Bringing Nazis on the moon down to Earth: an interview with Timo Vuorensola, director of Iron Sky
It’s not every day you get to watch a movie about Nazis from the dark side of the moon who come down to invade Earth, and certainly not every day you get to speak to the filmmaker who made it happen. Iron Sky (currently playing in Australian cinemas) aka the ‘Nazis from the moon movie’ has already carved out permanent residence in the chambers of off-the-wall cult filmmaking. Its wild and unpredictable structure presents a smattering of spectacular schlocktastic cinema, with moments of delirious fun mixed with moments of “what the hell were they thinking?”
The story involves, well, Nazis, and they’re from the moon. If you want more information check out the official synopsis. Destined to divide audiences — with delight, disgust and everything in between — I spoke with Timo Vuorensola, the film’s Finnish director, shortly before Iron Sky’s theatrical release.
I guess I should kick-off this interview with the obvious question: what inspired you to make a movie about Nazis from the dark side of the moon who come down to invade the Earth?
We wanted to do a big science fiction film with attitude and action. At the same time we wanted to do a politically incorrect movie. The story of Iron Sky was actually born in a sauna, where we were sitting after a day of shooting in Finland. We were sitting in the sauna, we’d had a few drinks, and a friend of mine said ‘I have a great idea. Let’s make a movie about moon Nazis!’ We laughed and then after we finished the film we were working on we came back to the idea and thought hey, this is actually a really good idea!
We went on the internet and discovered there is a big amount of conspiracy theories circling around Hitler’s moon expedition and all this, you know, crap. We thought this was great — it’s a wonderful wealth of information that’s already out there — so why don’t we grab it, assume it’s true, and start making a comedy around it? That’s how it started. But in terms of other films I think the biggest inspiration for us was Dr Stranglove, Starship Troopers and also a film called The City of Lost Children…I just love the colour schemes and the textures and the kind of steam bunkish world it has.
Iron Sky is based on a fun idea. It’s wacky, strange, off the wall and all those things. On the other hand the Holocaust is one of the most sensitive historical moments in terms of how it is regarded and represented. Were you concerned that you would offend people?
I wanted to offend certain people. I wanted to offend fascists, Nazis, right wing people. I wanted to offend American Republicans, you know, that part of the world. My idea was, when I started to do this film, that it’s OK to make fun of Nazis, their ideology and what their ideology stands for but it’s not OK to make fun of the victims of the Nazis. I came up with that sort of line in my head. We started to make this film and I worked with that divide: that we can make fun of Nazis but we don’t make fun of the victims, because they deserve completely different treatment.
You’ve shown the film to German audiences. How have they responded?
We opened the film at the Berlin Film Festival and we were the biggest talk of the festival, by far. We were the one film everybody was talking about and that the media was writing about. The reason for this was obviously the subject and the way we made the movie. It was really interesting to see the reactions. We were really afraid to see how German audiences would respond to it, but it was received with a lot of love because it is sort of a new way to approach this issue. One big newspaper wrote that it took a Fin to teach the Germans to laugh at Nazis. I think that was pretty well said. Many people came to me after screenings and said it is nice to see a film that doesn’t make the current youth of Germany feel like they are to blame for what the Nazis did in the 30s and 40s. At the same time it brings the Nazis back into the light and warns people that Nazis never actually left, they just changed their form.
In terms of the financing of the film, how large a part did you play in raising money and how did you pitch it? Did you say to people: I want to make a film about Nazis from the dark side of the moon, so can I have some money?
(Laughing). Yeah, we had nothing else but a pitch, and the pitch of the film was that in 1945 the Nazis went to the moon and in 2018 they are coming back. This was the only thing that we had. We didn’t have any visuals; we didn’t have any script; we didn’t have anything. Even with this, it was said to have been one the best pitches people had heard in a long time. We got quite a long way with the basic core idea of the film and when we were able to produce the script and some visuals it all came together.
When people hear about a movie about such a strange and wacky premise like Nazis from the dark side of the moon, they naturally expect a low art film, one that isn’t going to be praised by critics. Do you care what reviewers think of Iron Sky?
I am most interested in the reactions of the people. I’ve been following lots of discussions on Twitter and Facebook, what the audience’s reactions are after they’ve walked out of the theatre. I do read critics every now and then when I come across them and I’m actually interested in them no matter whether they like it or they don’t like it. It’s really a film that shares critical opinion. Some say that it’s the best film ever made and some say that it’s the worst film ever made. I can understand that.
It is a controversial topic and it’s not made according to all the rules of the art in some parts, but at the same time I think that’s one of the strengths of the film. The only thing I react to negatively when I read critics or whatever discussion on the internet is when someone spreads misinformation. That’s usually when I try to fix it and say no, that’s not who it was and this and that. I follow a lot of interactions on the internet and it’s good to see the audience in particular find the film to be amazingly good and I am really happy about that. I knew all the time that in the end this is a film for the audience, not so much for the critics.
There’s been a trend in recent years for films that are high concept novelties — films like Dead Snow and Snakes on a Plane come to mind. Do you regard Iron Sky as essentially a gimmick or do you view it as something more serious?
It could have been turned into a gimmick movie very easily but our ambition level was a bit higher. What we wanted to do was get it away from the gimmick movie and make it more — how do you say — a wider experience. We really wanted to focus on the characters and the message of the film, in addition to doing cool special effects and getting those Nazis on the moon!
The kind of movie you mention is actually making me happy because it challenges, a little bit, the conventions of films. For example, the science fiction genre in America, it’s really going into quite a boring direction. It’s going into this patriotic Battleship, Transformers thing where American heroes fight the aliens. It doesn’t seem to be possible to make other kinds of movies.I feel like it’s our job as non-American filmmakers — whether we are Australian or European or whatever — to bring new life into the genre of science fiction or horror. I think Iron Sky is part of that movement.
Iron Sky is now screening in Australian cinemas.