Julia von Heinz, director of the German film “And Tomorrow The Entire World,” grew up in the 1990s as a political activist fighting against anti-fascism. And though she wanted to make a personal film about her own experience, the political climate changed so dramatically in Germany over the last few years that she realized the story demanded a modern update.
Heinz told Steve Pond as part of TheWrap’s Awards and International Screening Series that when she initially pitched her film, she couldn’t find financing because it was a period drama. But the current situation in Germany — not to mention the Trump administration in the U.S. — forced her hand to overhaul the story and make it as urgent and timely as possible.
“Why would I make films about the ’90s?” Heinz said. “I had the feeling now where I can’t do only entertaining films or films to escape from the world. I have to do films that react to what is happening in Germany, and I have to also be an activist again with my skills now. I totally felt I have to do something.”
“And Tomorrow The Entire World” is a drama about a young woman who joins an anti-fascist movement in Germany to fight off a rising surge of neo-Nazis, but becomes conflicted about whether it’s justifiable to use violence against them.
Heinz said the character in the film is loosely based on her own experience. And though she always wanted to convey her own intensity and urge to fight, she came to realize that she couldn’t just reflect her own one-sided opinions on screen. The character has doubts about the situation she’s in, and that’s exactly how the director feels now.
“I made it too easy for myself with the first script. These guys are bad and these guys are good and this is my truth… And it took me some time to learn that you can’t say to the audience, ‘You will sit down and learn what my truth is,'” Heinz said. “I really had to learn that film is art and has to raise questions. It’s a dialogue, and film is interesting when it’s not black and white but 50 shades of gray.”
Those questions about violence when it comes to fighting hate and fascism have only become more poignant for today’s young political activists, both in Germany and around the world. “And Tomorrow The Entire World’s” lead actress, Mala Emde, said that in her research for the part, she spoke with some of the more radical people on the left who have gone through the same experiences her character has.
“They choose that their personal pursuit of happiness was more important than the change they want to make in this world politically, and that was so impressive to me. They’re real heroes,” Emde said. “Someone has to do something, and if no one does, then I have to do it. And a lot of young people can identify with that.”
Emde added that although her character is an extension of her director’s real experience, Heinz gave her the freedom to mold the character as she wished. In fact, Emde even gave Heinz suggestions about how to make the film more modern and relevant for younger audiences.
“I could learn from her. She would say, ‘We wouldn’t say it like that. It sounds like my mother,'” Heinz said, adding that young German audiences have positively responded to the film as a result. “They have a feeling it’s a film about their generation, and that makes me feel very happy and proud.”
The film’s urgency also caught on with critics and the press after it premiered in Venice; it’s now on its way to being Germany’s official submission in the Best International Feature Oscar race. Rather than field questions about her craft or artistic choices, Heinz said journalists have been more interested in asking her about the current political climate in Germany.
“They asked us so many questions about the political situation in Germany, so I had to switch that in my head and advocate,” Heinz said. “I embraced that. I had the feeling that it’s more important to talk about the right wing rising than my bright idea about using this camera angle.”
In America in particular, the anti-fascist protest group Antifa has been labeled by Donald Trump and others as a terrorist organization, which astonished Heinz and Emde. But they hope “And Tomorrow The Entire World” can universally appeal to people who want to see progress and change.
“There are so many young people who are searching for something, who want to be seen, who want to change something. Look at this year and what happened? Everyone is moving, and I can find young people all over the world who want to change something. This is our story, and this story shows us different ways of how we can do it, and it just felt right,” Emde said. “Are we all against anti-fascism? I hope we can all say yes and that we all want to act and fight for that.”
Watch the full conversation between Heinz and Emde here and above.