Home > Q&As > Q&A with Yony Leyser, dir. of Desire Will Set You Free, at the East (...)

Q&A with Yony Leyser, dir. of Desire Will Set You Free, at the East End Film Fest

Friday 1 July 2016, by Anne-Sophie Marie

What drew you to filmmaking?

I got into a lot of trouble as a teenager. A counsellor suggested that my mom find me a creative outlet so I started practising theatre and photography. Then after a couple of years, I combined the two to make films. I made my first documentary when I was 16.

...and what led you to Berlin and its underground scene?

I came to Berlin for a semester when I was at university. It was the opposite of where I was living (NYC). There is common sense in politics. Politically aware people. A vibrant subculture, a rebellious, radical culture, a beautiful queer scene and beautiful architecture. I made the decision that summer-still the best summer of my life-to find a way to come back. I applied for a passport and was granted one because my grandparents where German Jews from Berlin, who fled in the mid- 1930s. In 2011, I screened my film William S. Burroughs: A Man Within at a festival here and just packed up two suitcases and stayed after the screening.

Your film has a few distinctive characters. How did you find them? Tell us more about Tim Fabian Hoffmann and Amber Benson’s involvement (couldn’t help thinking about Buffy’s musical episode when she first appeared)?

Everyone got involved through personal connections. Most people are playing themselves and most of the film is improvised. Tim and Amber are two of the only actors in the film. Tim I met through a mutual friend. At first, we wanted to cast a trans actor, but none of the trans women we auditioned wanted to play a man for 80 percent of the movie. We saw him on camera and knew he would be perfect. I met him through a mutual friend Ralf. Amber saw my last film at Slamdance and told me if I was ever doing anything again she wanted to be involved.

How did you go about picking locations and working with your DoP and production designer?

The DoP is the great Ali Gözkaya, who is Turkish-German. I fell in love with his work on Futuro Beach. Ira Sachs recommended him to me. Our production designer was the controversial Afro-Swedish artist and my old flatmate Iulia Mitzner. Together they did a great-albeit chaotic-job on a tiny budget.

Especially when you alternate between party sequences and more sober scenes? What equipment did you use?

Alexa used Master Prime lenses (think Spring Breakers). Thanks for the sponsorship ARRI Berlin ;).

Is Berlin as colourful as it is in your film?
Only in dreams...

Since this is a docu-fiction, can you tell us a bit more about the writing process? How much did it evolve during filming? How much improvisation was there?

About 80 percent improvised. We asked people to play themselves and we decided to see what happens.

How was your experience of both starring and directing?

It was so much fun but also way too much work. I also wrote and produced. Next time, I’m only directing!

Tell us about the Kickstarter campaign for the post-production?

We launched the kickstarter, then the TV station ZDF saw it and gave us money to do reshoots and post production.

...and your next project?

I am finishing a documentary about Queercore / Homocore, which should be premiering in the winter.

PS: are cupcakes very popular in Berlin?

Cupcakes to me represented the American femininity that is present in the city. 5 years ago Germans had no idea what cupcakes were. I remember there was a shop called Cupcake that opened by my old collective flat. Germans would stare in the window display and ask each other ’what is a cupcake?’ That’s where that all came from.

Desire Will Set You Free is screened as part of the East End Film Festival, at the Rio on 24 June at 6.30 pm. More info here.

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