Alpine retreat

Hendrik Faller on dangerous terrain, shooting in snow, and Mountain Fever

by Jennie Kermode

Anya Korzun in Mountain Fever
Anya Korzun in Mountain Fever

If a deadly pandemic started killing people where you live and all around the world, what would you do? For many fans of survival films, the default plan is to escape to somewhere remote and try to wait it out. But remote places have their own dangers. Mountain Fever, the debut feature by Hendrik Faller, tells the story of Jack, whose retreat into the Alps reveals his distinct lack of survival skills. Fortunately, he meets a woman who knows exactly what she's doing. Less fortunately, she wants his house and his food.

"I've always been interested in end of the world scenarios and films about when the world changes and the way of life changes," says Hendrik. "I've always grown up around mountains and I love them, but they can be scary, especially the Swiss and French Alps. They can be very dangerous."

Living in Scotland, I tell him, I hear annual reports of tourists who have gone climbing without the right equipment and got into trouble. Others are just unlucky. It's pretty well known here that mountains can be deadly.

"I love Scotland," he replies. "I've climbed on the mountains there, but what makes it different in Switzerland and France is that the mountains just keep going up. They're behemoths."

Animals, he says, are a lot better adapted for coping with these challenges than humans.

"This is a world where the pandemic has killed a lot of people. We don't know exactly how many but we get the impression that most villages and cities are empty. I wanted to show that the animals are the ones who have no problem with this. They can't get infected so they can just carry on and find food for themselves. So we have a horse and a cat to symbolise the fact that all the humans have gone. We have this lonely saddled horse walking the streets with no-one to ride it, and we have this weathered one eyed cat not worrying about anything... they don't need the social constructs that our characters are lacking."

It sounds like a world that's also challenging for film production units.

"Yes, absolutely! Once you go into really deep snow it gets difficult, especially when you don't have a massive crew. We had to shoot fast because the temperature was so low. We shot in just over three weeks and tried to take a measured approach, so we would shoot something outside and then take two days shooting inside before we shot outside again.

"We also had trouble because the snow shifts a lot so sometimes there's metres and metres of it and other times there's no snow at all. So we had problems with continuity and then also, at the end of the shoot, there was a lot of snow so we actually had to shoot more than we wanted to and shoot really quickly."

How did he find a crew and cast who could do their jobs under those conditions?

"It was bit of a mix actually," he says. "I know the cinematographer, Michael Lebor. Then there's Tom Miller, the main actor, who I've been working with for the last ten years - we went to film school together. All the rest were new. We used a lot of local French talent from near where we were shooting. Then there's the woman at the heart of the film, Anya Korzun - she's actually Ukranian, so she was the newest addition to our cast."

They're all planning to attend the film's première at Frightfest this saturday, he says - including members of the local theatre society who gave the film a lot of support and are really looking forward to seeing it with an audience.

"It's fantastic," he says. "Just the fact that it's going to be at Frightfest is already amazing, and then the fact what it's showing in the Prince Charles, which is one of my favourite cinemas because, you know, it really attracts a crowd that loves to watch films together so it's a great atmoshere."

If the film is a success, he hopes to go on and make a hunting thriller set in the woods in winter, which may take him back into the mountains. His passion for Mountain Fever is clear - it's a first feature for all involved, and a labour of love - so he's now hoping that it will give its audience the same kind of thrill.

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