“Welcome to Siegheilkirchen” not only honors Manfred Deix, one of Austria’s most revered cartoonists and satirists, it also marks the country’s first ever animated feature film.
The film, which premiered at the Zurich Film Festival and screened Saturday at MIA Market in Rome, follows a kid whose immense talent for drawing gives him an outlet for his discontent while growing up in a small conservative Austrian town, where Nazi sympathy is still very prevalent. Deix initially worked on the project as art director before his death in 2016.
For Marcus H. Rosenmüller, “Welcome to Siegheilkirchen” has been long in the making. It was the first animated film for the celebrated German filmmaker, who joined the project nearly a decade ago after producers Josef Aichholzer and Ernst Geyer convinced Deix of making a film based on his work and partly inspired by his life.
Development on the film took several years and the process became a learning experience for Rosenmüller, who oversaw pre-production and script. “I was very green behind the ears,” he quips, noting that getting the story right and financing the film took considerable time. “I was impressed and surprised that it is always a very long journey to make an animation film.”
Spanish animation supervisor Santiago López Jover, whose credits include Tomm Moore’s “Song of the Sea,” “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet,” by Roger Allers, and Tom Tykwer’s “A Hologram for the King,” boarded the project in 2016 as co-director. “It was a necessary collaboration between animation filmmaking on my side and all the previous work on the story that Marcus was doing,” López says.
For Rosenmüller, working closely with López proved a valuable educational experience. “What I learned in making this animated film I can also take to fiction film, especially when you’re focusing on what is really, really needed for the story. What Santi taught me was where we have to focus: on movement, on emotion. As co-director, it was really fantastic for me.”
The collaboration resulted in a work that stays true to Deix’s art and spirit. “There are a lot of elements that are inspired by his life,” says López.
It’s also evident in the satire and the look of the characters. The film captures the artist’s contempt for the prejudice and discrimination prevalent at the time, adds Rosenmüller.
“The content of our story is the content that Manfred Deix always fought against with his cartoons: the Nazis that were still living in the villages, the scandals of the church and the bigotry of society.”
The object of his satire, of his criticism, was more than anything hypocrisy, López stresses. “And that’s what the film reflects.”
While the characters are very much in Deix’s caricature style, the film has an overall natural and realistic look. “The reference I used for the animators was ‘The Illusionist’ by Sylvain Chomet,” López explains. That 2010 film (based on a screenplay by Jacques Tati) similarly used caricatures in realistic settings.
The experience of making “Welcome to Sieheilkirchen” has given Rosenmüller great appreciation for the genre, especially for the creative freedom in realizing ideas and scenes that are not possible in live action. “You can be free in your head. You can just paint it. You can just do it. That’s the big advantage in animation.”
Sold internationally by Picture Tree International, “Welcome to Siegheilkirchen” (previously known as “Snotty Boy”) will be distributed by Pandora Filmverleih in Germany, Filmladen in Austria and Präsens Film in Switzerland.
For his next project, López is planning to direct “Hikari,” an animated film set in 19th-century Nagasaki about Jinsaburo Moriyama, a Japanese Christian persecuted for his faith. Jonathan Clarke’s Kilkenny-based Distillery Films is producing the film, which has already secured development funding from Screen Ireland. “Welcome to Siegheilkirchen” producer Aichholzer Filmproduktion and Manuel Cristóbal’s Madrid-based Sygnatia are set to co-produce.
López and Cristóbal (“Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles”) are also collaborating on a couple of other as yet unannounced animated features for adult audiences.
Rosenmüller, meanwhile, will again be dabbling in animation on his next project, a modern remake of the classic 1980s TV series “Meister Eder und sein Pumuckl,” about a magical imp who lives with an old carpenter. Produced by Munich-based Neuesuper for RTL and its TVNow streaming platform, the new live-action animated show is scheduled to shoot next year.
Rosenmüller’s other current pic, “Lifeguard Off Duty,” about a grumpy lifeguard trying to save the local swimming pool from closure, recently hit German theaters to rave reviews.