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Interview with 'And Along Come Tourists' Director Robert Thalheim

A film that explores how history affects our present

By Lidia Louk
Epoch Times New York Staff
Sep 14, 2007

German director Robert Thalheim poses at the Toronto International Film Festival where his film <i>And Along Come Tourists</i> premiered in North America. (Scott Gries / Getty Images)
German director Robert Thalheim poses at the Toronto International Film Festival where his film And Along Come Tourists premiered in North America. (Scott Gries / Getty Images)

TORONTO—Robert Thalheim is a young and talented German director, most famous for his film "Netto" (2005), that won numerous European awards. And Along Come Tourists is his new film which was an official selection at this past year's Cannes Film Festival and just recently premiered in North America on September 12, at the Toronto International Film Festival.

And Along Come Tourists follows a young German named Sven (Alexander Fehling), who chooses to perform civil service in Auschwitz, Poland, where a museum commemorates one of the most infamous WW II concentration camps. He faces old misunderstandings and new experiences rooted in the history of the Holocaust. In more ways than one the film is about learning from history, preserving it, and moving on to live at present with respect for the lessons learned.

The Epoch Times sat down for an exclusive interview with Robert Thalheim.

ET: What inspired you to make And Along Come Tourists?

RT : To me it was a personal story, because I myself, like my main character, did civil service in Auschwitz. Nowadays, we have a lot of movies about the subject, but a lot of them deal with the past, and I could not find films from this place as it is today. So I wanted to show how history affects the present, more than to deal with the history itself.

ET: How much of the main character's story happened to you?

RT : Of course, I used a lot of things I experienced there: I used the characters—for example, the former prisoners, who I met and who are still living in this place, but the story itself as it is in the plot, did not happen to me—I created it.

ET: What was the original purpose of Sven's trip and did it change?

RT : I found it very interesting to send him there without him knowing anything about the subject, except what he might have read for his history class. He was not concerned with this subject at all, and he even wanted to go to Amsterdam and have fun during civil service, but ended up in Auschwitz, and had to deal with it somehow. What he learned was that the history of this place affected him too. He slowly got to understand it through the people that are still there.

ET: What was the purpose of Stanislav's character, a former prisoner?

RT : What was interesting to me was that the former prisoners I met there spent their whole lives trying to preserve the history, but I feel that the gap between them and the young generation becomes bigger every day, and they themselves feel that they start loosing contact. A former prisoner once told me that when he is talking to young people, he feels like he is shouting over a wall, and every day this wall becomes higher. This is what interested me in that character. We are facing a very big change, dealing with history, because witnesses are going to die in a few years, and we won't hear them anymore.

ET: Was it hard to film on location?

RT : It was hard. They do not allow to shoot movies on the former camp ground. Stephen Spielberg had the same problem. Of course, I understand that it is the biggest cemetery in the world, and you do not want movie teams there shooting melodramas. However, I was hoping to be able to shoot in some locations, for example, in the old Commander's Tower, where former prisoners live, with a view of the camp and with the crematorium in between. They live and raise their families there, which is quite unusual, but I was not allowed to film there either. So we rebuilt some of the places, that are in the movie, for the scenes in the museum, for example.

ET: What is the place of the relationship between German and Polish people in the film?

RT : It is the main theme of the movie. Right now we have very big problems in the German-Polish relationship again. These two countries, even though they are the biggest neighbors, still have big problems in dealing with each other and it is all because of the past of course. In the European Union there has just been a big fight about how many votes each country has in the Parliament, and Polish government wanted more votes, so they said if the Germans had not killed six million Poles in the war, they would have had more people, so they should have more votes. This is so interesting. You'd think 60 years after the war the arguments would not be here. So the film deals with the issues between the two countries on a small, private scale.

ET: Is it your first time at the Toronto International Film Festival? How did you like it?

RT : It is my first time in Toronto, and I am really impressed with the city, I like it very much, because it has the atmosphere of a world city, but there is also a relaxed feeling about it. So yesterday I skipped a movie and walked down Queen Street, and loved it. The festival is really focused on the movies, and the public is really open toward movies. For example, in Cannes there is more excitement, but less focus on the films. I hope to come back one day.

And Along Come Tourists premiered in Toronto on September 12, and is awaiting a New York premiere in November.