Nils Bergendal was not an established filmmaker and had no experience as an animator when he began his short film “German Shepherd” — which makes the tale about a Jewish man confronting his preconceptions about German people all the more extraordinary.
Around six years prior, Bergendal was having lunch with an old friend, David Paul, who had an ongoing obsession with Germans and Germany.
“I just happened to have a recorder with me, and we had some hours to kill before I was taking my flight back to Sweden,” Bergendal said. “I was listening to the tape, and I just realized that — wow — I have a good story here, and that was the beginning of it all.”
That interview became the voiceover of the animated film, which starts Paul’s story in his early childhood when his mother told him that “she hates Germans, and Germany, and everything that it stands for.” Thinking that Germans can’t be that bad and there have to be at least some good Germans, Paul went to Berlin and ended up going back many times after that, making a lot of friends in the process.
Given Bergendal’s inexperience, the project took patience, persistence and many years of his life.
“I’m not an animator, so this took many years to develop and finish,” he said. “Eventually, I got better at it, and one of the prime sponsors said, ‘I’m ready to support you, but I think you should do it yourself.’ I kind of liked challenges like that — you start as an absolute beginner and then you kind of have to explore that universe. It was fun — difficult, but very fun.”
The film, which premiered at a film festival in Sweden and then had its international premiere in Cape Town, South Africa, proved not extremely difficult to make. Bergendal the entire process brought him joy, except creating animation for Paul’s abstract pondering in latter part of the short.
“It was not very obvious how I should turn that into visual language,” he said. “At the beginning, he is talking mostly about his background and his family history, but for the latter part, it was a little more difficult to find an imagery for the more philosophical parts.”