“All Quiet On The Western Front,” Germany’s submission for Best International Film, is surging in the Oscar race thanks to the incredible work of the film’s artists and Netflix’s support for it’s below the line talent nominees.
Arguably the front runner for Best International Film, director Edward Berger’s World War I drama earned a total of nine Oscar nominations including Best Picture, which is the second-highest tally for a non-English-language movie (behind the ten nominations for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Roma”).
“All Quiet on the Western Front” entered this weekend’s BAFTA awards as the most nominated film, having a total of fourteen nominations. It collected major BAFTA wins in seven categories including Director (Edward Berger), Sound (Lars Ginzsel, Frank Kruse, Viktor Prášil, Markus Stemler), Original Score (Volker Bertelmann), Cinematography(James Friend), Adapted Screenplay (Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson, Ian Stokell), Best Film Not In The English Language (Edward Berger, Malte Grunert), and Best Film (Malte Grunert).
During a recent virtual press day, Awards Focus spoke to two-time BAFTA winning “All Quiet On The Western Front” producer Malte Grunert. The conversation ranged from his experiences on the film to his plans for a future collaboration with BAFTA winning director Edward Berger.
Awards Focus: I just want to start by congratulating you on all the Oscar noms. I have legitimately seen this film 10 times. I am not going to lie. Was it on the night of the BAFTAS that you felt the momentum really coming together for this film?
Malte Grunert: Well, the 14 BAFTA nominations, and the 9 Oscar nominations really took us by a surprise. We premiered the film in Toronto, then we had a European premier in Zurich, had theatrical runs in Germany and other countries. We seemed to have made a film that audiences connected to and that sort of sparked conversation and debate. Also that an audience took something away but you still never really know. The BAFTAs were a surprise and the 9 Oscar nominations even more so. It’s clearly something that makes me very happy, especially the depth of the nominations. So many of our technical departments and heads of departments have been nominated makes me very happy and very happy for all their recognition.
AF: You were able to acquire some of the most talented department heads including James Friend, Heike Merker, and Christian Goldbeck. How did you and Edward discuss hiring the department heads?
Grunert: Alot of them either Edward or I had previous relationships with. I had worked with our costume designer Lisy Christl and Heike Merker for hair and make-up on my previous production. Edward had worked with James Friend on Patrick Melrose. Christian we both didn’t know, but we knew his work, so we approached him. Especially for German heads of departments, possibly for Germans, the book is such a canonical piece of literature, and everybody has read it in school and possibly again in their twenties like me and Edward had. So, when we approached people, everybody really paid attention, then everybody including ourselves got really scared of what we were about to embark on. Doing that for a relatively limited amount of money, we needed to do it in 51-52 days, we needed a lot of careful planning. Also taking something that has been adapted into a masterpiece of a film before and still sorta like a monolith of literature.
AF: In America we have tons of filmmaking hubs and we are very good at faking it on the sound stage. With All Quiet On The Western front you have an incredible production design in a natural setting and it’s captured tragically and beautifully by the cinematographer.
Grunert: We shot the film entirely in the Czech Republic, and we found a piece of land which was a former Soviet Military airbase. We basically had two landing strips. So, we transformed the piece in the middle into our trenches and No Man’s Land. Our set ended up sizing up to 1000 meters, 3,000 yards, between these two runways. So, we had access to diggers and various machines, and later on camera gear on both sides. That’s where we built it.
AF: Were there any surprises during the process that enriched the film in your eyes?
Grunert: Constantly, this is one of the things we constantly struggled with which made us very concerned. James Friend, our DP was very concerned as well as our production designer Christian Goldbeck. We wanted to have a real physical experience. We wanted the mud, we wanted the cold, we wanted the craters, the trenches, and all of that to feel very real. But it also presented us with a challenge. How do we move across the field with camera and equipment and follow our cast as they attack or retreat? That was a never-ending concern of how we can actually build roads or passageways without getting stuck without looking visibly obvious.
AF: The novel has a real visceral quality that depicts the true horrors and distress that these soldiers endured. You can see the soldiers shatter internally long before any bullet has broken their skin. As the producer, how did you approach having the responsibility of recreating this heartbreaking story tackling authenticity and historical accuracy.
Grunert: My understanding is, the main criteria are not so much authenticity but credibility and in order to be credible you need a certain amount of authenticity. So, we did have a lot of historical advisors, regarding the costume department, and weaponry. We spent a lot of time in the UK in the imperial war museum going through the archives so that we would create a certain amount of authenticity. Obviously, you can’t have 100% authenticity. You can’t have 300 extras with real bayonets. They are all rubber bayonets; they just need to look credible enough. So, we tried to be as authentic as possible in order to become credible. Edward wanted the experience to be visceral which means we needed to think about what we were going to do about violence. How graphic do we want the violence to be? How shocking do we want it to be? We all felt that “All Quiet on The Western Front needed to be a violent movie and it is a violent movie. It grabs you by the throat and shakes you, but we also never wanted the violence to be exploitative or be there for its own sake, just to shock. We also wanted an audience of 15 or16 to be able to see the film because the main characters are close to that age. So, these were our criteria while approaching it.
AF: With all this well-deserved Oscar attention, what’s the next project you’re working on and what do you hope to do in the coming years?
Grunert: Edward and I have been working on something that we would put aside for “All Quiet On The Western Front.” Hopefully that will be our joint next project. It is too early to say in detail, but we promised ourselves while standing outside in Prague at 4am in the morning in the frozen mud that our next film would be something under blue skies and would be something that people could walk out of the cinema and feel happy about. Something we can put a 1980s Italian pop star song in the credits.