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Exodus to Shanghai Film interview with director Anthony Hickox at the 66. Berlinale

Exodus to Shanghai had it’s market premiere at the Deutsche Film und Fernsehakademie, 66. Berlinale on Friday, February 12.

Based on true events, Exodus to Shanghai is a love story of West loves East, Jews and Chinese united with violins, interrupted by the Nazi invasion of Austria in 1938. Even Hitler is not powerful enough to break the love. When Hitler invades Austria in 1938, Jews must make an Exodus from Vienna. Only the Chinese Consul of Vienna, Dr. Feng Shan Ho issues thousands of Jews exit Visas to Shanghai. Fannia is a beautiful Jewish violin player from New York perfecting her violinist skills in Vienna. She falls in love with Bruce, who is a gifted violinist and a martial artist. Together they are forced into an Exodus from Vienna in an exciting adventurous trip to reach Exodus to Shanghai. On the way the Gestapo tries to stop them from reaching their dreamland and to rob them of their valuables and their lives.

This is a love story of Jews and Chinese. Together they survive and eliminate the Nazis who want to stop their Exodus to Shanghai and get back Hitler’s painting of ‘Prinz’ his German shepherd and first love.

Find out more about Exodus to Shanghai

Film Festivals was there and sat down with director Anthony Hickox to talk about the making of the film, the challenges, experience of having the film screened at the 66. Berlinale and more.

How did you come across the project?
Michel Adams is a friend of mine. I got a call from him two weeks before the shoot to come and make this movie in Romania. I said, ok, send me the script, so he sent me forty pages of his ideas put together. He said I'm ready to go, have the lead actors, wardrobe… I thought fine, so I went to Romania and found out after we greenlight the project that the prep was not in Romania but Lithuania. We literally were shooting in seven days which was just insanity. This is why I think the movie has this originality.

What was the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was really just making the movie, but it was a joyful challenge. Michel Adams and I are insane and we both have the same vision. Not many people would let me make this movie as is. I Pretty much had creative freedom.

The style of the film  reminds me of Quentin Tarantino's works. Is he a reference point for your work?
I love Tarantino, in fact he is my neighbor. That said, the film is my own version. There are two worlds, there is this phantasy world where everybody looks beautiful, kind of in the 1940's film world and then the reality, that's why I keep on doing the archives. I wanted to do my own version where there is art and expressionists too (with the Hitler's dog, which I love that part of the story). That's why every violent scene is a Jackson Pollock. I literally go with the blood and spray it all over, like Jackson Pollack. It was my freedom of expression. I also wanted to show extremists as idiots.

As a filmmaker what are your influences?
Mel Brooks, as you can see. Hitchcock, Spielberg of course, which is why I shot it like I did. The whole movie is shot in 25mm lens, short depth of field, and very wide where you see the whole room even in a close-up, which is a DP's nightmare, but not any more. Because, nowadays you put the back light right there and just CGI it out. It was the first digital movie I ever shot.

How did you come across the actors and direct them?
I didn't cast the original. It was under another director before, whom wanted to make a totally different movie, a very serious drama, which Michel didn't want. So when he called me he said I need Tarantino. Well,  I can do Tarantino. I had the five lead actors already cast and brought in David Lipper. He is my best friend and acting coach whom studied with Ivana Chubbuck. None of the actors had acted before, a part from the German actor Markus and Maia. When the whole cast sat down for the reading, they were really nice but one is French, another Israeli, another Australian and I noticed they couldn't read. So I called my friend David Lipper to bring him in, he played the second lead German and coached everybody at night. He did an amazing job. The first few days were tough and then they all started to go with it. Usually, I have one star who's a nightmare and everybody else is terrible, but in this case it was all balanced, everybody was in the same boat. It turned out really well.

What about your background? When did you start being interested in filmmaking?
I'm from England, my mother is a famous film editor, my dad a film director and grandfather is also a filmmaker. I had no choice. If my father was a butcher I would be cutting meat. I look back at pictures of me, when I was eight years old and had a camera in my hand. I started as a child actor and was terrible. When I saw a guy running around on set I thought I want to be that guy, he's always busy and I'm sitting around doing nothing. Besides, he's telling people what to do, so then I decided I wanted to be that guy.

How does it feel to be at the Berlinale with the film?
It's interesting, my worst film experience in my life was Prince Valente, which was shot in Berlin in the 90’s. So I had a bad feeling when I landed. But the city does seem to have changed. It's funny because my movies aren’t particularly festival friendly. This is the first one that made it here, in Woodstock, New York.. It's gotten to all these festivals.  That's a new experience.

The film is based on a true story can you tell us more about that?
Yes, the true story is amazing and there have been amazing people, like Dr. Feng Shan Ho. The Chinese tried to bury the story. He went against the government to do what he did. The story is about this Ambassador that saw what Hitler was going to do and saw what was going to happen to the Jews and he started to get these people their visas, 24 hours a day it required a lot of steps, you needed the stamps, getting approvals, so he started to do it and issued nearly 10,000 visas for Jews to leave Shanghai.  

Interview conducted by L. Fietz



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Berlin 2019: The dailies from the Berlin Film Festival brought to you by our team of festival ambassadors. Vanessa McMahon, Alex Deleon, Laurie Gordon, Lindsay Bellinger and Bruno Chatelin...
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