
PAMER: I live in Europe, in Munich. This is my first time to the United States and I find it great. It’s awesome here. The weather is good, I like the people, I like movies…this is the movie city! It’s great to be here.
PPLA: The actors you cast were phenomenal, you could feel their emotion and almost didn’t need the subtitles. Are these actors unknown overseas or are they established actors in that market?
PAMER: Two or three are well known actors/actresses but not in the leading parts. The leads are fresh faces. I had a huge casting and the leads I chose had a lot of talent. I think they did a great job.
PPLA: Do you have another film that you are currently working on?
PAMER: I am working on an Italian-German co-production now and the film is also set in Tyrol in the mountains. I am specialized a bit in shooting there because I grew up there and I know it very well. You can make a lot of films there, mountain films, like Twin Peaks. I am currently in touch with Rienhart Messner the famous mountain climber in hopes of making a movie, his story there. I am still young and I hope I will make a few more movies in my career and hopefully the next time I come to L.A., I can show the next film I shoot in Tyrol here.
PPLA: What is your next film about, is it also a period piece?
PAMER: It is the story of two brothers, one lives in Italy and one lives in Germany, and the Internet helps to connect them. They have not been in contact and they find each other again.
Judging by the audience Pamer’s first film found, his second is sure to be easily welcomed by Los Angeles and the indie film community.