Berlin Film Festival: With ‘Iron Sky,’ Nazis land on moon
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Nazis on the moon. It’s hardly the topic you’d expect from a Finnish film at the artsy and often earnest Berlin International Film Festival, which takes place in a city that sometimes feels weighed down by its history.
But one of the most talked-about films in this year’s festival has turned out to be “Iron Sky,” a quirky sci-fi parody with aspirations to political satire that has grabbed the attention of international press and audiences as much for its creation mythos as its plot. The movie also will be screening next month at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. (You can watch a trailer below.)
“Science-fiction has been going around this idea for a long time -- circling around Nazis in space. Why circle? Why don’t we just do Nazis in space?” asked Timo Vuorensola, the film’s director, pointing out that the Galactic Empire in “Star Wars” and several worlds in “Star Trek” are clearly modeled on Nazi Germany. “Every science-fiction TV series has its Nazis -- and every science-fiction film has more or less its Nazis -- well, not every one, but many epic ones. So this is taking that one step forward: Let’s just make it about Nazis!”
Vuorensola, who is also lead singer for a Finnish industrial metal band, has just one previous film under his belt: the 2005 space spoof “Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning.” The low-low-budget film was released for free online, and has been downloaded millions of times.
For his current film, Vuorensola decided to collaborate with his online fan base. The film raised $1 million of its $10 million budget from crowd-sourcing, with the largest number of investors coming from Germany and Finland; investments started at 1,000 euros, or about $1,300. Fans are also encouraged to help design movie merchandise and to lobby their local cinemas to show the film.
A host of franchised materials will be available, including three prequel comics, a novelization and a graphic novel of the film’s story, a book about the making of the film, a video game and “Iron Sky” mobile apps. The Internet attention has also generated buzz, which helped cut down on traditional advertising costs and attracted specialists to the film’s creative team.
The plot, which grew out of a friend recounting a crazy dream during a sauna session, concerns a secret Nazi space program on the dark side of the moon, complete with a swastika-shaped lunar station with artificial gravity, and lead by an officious “Moon Führer” played by Udo Kier (“My Own Private Idaho,” “Blade,” “Melancholia”).
In 2018, the U.S. president, who looks suspiciously like Sarah Palin (in an Oval Office filled with taxidermied polar bears), and her sultry, ambitious campaign manager decide a moon mission is just the ticket for re-election publicity. Astronaut/Male Model James Washington stumbles upon the secret base and becomes a prisoner and experimental subject for the moon Nazis, including the optimistic teacher Renate Richter, who later becomes his love interest.
Together with ruthless officer Klaus Adler, they return to the Earth in advance of a major invasion. Along the way, Renate’s idealism and Klaus’ blood lust become translated into American political campaign rhetoric. Add in a few CGI galactic battles, fanboy humor, world leaders in fisticuffs over energy supplies, and a space vixen or two, and you’ve got yourself a film.
“Iron Sky” is produced by Finland’s Blind Spot Pictures (“Dancer in the Dark”) and visual-effects group Energia Productions, with co-production from Germany’s 27 Films and Australia’s New Holland Pictures.
“I liked the pitch of the story. I was immediately really fascinated, and I thought straight away, ‘We need to do it,’ ” said 27 Film’s Oliver Damian. “It’s unbelievable, and there are no such projects in Germany.”
Still, he admitted, it was not easy to find funding in the country, where history demands care and solemnity in dealing with Germany’s despicable period under National Socialism.
“Iron Sky” is the most expensive Finnish film ever made, and though it has no Finnish actors in its cast, it has been supported by the Finnish Film Foundation, though its topic has given many pause. “Starting from early on, I had a lot of discussion: ‘Does it have to be Nazis on the moon?’ Could it be communists?’ ” director Vuorensola says. “As if it would be better! Or could it be not Nazis but bad guys or aliens?”
The film has its share of stereotypes, but the most insidious parts of Nazi history have not been included. There is no mention of anti-Semitism, and the film’s villains are more comic book baddies than twisted war criminals.
German actress Julia Dietze, who plays moon teacher Richter, said at the film’s press conference that putting on the Nazi uniform gave her pause, but what was more disturbing was having to lecture about the ideology to child actors in classroom scenes. “I kept telling the children during the filming breaks, ‘It’s just play -- please don’t believe it!’ ” said Dietze.
There was also a challenge for African American actor Christopher Kirby (“The Matrix Reloaded”), whose astronaut Washington is “Aryanized” at one point in the film -- given white skin, blond hair and a National Socialism soldier’s uniform. “When we had Chris in the makeup for the first time, he was crying. He said, ‘Oh God, I don’t know that guy!’ ” remembers Vuorensola. “But we discussed it more and more and he was like, ‘Let’s make it, as long as we make it right.’ ”
Distribution in countries including Germany, the United Kingdom, China, France, Japan and Taiwan, has been secured, and negotiations for a U.S. deal are underway. “Iron Sky” opens April 4 in Finland, and April 5 in Germany.
-- Susan Stone in Berlin
Top photo: “Iron Sky.” Credit: Blind Spot Pictures.