Sundance, Day 3

This article was originally part of the Insider Cinema guide to Hollywood, a website from the mid-2000s. We are reposting it here as both a writing sample and a guide for those seeking to get their foot in the door in Hollywood.

One of the most startling, and eye-opening films to come out of this year’s festival is Dennis Gansel’s The Wave.  Based on the American novel and true story, this tour de force experience takes a modern look at the 1969 high school experiments gone terribly, terribly wrong.  The story follows a high school teacher who in his one-week course on autocracy, turns his class into a group of 21st-century fascists, who bend at the will of a strong-arm dictator.  Utilizing modern-day issues and the teenagers’ need to belong and be accepted, The Wave elevates the subject matter to new heights and shows that tyranny doesn’t destructively march in, but is welcomed with colorful applause.  

I was able to speak with the director, Dennis Gansel about this true masterpiece:

RT:  Why did you want to tell this story?

DG:  Well, I wanted to tell it because I couldn’t get the novel out of my head since I read it when I was 12.  So I met with the screenwriter, Peter Thorwarth, one day, and we started talking, and we discussed The Wave, and a lot of questions arose.  What would I have done if I were in that classroom?  Would I stand alone?  What would I have done if I were alive when Hitler came to power?

RT:  You made many changes compared to the novel?  What motivated these alterations?

DG:  High school has changed a lot since the 1960s.  There’s much more of a cultural need to belong, and it’s much stronger now than it was 40 years ago in America, or even 70 years ago in Germany.  Growing up in the ’80s, my parents always said, ‘You kids are always obsessed with TV, and music, and fashion.’ And the truth is, we were because that demonstrated who we were and that we belonged.  A lot of that is demonstrated through Tim’s character.  Some of the changes were also necessary for the scope.  In our film, the entire process takes place over 6 days and winds up with 150 students as supporters.  In the original instances, the Wave movement spread out over 5 days and recruited 800 students in 3 separate high schools.  

RT:  How did the original people react?    

DG:  Very favorably.  We had 2 of the original students at the world premiere the other night, and we had the original teacher come on as a technical consultant.

RT:  I noticed you visually used a lot of practical reflections, in widows and glass doors.  Why did you make this stylistic choice?

DG:  I wanted to use reflections because they were visually interesting, and to signify a major turning point for a character.

RT:  What’s your favorite part of filmmaking?

DG:  Definitely editing.  It’s a time I get to relax and handle the material.  Everyone loves the making of a movie, but it’s just incredibly hectic, and in the editing room you get to take a step back and craft what you have.  It’s like a second shooting.  Plus, our editor, Ueli Christen, was great.  

RT:  Any sights on the Oscar for the best foreign film?

DG:  Well that really depends on the German Film Commission, and they only sponsor one film a year.

In my humble opinion, the German Film Commission would be shooting itself in the foot if it did not sponsor The Wave.  

THE TALLY (alphabetical):   


Celluloid Dreams acquires international rights 

Domestic rights are still available, and pic is being repped by William Morris Independent

The Black List: Volume One

HBO acquires all rights 


Fox Searchlight acquires world rights, with exceptions to some national territories for five million dollars

The Deal

Worldwide distribution rights controlled by Peace Arch Entertainment

Hamlet 2

Focus Features acquires all rights for ten million dollars

Henry Poole Is Here

Overture Films has acquired all U.S. rights for three and a half million dollars

Polanski: Wanted and Desired

The Weinstein Company acquires all foreign rights for mid-six figures

HBO Documentary acquires all domestic U.S. rights

Up the Yangtze

Zeitgeist Films acquires all rights

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