Director Michael Steiner’s “And Tomorrow We Will Be Dead,” which opened this year’s Zurich Film Festival and screens this week at MIA Market in Rome, is a timely thriller about a real-life Swiss couple captured by the Taliban while traveling through Pakistan in 2011.
The film is sure to generate headlines in view of the recent Taliban victory in Afghanistan that followed the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Yet it also offers a look at a complex geopolitical situation that not only includes the Taliban, but also Pashtun militants and the continuing impact of a century-old conflict triggered by the British-drawn border between Afghanistan and what was then British India that divided Pashtun land.
The film follows Daniela Widmer and David Och (portrayed by Morgane Ferru and Sven Schelker) as they fulfill their dream of driving the ancient Silk Road through Pakistan, where they are kidnapped and taken to the war-torn Pashtun region of Waziristan and handed over to the Taliban.
Speaking to Variety, Steiner says detailing the region’s background and portraying members of the Taliban and Pashtun tribespeople as individuals was vital and reflected Och and Widmer’s personal accounts of the people and situations they experienced. Instead of inventing stereotypical bad guys, Steiner was able to portray “real living people” based on their descriptions of the men who held them captive. “I think it is quite accurate,” Steiner adds, explaining that he simply set out to put Widmer and Och’s story on film.
Steiner immediately became interested in the story when he first read about it. He was particularly intrigued by the fact that Widmer and Och were kidnapped in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan and taken some 400 kilometers away to Waziristan. Terrorists don’t usually take their victims across such large distances, over mountains and into other regions, he adds.
The couple managed to escape from captivity after 259 days and return to Switzerland in 2012. Steiner approached them shortly thereafter with his idea for a film. Och and Widmer were initially wary due to the negative coverage they had received in the Swiss media, which had questioned their story and castigated them for having even traveled through Pakistan.
“It was unfair the way they were treated after what they had been through,” Steiner adds, noting that their story of suspense and adventure was rife with cinematic potential. “They have seen things in Waziristan that none of us have seen because they were the only foreigners there at the time.”
“At first they were not so sure if they could trust me,” he recalls. With time, however, they found they could, and they began discussing the film project. Och and Widmer later wrote their bestselling book, “Und morgen seid ihr tot,” which Steiner took as the basis for the film.
The project faced financing difficulties early on but that changed when Zurich-based Zodiac Pictures got on board. “It was a long journey, this movie,” Steiner notes.
The film shot on location in the Indian state of Rajasthan as well as in southern Spain and Switzerland. “We couldn’t shoot in Pakistan so we had to shoot in India, and we had to turn India into Pakistan – that was a big challenge.”
It was also a hard shoot for Ferru and Schelker, who had to get into the mindset of people being held in captivity for such a long time, Steiner adds. “This combination of your life being in danger and the situation that you’re always at the same place creates a very strange mix of emotions in you.” Working with a coach and discussing the experience with Och and Widmer helped the actors approach that feeling of psychological stress, Steiner adds. “It was quite demanding.”
“And Tomorrow We Will Be Dead” is Steiner’s second film to open the Zurich Film Festival after his 2010 horror pic “Sennentuntschi.” The filmmaker’s 2018 comedy “The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch,” acquired by Netflix, likewise premiered in Zurich.
Steiner is working on his first TV show, a series for Swiss broadcaster SRG SSR about a former cop who opens a private detective school in Basel. In pre-production, the show, tentatively titled “Akademie der Detektive,” is set to start shooting in November.