The first time Volker Schlecht heard the stories of women who’d been held in East Germany’s fortress prison for women, Hoheneck, he didn’t think he could find the pictures to do justice to their terrifying tales. The German animator, who was 21 when the Berlin Wall came down, was too disturbed by what he’d heard.
“On my way home from one of the interviews, I thought, ‘I’m not sure I can do it,'” Schlecht told TheWrap of his film. “I was extremely moved, but I didn’t think I could put it in pictures. But I tried to invent something very carefully. That’s why the animation is very simple and geometric — I tried to treat everything with maximum distance, as a kind of respect.”
The respect shows in “Kaputt / Broken: The Women’s Prison at Hoheneck,” one of 12 finalists in TheWrap’s 2017 ShortList Film Festival, presented with support from IMAX. The devastating animated short finds a stark visual language to quietly illustrate the stories of two women who were held in the forbidding institution for female political prisoners. Some prisoners were subject to abuse and torture, while others were forced into labor producing goods that were sold to the West to help support the impoverished East German regime.
Working with writer and co-director Alexander Lahl and writer Max Monch to tell the story, Schlecht drew and erased over and over on the same piece of paper, until it looked dirty, worn and smudged. The style, he said, was inspired by South African artist William Kentridge, but also drawn from the stories themselves.
“We had about three hours of interviews for each of these two women, and there were some things that I heard and said to the guys, ‘Please keep this sentence in,'” he said. “For instance, one of the women talked about how everything was gray there, and that was a strong idea for the whole film.”
Max and Alexander cut the six hours of interviews into about six minutes, which Schlecht then animated before music and sound was added. When it was finished but before it went to festivals like Sundance, Berlin and Annecy, they showed it to the two women who’d been imprisoned in Hoheneck.