Helmer tackles politics

Featured Player: Josef Rusnak

Reality and illusion, truth and deception, fear and terrorism — they are topics that are indelibly linked for Josef Rusnak. The German director is in Sofia, Bulgaria, filming the Wesley Snipes thriller “Shooter,” about a former CIA agent assigned to take out an international terrorist but who ultimately becomes the hunted as the agency turns on him.

Rusnak says the pic harkens back to the paranoid political thrillers of the 1970s, such as Sydney Pollack’s “Three Days of the Condor.” Rudy Cohen (“Black Dahlia”) and David Ball are producing the $15 million pic, which Sony will release Stateside.

Rusnak, who lived in Los Angeles for 16 years and prefers to shoot English-language films for international auds, sees a wider cinematic resurgence of 1970s aesthetics that similarly reflects the cynicism, distrust and fear of today.

“As in the 1970s, we are seeing a revival of horror films and movies about paranoia, political upheaval, war, pollution and natural disasters. Some may be cheesy, but they still reflect the times, the fear today’s young people have of growing up and facing a very scary world.”

Indeed, in Rusnak’s upcoming project, “Meet the Devil,” a cop troubled by his military experience in Iraq and haunted by the suicide of his wife strikes an unnatural bargain with a seemingly desperate criminal.

Joshua Jackson and German thesp Jessica Schwarz (“The Red Cockatoo”) will star in the film, which is being co-produced by Rusnak’s Munich-based Screencraft Entertainment, Canada’s Gynormous Pictures and Italy’s Eagle Pictures with Arclight Films set to handle world sales.

Rusnak likens the plot’s examination of uncontrollable obsession and its ability to impact reality to that of classic pics like “Vertigo” and “Taxi Driver.” The filmmaker is no stranger to reality and illusion: they were major themes in his previous two films, the upcoming “Victims,” starring Jesse Bradford as a student grappling with strange goings on; and 1999’s “The Thirteenth Floor,” a mystery set in a cyber world, which was produced by pal Roland Emmerich, a fellow graduate of Munich’s Television and Film Academy.

While in L.A., Rusnak worked on a number of projects with Emmerich, including “Godzilla,” on which he served as second unit director. Rusnak ended up in the U.S. after meeting Harvey Keitel and working with him on a film project for Tribeca Prods. that was ultimately shelved.

In addition to other U.S. pics, such as 1997’s “Quiet Days in Hollywood” starring Hilary Swank, he kept busy helming a slew of German and European TV movies and series. Now splitting his time between L.A. and Berlin, Rusnak also plans to examine the legacy of German terrorism in another upcoming project.

Describing the current zeitgeist, the 47-year-old Rusnak sees clear parallels to the era in which he grew up.

Germany in the 1970s was a country beset by left-wing terrorism while bordering the hostile nations of the Warsaw Pact. It was also a time when German authorities adopted far-reaching security measures that threatened civil liberties in their campaign against communist-backed extremists.

It’s a topic Rusnak is passionate about and one he will tackle in “The Fourth Generation,” which stars Klaus Maria Brandauer and Ken Duken as a young man who discovers that his late father was a member of the Red Army Faction. The more he learns about him, the more he becomes inextricably tangled in a revived terrorist movement that threatens to plunge Europe into chaos.

“It’s also about the political awakening of an innocent young man who loves football and is clueless about politics,” says Rusnak. “After realizing who his father was, he’s forced to become political.”

“The Fourth Generation” is being co-produced by Screencraft and Arri Film & TV; Senator Film will release the pic in Germany while Arri Media Worldsales is handling international distribution.

Rusnak has been developing the project for years but the relevance of the story really hit home last fall when riots spread across Paris as angry young men set fire to cars and buildings. For Rusnak, the news coverage of the events mirrored a similar scene in “The Fourth Generation” of widespread social unrest in Paris.

“This isn’t fantasy. People are concerned about politics and corruption, about the power of the media. Many young people today are confronting the reality of international politics for the first time.”

For the helmer, it’s a sign of the times. “All of these movies have a very 1970s feeling. They’re all about a reality that has to be double checked, and they all do exactly that.”

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