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The making of Building Bridges

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Building Bridges got a 5-star award at BIAFF 2009. Berhard Hausberger writes about the film, its successes and the criticism it has received.

Bernhard Hausberger lives in Zillertal, Austria and has had work and film connections with Liechtenstein for many years. Both countries often include his films in their national programmes for the UNICA World Film Festival. He has had enormous success at festivals all over the world, but his heart has a special place for the Festival of Nations, held each June in Ebensee, Austria. At the British International Amateur Film Festival he won the top prize, The Daily Mail Trophy, in 2007 for A Rather Different Year and again in 2008 for Oldiegarage. In 2009 Building Bridges won a Diamond Award. Click here to read his notes about another entry, Der Marterer which won 4-stars.

Two Roma children in Satu Mare.I Live so that I am able to film

It was mid June 2006, when the story of Building Bridges started.

I had won the Festival of Nations in Ebensee with A Rather Different Year and on the same weekend there was the first Zillertal sponsored run by pupils of the Hippach High School, which was organised by Rita and Alex. The children were running to raise money. For every kilometre they got money from their parents, relatives or friends. But then the youngsters were so ambitious that they ran many more kilometres than the sponsors expected. So at the end of the day they had collected more than 32,000 Euro for the poor street kids in the North-West of Romania, in a region called Satu Mare.

The money went there to support the children cared for by the Caritas House of Friendship. So everything went OK. But on the other hand there were still questions. Did the money really reach the poor, how was it spent and so on…?

I was really shocked

Bernhard Hausberger filming at Satu Mare.Rita wanted to know more about it and so she got the idea of asking me to make a film about it. "Bernhard, could you do us a favour? I know you are retired from teaching, you have time to make the film. Are you interested, and how much will the film cost?" Questions and questions. No doubt, of course I was interested to go to Romania and to make the film, and of course there was no doubt that the film would cost them nothing.

So we went to Satu Mare in May 2007 and visited the House of Friendship there. Yeah, it was quite interesting, nice children, but not very much time for me. The children were so excited to see us, they were so friendly. Problems? No, just filming and relaxing, an easy, moving job.

But then there was the next day.

Bernhard Hausberger visiting a hovel in Satu Mare.We wanted to see more of Satu Mare and so we went to Turulung, a small village of Roma (gypsies). And there I was really shocked. Could this be Romania, a member of the EU since January 1st 2007? The weather was nice, I saw kids bathing in the river - very idyllic indeed. But the houses! The life there! So close to Austria, not more than 500 kilometres away from Vienna ... incredible!

When I filmed I had to be very quick. I had no time, no chance to plan and the children were nosey. So I could not use the tripod, because I had to be very fast to make one shot after the other. And I didn't know what was coming next. Everything I shot had to arise from the situation.

But that was not all - we went on and then we got to know the families Bogar and Samer. That was really the worst life I had ever seen. There was a family living in plastic sacks, in the heart of Europe; in huts, which were in such incredible dirt that I felt sick. A house with a roof such as I had never seen before. I had to breath through my mouth and hold my nose at the same time. Flies, dogs, 40 degrees Celsius, a big garbage bin, two beds for father, mother, uncle, aunt and 4 children… Where was I?

We were really shocked,and we gave the children some chocolate, caps, pencils … we wanted to give them some hope, just in the first minutes so that they would trust us. Later on that seemed to be a big mistake. Of course we knew that we couldn't help the children with chocolate, and of course we started thinking about how we really could help.

Back again

Bernhard Hausberger editing in his mobile home. Bernhard Hausberger talking to the children in Austria.Back in Austria I finished the first film version, while attending the Festival of Nations in Ebensee. I was editing in the storage area of my mobile home. This version was 40 minutes long including a lot of interviews with street workers from Caritas, with children, including many powerful moments. Back home in the Zillertal, we showed the film to the boys and girls of the sponsored run and their parents. More than 400 people came and they gave even more money.

Fine. Money for the Bogars and Samers, for their huts and roofs. But the colder it got in November the more I thought of the children in Romania. So at the beginning of December 2007 I decided to go to Romania again. I filled up my mobile home with 1500 kilos of goods, paper, clothes, toys, again some chocolate, many parcels from Santa Claus and went down to Romania alone.

Playing Santa Claus was very moving for me and I was happy to see the joy in the children's eyes. I was also happy when I visited the Bogars and Samers. They had a new roof. But life had not changed, the garbage bin still existed and I was very disappointed, because they didn't show that they wanted to change. And working? It didn't seem that they really wanted to - but family Bogar junior had a place at a farm during winter - thank heavens.

Polarising the audience

So I went back home and finished the second version of the film, the 26 minute version with the winter scenes and I was quite satisfied to deliver my message. The film won me the Club championship in the Videoclub Zillertal, a gold medal at the Tyrolean festival and … a silver at the Austrian festival, but I didn't expect a better result from them (as in all the previous years). No problem, my film was important.

The reaction of the audience, and - shit - I had managed to polarise opinions again. How?

Bernhard and Karin Hausberger at UNICA in Tunisia.With the scenes showing us giving chocolate to the children. Comment on this started in Ebensee, but the main criticism was at Unica in Tunisia. There it seemed that my film only consisted of chocolate! Bravo and Boo … marvellous! I had entered the film as part of the Liechtenstein programme, as in previous years. My film reached the Unica gold medal in the first round of voting. I was speechless, because I never had thought of such a gigantic success, but it really had happened. And even now I can't believe it.

[At Unica Building Bridges was also awarded the Delmiro de Caralt prize, presented by CICT-UNESCO for a film with special humanitarian qualities. - Ed.]

But then the negative culmination was someone commenting: "Bernhard, I want to congratulate you for the special Delmiro De Caralt prize, but not for gold, because Building Bridges is not worthy to get a gold medal." So what was that? Was it true, that one person decided whether the film was worth a prize? And what was with the other five adult judges in the jury of the Unica 2008 in Tunisia? Were they blind or just impressed by my film?

Another commentator used the following words: "… a 24-minute documentary film in pure TV style, with a distribution of sweets and other small gifts to the children of the Roma community, a commentary meant to fill the gaps and to activate the tear glands of all spectators - including the jury members, was awarded gold in the second round, we have good reasons to have some doubts."

OK, have your doubts, and I also had them.

Version three

So I reacted. One more time I changed my film and I put pictures of the charity's follow-up control checks into the new version. Everybody has to learn and learn, even the Bogars and Samers, because now they know that not only is help given, there will also be a lot of supervision in future.

I want to make films about people, films from my heart. Now I really can make films, because I'm interested in the film. I have won 700 prizes all over the world, so I don't look backwards, I look forward to my next film. And I don't want to polarise audiences, I want to inform. I want to show hearts, feelings, everyday life about you and me, about my films.

For me film is everything, and my difference to the professionals is the following:

- Bernhard Hausberger (Chairman Videoclub Zillertal and a proud member of the Film and Videoclub Liechtenstein)

Among the awards Building Bridges has received are:
  • Gold and Club Champion at the Videoclub Zillertal
  • Gold and Special Message award at the Tyrolean Festival.
  • Festival winner at Brandenburg International Film Festival.
  • Silver at the Austrian national festival.
  • Gold at the Eurofilm Forum in Bludenz.
  • Silver at the Festival of Nations in Ebensee.
  • Gold Medal and the special Delmiro De Cara prize at UNICA in Tunisia.
  • Silver Diana Award and Unica prize for a film dealing with international cooperation at the Golden Diana Festival, Klopeinersee
  • Third prize at the Lettland (Latvian) International Festival
  • Silver at the Eurofilm Festival in Westerburg
  • Second place in the Video Grand Prix, Lichtenstein
  • Festival winner at the Windmill Cup in Dinslaken
  • Winner of the festival and "strongest message" at the Golden Dolphin Festival, Austria.
  • and now Diamond Award at the IAC British International Film & Video Festival.

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Page updated on 05 October 2011
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