Interview by Andreea Boyer // Edited by Chris Charles of Idol Features
German filmmaker Daniel Alvarenga has come a long way since he made his first film in 2008, which was a five-minute horror short with three actors playing seven roles, and it was shot with a digicam and a flashlight. His recent feature film, Wer Frieden sucht (English title: If You Want Peace) was shot in the city of Regensburg and features a cast that’s among the top acting talent in Germany.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about yourself and where are you from?
Daniel Alvarenga: My name is Daniel Alvarenga, I am 33 years old and live in Passau in Lower Bavaria, but I grew up in and around Regensburg.
Andreea Boyer: Have you been working in the film industry mainly in Germany or also somewhere else around the globe?
Daniel Alvarenga: No, I’m a complete autodidact. I worked as a photographer for a while, so there is a connection to cameras and the necessary software. I just fiddled around, have always looked very closely to “making of’s” of films, which fascinated and inspired me and tried everything by myself. So my current level of knowledge is principally based on trial and error.
Andreea Boyer: How did you start your career as a filmmaker and what has motivated and inspired you?
Daniel Alvarenga: The start of the “career” was a spontaneous, alcohol-induced idea of a friend to shoot a horror film in the neighboring village. The result was a five-minute work without any recognizable plot, with three actors in seven roles and the technical equipment of an old digicam and a flashlight.
I’ve loved movies since I can remember. Although I was never able to be a cineaste, formerly for lack of money, now for lack of time, I compensated for that by spending nights in front of the television in the past and now have a steadily growing BluRay collection. Making films was never an option for me, because I thought that would not be possible without a lot of money and technology. Since I have seen that it is possible, I constantly try to develop myself further. Of course, every movie I’ve seen, every book I’ve read and every song I’ve heard, flows into my work. Still, I never tried to imitate a particular filmmaker. Stylistically, icons like Hitchcock and Kubrick are great role models, of the way of filmmaking and the views about it. As far as I can read that from interviews, Fatih Akin is someone with whom I feel very connected.
Andreea Boyer: When did you start with your career as a filmmaker and has filmmaking always been your main focus?
Daniel Alvarenga: The film mentioned above was shot in 2008. After his surprising success in the circle of friends, followed two sequels and in 2012 and 2014, two “Agrar-Western” (Bavarian Western) in feature length. My first “serious” project was the short film trilogy Geister, which was published in 2017 and of course my current feature film Wer Frieden sucht (If You Want Peace).
Filmmaking has always been my main focus, and nothing would make me happier than being able to do it every day. However, I also have a family with three children, which is the reason why I have to be at least this much of a realist that everyone gets something to eat. That’s why I’ve worked as a photographer, cheese seller, passenger surveyor, printer, and, the toughest two nights of my life, in a waste incinerator over the years. Everything for the art.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about the cast and story from your movie?
Daniel Alvarenga: The leading role is played by Oliver Troska, a young actor from Hamburg who currently lives in Munich. He was voted best male horror film actor in 2016 and has appeared in award-winning productions such as Höre die Stille and Duell der Brüder. In my film he plays Johannes Lukas, a young man who, despite his 30 years, has not yet achieved much. When he suddenly sees a beautiful woman next to him on old photos, which he cannot remember, he tries to trace his past. Then his life begins to collapse over him until he can no longer be sure what is reality and what is imagination.
For the other roles we were also able to win great actors. For example, Christian Stock, who is Germany’s most booked advertising actor, Toni Steger, an Austrian folk actor and director, and Julia Gruber, who has been a well-known face, or voice, on television and radio for years.
Andreea Boyer: Where did you filmed your movie and why in that location?
Daniel Alvarenga: The film was shot at various locations in and around Regensburg. So we were very lucky to be able to shoot in the beautiful Hotel Goliath or in the Evangelical Central Cemetery. So the special flair of Regensburg comes to the fore and also contributes a lot to the mood of the film.
I decided to locate the film in Regensburg because I lived there for years and know the city very well. Some places where we shot were exactly the same I had in mind when I wrote the script. I had thought about shooting in Passau, where I live now, and which is also a beautiful city. In the end it became Regensburg, because the two years I lived in the Passau area at that time were enough to find my way around the city, but not to take in its soul. And I think that’s very important, especially in a movie.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about your other films and work ?
Daniel Alvarenga: If I may answer this question quite generally: To me, it is important that my films are “real.” That doesn’t mean that I don’t stage or that I categorically exclude fantastic or supernatural phenomena. I’m just trying to give each viewer their own access to the story, their own interpretation. That includes the end. A standard Hollywood happy end, at which all questions are answered an everyone is happy, or dead, you will find probably rarely in my work. That’s not how life is, in my opinion.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about your best experiences and which moments in your career have been the most influential ones for you?
Daniel Alvarenga: When shooting, almost every moment is the best moment, because as a writer and director it’s fantastic how the idea you put on paper is brought to life. It is also fun to work together with the right team, even in stressful situations and under adverse circumstances.
After the production the participation in festivals or screenings is of course great. Seeing the audience’s reaction to the film is one big reason for doing all the work.
Andreea Boyer: What is your advice for all young independent filmmakers on how they should work on their goals and reach the best audience for their individual work?
Daniel Alvarenga: There’s a quote from James Cameron that is better than anything I could say: “Pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends an your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you’re a director. Everything after that you’re just negotiating your budget and your fee.”
I think the only important thing is not to give up. Some get all important prizes for their first film, some show their films even after 20 years on a white wall in their own basement. If you give up, you’re definitely not achieving anything.
Thank you, Daniel. We wish you continued success.