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At the Diagonale 2024, director Kat Rohrer presented the feature film What a Feeling. Cinema Austriaco had the opportunity to have a chat with her and learn more about her work and career. Interview by Marina Pavido.

Marina Pavido: How did you get the idea to make What a Feeling?

Kat Rohrer: Proschat Madani, who plays Fa in the film, and I have been friends for a long time and had a character in mind for a long time, although we didn’t have a story yet. Then in January 2020, while I was sleeping on a flight to England, I finally – and suddenly – had a possible story in mind. Such a thing had never happened to me. While I was on holiday I wrote it down, in the meantime I was working on another project and then the pandemic came. My girlfriend had just left me, I spent a lot of time alone and then my producer, Daniela Praher, asked me if I wanted to develop this new project. So I took advantage of the lockdown to start writing a first version of the script, we started working on it, but it took some time before we got funding. Then, finally, in January 2023 the funding arrived and between May and June we shot. Everything happened very quickly.

M. P.: Marie Theres and Fa are very different from each other. Can you tell us more about their characters?

K. R.: Fa is a free spirit who is enthusiastic about life, but only feels free in certain situations. She is very close to her family, especially her mother, and wants to protect her from everything. Marie Theres, on the other hand, is a bit more conservative, always sticks to the rules and has a well-structured everyday life. Their characters are diametrically opposed, of course it is not love at first sight, but still opposites attract.

M. P.: How did the casting take place?

K. A.: As far as Proschat was concerned, it was clear from the beginning that she would play the role of Fa. She or no one else. As for the character of Marie Theres, I wrote it with Caroline (Peters) in mind, but I still didn’t know if she would accept the role. But then my producer sent her the script, she found it interesting and we met. Before I finally chose her for the role of Marie Theres, however, I wanted her to meet Proschat, because it was still important that there was good chemistry between the two of them for the project to work. I also told Caroline that in any case Proschat would play the role of Fa. And so, fortunately, a good chemistry was immediately established between them.

Regarding other characters, for example, I had known Anton Noori, who plays Fa’s brother in the film, for a long time. I had already met him and Proschat together and noticed that the two of them understood each other very well, almost like brother and sister.

Gohar (Nurbachsch), who plays the role of Fa’s mother, is a non-professional actress. We went to the Persian community in Vienna, said we needed someone of that age and did a short casting, where Proschat was also present, because again it was important that there was chemistry between her and whoever would play her mother. And fortunately this chemistry was immediately evident after the meeting between her and Gohar.

M. P.: Your film deals with sensitive issues, such as the importance of being oneself and the difficulties of women in the world of work. How powerful do you think cinema is today for conveying certain messages?

K. R.: I find it absolutely important and I also believe that we directors have a certain responsibility. The best films for me are the ones that give me food for thought or that introduce me to something new, and I believe that we also have a responsibility towards society, we must in some way make people reflect, just like those who work in theatre or any other artistic field.

M. P.: In your film, a lot of attention is also paid to Vienna. How difficult do you think it is today to be oneself even in a big, cosmopolitan city like Vienna?

K. R.: I think the problem with Vienna is not that it is a big city, but that it is not big enough. Everyone lives almost in a bubble and in Vienna it is very difficult to ‘destroy’ this bubble, precisely because the city is too small. In cities like New York or Rome this would be easier. Living in these bubbles people are always afraid of hurting their families in some way, for example, or they are always influenced by their own cultural background. Perhaps only by leaving Vienna would it be possible to break such bubbles. It takes courage, because, in any case, not being ourselves does not even allow those who love us to really know us.

M. P.: What were the main difficulties during the making of your film?

K. R.: Money and time. We had very little time for the shooting, only twenty-six days, and although we got a good budget, if it had been a bit higher it would have been better. At the same time, however, we had a fantastic team that worked excellently and also managed all the difficulties inherent in money and time.

M. P.: Can you tell us some funny facts that happened during the shooting?

K. R.: The most problematic scene was the one with the bathtubs full of mud. In the short amount of time we had to shoot the scene we worked hard to get the consistency of the mud just right, we planned the number of takes we could do, etc. Basically we planned everything so that the actresses would feel comfortable, we also paid attention to the weather so that everything would be perfect. And then what happened in the end? The set was full of mosquitoes! Nobody had thought of that ( laughs).

M. P.: After several short films and documentaries, What a Feeling is your first feature film. How did you approach this new challenge?

K. R.: I grew up almost ‘behind the scenes’, because my aunt was a stage actress, so it was immediately easy for me to relate to actors, I received a bit of advice on how to organise the set, but I immediately felt very confident. First of course you have many doubts, you feel almost like the captain of a ship, but then on set everything happened naturally and in a funny way. And this was also thanks to our fantastic team, 70% of which is made up of women.

M. P.: Are there any films or directors that were particularly important during your studies?

K. R.: Yes, of course. I like all Robert Altman’s films, with all these ensemble stories. Then I really like Kenneth Branagh and his films based on Shakespeare’s plays. For example, Much Ado about Nothing, which was shot in Tuscany, is one of my favourite films. As for screenwriters, however, I really like Aaron Sorkin and his way of constructing dialogue. I always told myself that if I had to choose a father for my children, it would only be one who can write like him (laughs).

M. P.: One last question: are you currently working on any new projects?

K. R.: Yes, at the moment I am developing a series, I am writing the pilot myself, but I hope to continue with someone else. Then another series is being written by others, but I would like to take over the direction and finally I am also working on the feature film I should have developed before the pandemic.

Info: the page of Kat Rohrer on iMDb