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51º NORTH

July 3, 2015

Film + EntertainmentInterviewReview | by Francesco Cerniglia


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51º North is the debut feature film of young German filmmaker Grigorij Richters. Having directed his first short film by the age of 16, Grigorij is most undoubtedly talented. From Germany where his obsession began, to the UK where he took his A-levels in Film, then on to Prague to be mentored by Oscar-winning filmmaking legend Milos Forman, followed by a stint in New York working behind the scenes for MTV, this young talent has definitely seen the world.

What was meant to be a three month shoot ended up taking four years of meticulous planning and a cast and crew of nearly 2500. As Richters himself has said, “it all started with an idea for a film” and now it has led to the creation of ‘World Asteroid Day’. As astrophysicist Dr Brian May (perhaps you better remember him from ‘Queen’) was quoted saying, ‘This is a very different kind of disaster film.’

In 51º North we meet Damon Miller (Moritz von Zeddelmann), a young German filmmaker living in London whose career has just started to take off as a Youtube sensation. However, one small discovery sends his life on a completely different orbit. With impeccable acting von Zeddelmann has created a character one fails to erase from memory, his erratic obsession becomes intoxicating, his eyes become hypnotic with feverish desire to know more, and all this to the distress of his pregnant girlfriend Ann (Dolly-Ann Osterloh).

When Damon goes public with his apocalyptic theories, he catches the attention of the British government which has its own objectionable agenda on the matter and eventually manages to involve Damon in their secret plan to save some of the population, which obviously the young filmmaker sees as the only chance to make sure Ann and his unborn child survive.

Hailing from Hamburg, Germany, Moritz von Zeddelmann, had a tough task of reimagining and equally immersing himself within his director’s very own self-caricature whilst playing Damon. When asked about what it was like to “see” himself being potrayed in such a dramatic and sometime manic manner, Richters said, “Uhm you know, it was weird. The character wasn’t autobiographical but did have elements of me. The funny thing is that I am not extreme like Damon, I don’t smoke or drink. These actually scare me and in many aspects I was able to “live” an alternate life through him because it was a safe environment. You can get away with a lot and whilst some of the aspects may seem to be a hyperbole, none of this was faked.”

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When asked about working with von Zeddelmann, Richters highlighted: “It was great, we are actually friends and had worked together before and decided that we needed to take this leap. We both trust each other and so he was willing to take this dive. He is an excellent actor.”

Whilst at times Damon’s instability and somewhat craziness seemed extreme, Richters said “It was entirely a product of the situation, as I have said, none of this was ‘fake’. I’m a huge believer in method and so thanks to extensive use of improvisation, and occasionally no sleep, it became what it is. Naturally we created circumstances but the extreme obsession, as you define it, wasn’t planned, it came about organically.”

When asked about the rather memorable line, ‘a camera is the thing that gave my life sense, this is what I live for’ he made it very clear that there was no script and that the dialogue was entirely improvised as part of the creation of Damon. Admittedly however, he conceded that when one is faced with nearly 300 hours of footage you do extract excerpts which resonate with you.

You will see clips of various YouTubers, some of them are Richters’ personal favourites. Their inclusion was critical in the globalisation of the project and after Richters’s own failed attempts at vlogging, he has a great amount of respect for these frontrunners of the global phenomenon. In conversation he is very quick to point out the far-reaching audiences of these internet superstars and their freedom which far outweighs that of most television studios. Following a brief spell of intoxicating laughter he said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if these vloggers saved the world?”

When asked as to how great of an impact he felt his film would have, he said “Well, it has already made huge impact through the creation of ‘Asteroid Day’ but the film itself was never intended to be a form of activism. It has organically exploded into something quite amazing with a far reaching impact. As you know, the film is not for profit and all revenues go into the Asteroid Day Foundation, so we really hope that the vlogging community embrace this unique film.”

The inclusion of a phony expert, namely Professor Richards, who is played by Steve Nallon may be seen as undermining the authenticity and authority of the film but Richters said “Steve and I are friends and we needed someone whose dialogue we could control to fit the narrative. One can’t tell a Professor what to say, and so we needed his addition. I might add that he is a brilliant actor. Whilst his title is fake, the facts he gives are all based on transcripts of discussions held with experts and so we put the real life experts’ words in his mouth but merely knitted them together to build the narrative.”

The cinematography is a patchwork of cinema verte, CCTV footage and aerial shots of the British capital and Grigirij opines that the selection was based on circumstance and what was believable. The story had to be knitted together by Damon’s son who would have had access to this digital archive. The use of CCTV also fits the London milieu and aids in the creation of this reality.

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With an original soundtrack by Brian May, this film truly reaches epic, dare we say astronomical, proportions and Richters was most complimentary of his esteemed peer: “Oh my God, he is a legend and absolutely brilliant! He’s got this incredible friendliness which you just know comes from the heart. The thing about working with such talented people is that they allow you to go places you never even dreamt of. You’d give him an idea and he’d just run with it. Definitely one of the greatest experiences of my life!”

And so in closing, we witness a man who becomes so obsessed with asteroids his very life-force seems to take on mass, pushing these chunks of rock to gravitate towards him with ever increasing ferocity. As he comes into contact with these ever enlarging fragments of knowledge, his life begins to implode. When these objects collide they can either create life or destroy it. So will this destroy our protagonist or ignite a flame within his very core?

51º North is released in UK cinemas on July 3rd

Matthew Hoy