Helena Hufnagel has become one of the most sought-after directors in Germany and beyond. With her latest project, SILVER AND THE BOOK OF DREAMS, she has brought together an international cast that is bringing “a magnificent world of dreams” to life under her helm. In this interview she speaks about the latest project, her love for the ‘dramedy’ genre, and more.

DISCOVER GERMANY: How did you become a director? Has this always been your dream profession?

Helena Hufnagel: I always wanted to become a journalist or a doctor. For a long time, I didn’t even know that film schools existed at all. Fortunately, this knowledge gap closed at some point (laughs). For me, it’s the most beautiful profession in the world.

Helena Hufnagel: “A magnificent world of dreams”

Cast of SILVER at Pöff in Tallinn. Photo: Prime Video, Pöff

DISCOVER GERMANY: SILVER AND THE BOOK OF DREAMS has been available to stream internationally on Prime Video since 8. December 2023. What can viewers look forward to?

Helena Hufnagel: To a magnificent world of dreams. Dreams are, for me, a kind of secret language that connects us with our subconscious. Our dreams are just as free as our thoughts. The protagonists in SILVER can not only shape their own dreams, but they have an even greater power: They can enter the dreams of other people. But what if dreams eventually become more dangerous than reality? I found this question particularly intriguing.

DISCOVER GERMANY: What were the biggest challenges for you as a director with this format?

Helena Hufnagel: It was important to me that the dream worlds in the course of the story always become larger – and the characters, especially our main protagonist Liv, appear increasingly smaller and more lost in them. The dreams become more powerful and dangerous, threatening to overwhelm our characters. Creating this on set was a big challenge because many of the dream worlds were only created in post-production. For example, the real Irish beach (from Arthur’s dream) was full of people walking and swimming. On-site, the beach looked incredibly idyllic and not threatening at all. The ice landscape was shot at a dreamy lake. The sinking train scene took place indoors in a heated warehouse and so on.

I am very proud of the actors. Almost all of them shot such a large VFX production for the first time. For instance, in the finished film, there’s a scene where the two characters Liv and Henry are standing on the roof of a giant dollhouse, toy cars are zooming around them and there is lightning flashing and thunder roaring. All of this was shot in front of a green screen in the studio. To play an emotionally charged scene under such conditions, it takes an incredibly good connection to one’s own imagination. You can imagine it somewhat like children playing ‘The Floor is Lava.’ For each child, the lava may look different at that moment, but they all know: the lava is hot, and they must not touch it. In our collaborative work in front of the green screen, we all had to focus on the acting and rely on each other. This is not possible without mutual trust, and for that, I am infinitely grateful to everyone.

And, of course, the Irish weather was challenging. The shoot took place in Ireland and London. Anyone who has been there knows how much it rains in the fall. Since the shoot, I am definitely fully equipped with rain gear (laughs).

Helena Hufnagel: “A magnificent world of dreams”

Helena with Rhys Mannion from the main cast of SILVER AND THE BOOK OF DREAMS. Photo: Jana McKinnon

DISCOVER GERMANY: How exactly did you create ‘The Dream Corridor’ using VFX production? What did you have to think about here?

Helena Hufnagel: ‘The Dream Corridor’ is the heart of the novels and also the film. It is an infinitely long corridor with various doors, behind which hides the dream of every person. For this magical motif, we built a 55-meter-long hallway in a studio and created well over a hundred doors. The studio walls were movable, the ceiling open, and at each end, there was an LED screen. Behind the doors were green screens. We designed the gigantic ceiling in post-production. The Dream Corridor is a symbol of how dreams connect all of us.

DISCOVER GERMANY: The film was provided with musical accompaniment by Sara Barone from the Hans Zimmer Collective. To what extent did the music influence the film adaptation?

Helena Hufnagel: Sara and I had an immediate connection. She is very talented, and our minds and ears work in complete harmony. It’s truly a gift and was necessary for this collaboration. Since she lives in Los Angeles, we initially designed the first sketches remotely. It was only for the final adjustments that I visited her in her studio.

Helena Hufnagel: “A magnificent world of dreams”

Sara Barone (left) from the Hans Zimmer Kollektiv with Helena Hufnagel (right). Photo: Prime Video

DISCOVER GERMANY: Which shoot do you remember most fondly – ​​and why?

Helena Hufnagel: My graduation/debut film Einmal bitte alles. It’s a film that I shot together with my friends. It was an incredibly fantastic shoot and a fun summer.

DISCOVER GERMANY: You have directed documentaries, fantasy films and a Tatort, amongst other formats. Which genre do you like best? How is your work different?

Helena Hufnagel: I love the ‘dramedy’ genre, and in fact, there is a significant portion of tragicomic elements in each of my films. It’s almost irrelevant whether it’s a documentary, fantasy film, or comedy.

DISCOVER GERMANY: What does the term ‘home’ mean to you? Where is home for you?

Helena Hufnagel: The place where I grew up. It’s a small village in the Rhineland. I have been living in Munich for a long time, but as soon as I go back to the Rhineland, ‘Heimatgefühle’ come up.

DISCOVER GERMANY: What other wishes and dreams do you have for your professional career?

Helena Hufnagel: Actually, the film I am currently working on is my dream project: it’s an adaptation of Michael Ende’s last novel Rodrigo Raubein und Knirps sein Knappe. It is a fairy tale about a boy who doesn’t know what fear means and, therefore, wants to learn to be afraid from the most dangerous robber knight of all time. However, this knight turns out to be the biggest scaredy-cat. We are designing magical forests, tree giants, dragons; there’s a brave princess, evil wizards, and a talking parrot. Sometimes I pause and can hardly believe that this is my job. Fortunately, my attempts at a medical and journalistic career didn’t work out (laughs).

Helena Hufnagel: “A magnificent world of dreams”

SILVER cast: Chaneil Kular, Rhys Mannion and Efeosa Afolabi (from left to right). Photo: Jana McKinnon

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