Stars of Dresden: Oliver Kusio

One of our top festivals open for submissions on FFL, Filmfest Dresden, recently just wrapped with its prize-giving ceremony. To celebrate, we’ll be taking a look at some of the filmmakers that won accolades as part of our new “Stars of Dresden” series.

Our latest star filmmaker profile is Oliver Kusio. He scooped up a Golden Horsemen at Filmfest Dresden for his exceptional short ELA. A coming-of-age story about a Polish women who moves to the West, it’s a tale which resonates with many.

Oliver‘s current title

It’s hard tracing it back to a specific event or point in time. Although I clearly remember a moment when I landed my first job at the local theatre in Frankfurt as an assistant director. Every morning I would turn up at the rehearsal space and, first thing, prepare coffee for the director and the actors. In the beginning the technicians would make fun of me – until their supervisor reminded them that soon enough they might be working for me. And that making coffee usually is the first step when breaking into the world of theatre and film.


I try to draw on other types of art – literature, music or fine arts – and, of course, life itself.For the most part, it provides me with all the inspiration I need.


Oliver‘s inspiration

When working on a script or a film I typically try to stay away from cinemas and avoid watching films in general. They always put me at the risk of copying works that I love! Instead, I try to draw on other types of art – literature, music or fine arts – and, of course, life itself. For the most part, it provides me with all the inspiration I need. Accordingly, extensive research and field trips play a very important role of my pre-production process, which might also have to do with my background in documentary filmmaking.


Oliver‘s current title

My current short film is titled „Ela – Sketches on a Departure“. It’s a coming-of-age story that revolves around a young Polish woman who’s on the verge of leaving her hometown in hopes of starting a better life in the West. It’s based on the memories of my parents who emigrated to Germany from Poland in the early 80s. So, on the one hand it’s a very personal film, on the other there’s obviously a very topical political dimension to it as well. There were, of course, quite a few films that inspired us while making „Ela“. The Dardenne brothers’ „Rosetta“ and all of Andrea Arnold’s films come to mind. But, as I stated before, I avoid watching films while working on a film myself.


Oliver‘s festival strategy

My team and I are still enrolled in film school which puts us in a rather comfortable position when it comes to getting into the festival market. We are lucky enough to have an expert helping us – Cristina Marx – who’s been working in the industry for many years. She advised us not only with working out the right festival strategy but also when we started dealing with requests form distributors. The best advice I can give to other filmmakers is to stay in close dialogue with colleagues of all kind. Dealing with festivals and distribution can get quite complicated, especially when money is involved – being able to ask for help and openly communicate with like-minded people can help a great deal.

Oliver‘s festival experience 

I try to attend as many festivals as possible – not least because it gives me the chance to watch films I might not otherwise have the opportunity to see. Interestingly enough, my perception of my own films changes with every public screening. Usually, I can sense an emotional response from the viewers as they see the film for the first time. They very intuitively react to scenes, images and sounds – and draw my attention to things I might not have noticed until this point. It’s a very humbling experience that allows me to re-discover my own work.



Last month, my team and I were very lucky to win the National Competition at International Short Film Festival FILMFEST DRESDEN. Truth be told, we didn’t even think we had a shot at winning since most of the films we saw at the festival were absolutely brilliant. Taking home such a prestigious award came as a huge surprise, especially since it was the first award we’ve ever won. So, without a doubt, Dresden will always have a special place in our hearts. What surprised me as well, by the way, was how heavy the „Golden Horseman“ was – I tried to place it on the shelf above my desk and it almost collapsed under its weight.

Oliver‘s biggest adversity 

The production of „Ela“ was turbulent to say the least. At the time I was obsessed with the idea of making a film that had the immediacy of first-hand experience and blurred the lines between reality and fiction. Shortly before we started shooting I decided to drop the script and instead asked my team and actors to improvise and integrate the world as they found it into our creative process. As a result, the material we had to work with in the editing room was extremely diverse and lacked coherence. That was when, frankly speaking, I stopped believing not only in myself but also in the idea behind the film – I was sure that I had spoiled and ruined the project we had been working on for almost a year. I vowed to never take risks again. And it wasn’t until my very talented editor Anna-Lena Engelhardt came up with a brilliant idea, that something changed.

Anna suggested that while editing we should focus solely on emotions and go as far as openly disregard rules and conventions of narrative structure. She basically urged me to believe not only in myself but also in the idea that the film was based on. And she was right! With her hard work, ambition and intelligence she saved not only the film but maybe even a part of my self-trust. I’m incredibly grateful to be working with her again.

Oliver‘s future steps

My team and I are currently working on a short film in cooperation with German public broadcaster MDR (Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk). It’s the story of an old man who hires an escort to accompany him to his ex-wife’s funeral. Shooting is set to begin in July – we’re hoping to finish it in time for a Berlinale submission. And we’ll definitely try to submit it to Dresden as well!

Andrew Wilkin

Andrew Wilkin is the Client and Community Support Coordinator at FFL. His editorial background has involved working at unlike. His film experience has included a position at moviepilot. Reach him at andrew@filmfestivallife.com