Producer Gian-Piero Ringel, Oscar nominated for Wim Wenders’ “Pina,” and writer-director Sven Bohse, who directed true crime miniseries “Dark Woods,” a ratings hit last year in Germany, will be presenting their political thriller “Hinterland” this week as part of the European Film Market’s Co-Pro Series program. They spoke to Variety about the eight-part series, which has been acquired for international sales by Global Screen.
In “Hinterland,” former Neo-Nazi Andreas has started a new life in Berlin with his girlfriend and their daughter. He is “a man with a good heart who needs to feel needed in order to stay strong. When he feels weak, his dark side emerges,” says Bohse, whose directing credits also include Annette Hess’ 1950s-set miniseries “Ku’damm 56” and “Ku’damm 59.”
After an assault on a liberal politician takes place, the German intelligence service recruits Andreas, and sends him to infiltrate the far-right scene, and identify Nero, the head of an extremist underground network.
During his investigations, Andreas crosses paths with the charming and ambitious politician Franziska, a member of right-wing party Free Germany, which is believed to be part of the extremist network, and he is confronted with his brother, who is still active in the scene.
The toxic mix of far-right extremism and populist politics that led to the attack on the Capitol in Washington D.C. is to be found too in the show.
“We tell the story of a right-wing populist party, which is pushing its way into the center of democracy, and is trying to win over the population through clever demagogues,” Ringel says.
“An attack on democracy by a radical arm of the party is one declared goal. And the attack on the Capitol has made the worst fears come true,” Bohse adds. “It showed what happens if you gain control of the narrative and exploit the insecurity of the people for your political aims.”
The tension between state restrictions of civil liberties in the fight against extremism, and the values of a liberal democracy plays a part in the series. “It shows how difficult it can be to protect a democracy without disregarding democratic values in the fight,” Bohse says.
The seed for the series was planted in Ringel’s mind almost 20 years ago when he met Ingo Hasselbach, a former leader of various Neo-Nazi groups, who had quit the movement. Years later the producer approached Bohse with the idea for a series about populist right-wing politics, at a time when the writer-director was working on a story about an informer who had infiltrated the real-life Neo-Nazi terror group National Socialist Underground. The NSU trial threw up a lot of questions about the involvement of the German intelligence service in the right-wing scene, Bohse says. “The development of the political and social climate not only in Germany but worldwide was something that concerned both of us,” he adds.
Although there are action sequences in the show, these have their roots in an exploration of the characters and emotions that drive those deeds. “The story will be character-driven,” Bohse says. “We want things to happen when a character causes it with his actions due to his wants and needs, not because it’s just happening to get on with the plot. The emotional scenes will mostly kick off and fuel the action scenes, and things will happen for a reason, although they might come as a surprise at first. As it is a story about manipulation, the connection between emotions and actions will be a central element of the storytelling.”
A number of TV shows, films and photographers’ works have provided reference points when shaping the look and feel of the show. Bohse was “inspired by the raw but somehow poetic atmosphere and visuality” of Jacques Audiard’s films “A Prophet” and “Rust and Bone.” “I love stories that create a consistent fictional world with a specific atmosphere, but still feel authentic. I call it poetic realism sometimes, though it’s hard to nail it in one term,” he says. “I was also hooked by shows like ‘Fauda’ or ‘Nobel’ that combined both personal family and love stories with a thrilling plot about political and social or religious tensions.”
He adds: “Photographers Elmar Haardt and Stephen Shore managed to capture an uneasy but somehow intriguing atmosphere of remote regions in Germany and the U.S. in their work. That also left an impression that’s now feeding my vision of ‘Hinterland.’ ”
The world that the Neo-Nazis occupy is “an archaic world full of hate and mistrust,” according to the show’s EFM catalog entry, and this too is resonant of other shows. “The Italian show ‘Gomorrah,’ based on Matteo Garrone’s feature film, is a good example of using the archaic structures of the Mafia, and being authentic at the same time,” Ringel says.
This desire to evoke an archaic world is also reflected in the choice of locations. The story takes the viewer “from the busy and hip metropoles to remote and gloomy regions, towns and places in the outback,” Bohse says. “Beautiful alpine landscapes that recall a sort of archaic German romanticism will also play their role.”
During the European Film Market’s Co-Pro Series, Ringel and Bohse will be seeking producing, financing and broadcasting partners for the show. “We are looking for creative and financial partners that share our vision and enthusiasm for this story and want to contribute their knowledge and ideas,” Bohse says. “I had very good experiences in past projects with broadcasters who supported and trusted the visions of the creatives, while incorporating their own views and interests in a respectful and reasonable way. Projects of this size need good teamplay to be successful and I’m a teamplayer.”
Ringel adds: “Well, of course, we do want production partners that on the one hand share our view and enthusiasm, and on the other hand, we would love to benefit from their creative ideas and their experience. Although this is a political story, we don’t want to explain what is right or wrong, or who is bad or good, but to entertain, create suspense and serve a clear genre: that of the thriller.”