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ARRI soars to new heights to support friendship among nations

500 meters off the ground, a couple of brave athletes, a twenty-some person crew, and ARRI equipment participated in the launch of this year’s Deutschlandjahr: a year-long nationwide festival celebrating Germany’s close friendship to the United States.

High above sacred Navajo land in Monument Valley U.S.A., suspended between two patriotic hot air balloons, a group of German slacklining filmmakers was able to pull off a stunning and symbolic feat. This balancing act was commissioned by the German Embassy and chosen to be one of six launch events commemorating the opening of the current Year of German-American Friendship or Deutschlandjahr 2018/19: a year-long celebration showcasing more than 1,000 events from more than 200 partners in all 50 United States. Under the motto “Wunderbar Together,” the Deutschlandjahr 2018/19 is a comprehensive and collaborative initiative funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, implemented by the Goethe-Institut, and supported by the Federation of German Industries (BDI).

The young slackliners of One Inch Dreams caught the attention of the German Embassy back in 2013 and were encouraged to submit a proposal for the Deutschlandjahr 2018/19, hosted in the United States. Now a small creative agency, One Inch Dreams was struck with the idea to combine their tested skills at slacklining with a spectacular and symbolic stunt. By stringing a slackline between two hot air balloons, representing Germany and the United States, the group wanted to produce a movable balancing act between two nations.

“These nations are separate but connected by a thin line; it is with this idea that #buildingbridges was born,” recalls director, Johannes Olszewski. Balancing across this thin line is a challenge but rewarding as Olszewski further explains, “We saw the slackline as a bridge. The bridge is very high and very narrow and dangerous to walk across. However, the person who dares to walk across it does not fall; he succeeds and is able to make the connection. This bridge is symbolic and, in many ways, represents the current political relationship between Germany and America.”

Being enthusiastic filmmakers themselves, One Inch Dreams decided to produce a making-of video as well as a short stand-alone film to document their spectacular challenge. For these efforts, the team needed to gather equipment and external expertise. As a German technology company with strong and long-standing ties to the United States and around the world, ARRI was eager to contribute to the young filmmakers’ project and the international celebration. Support for the project came in the form of ARRI camera and lighting products as well as postproduction services through ARRI Media. ARRI’s Camera Systems department in Munich arranged for an ALEXA LF camera, two ALEXA Mini cameras, and Signature Prime lenses. ARRI Rental, just outside of Munich, supplied accessories for the shoot and advised the filmmakers while giving them the opportunity to test various pieces of equipment. The ARRI offices in Burbank provided ARRI SkyPanels.

The connection between ARRI and the United States extends back for most of the company’s history. Robert Richter, one of ARRI’s founding fathers, went to Hollywood to learn about the American film business as early as 1925, only a few years after starting the business. In 1978, ARRI opened its first subsidiary outside of Germany in Los Angeles. Ever since, the United States has been a major outpost for ARRI products and services and has remained instrumental in fostering the brand worldwide.

The logistics behind any film production are always demanding, and the wish to film over sacred Navajo land brought with it additional challenges. In the end, the team was granted approval and had the rare opportunity to interact with the locals whose families have lived in the region for many generations. The filmmakers also sought out opportunities to film a variety of subjects while on location. They were allowed to film a rodeo and were invited to a Native American tribal ceremony. Olszewski recalls, “We filmed various sequences which we were not necessarily intended for the final picture. We filmed some of these with very little light and everything in the raw in order to find out just what the Mini was capable of—these images look amazing.”

The weather also played an adversarial role at times during the 11 days of filming. “The wind conditions were horrible at first and we had to wait a few days to shoot, which cost the project time and money,” comments Mirko Prohaska, executive producer of the project. In the end, however, all the loose ends came together, and the team had a beautiful day as a backdrop. “On the day of the stunt, the entire Monument Valley was covered in fog; the mood of the moment was absolutely unique. We started before dawn and the atmosphere was one of a kind,” remembers Olszewski. 

Once in the air, the breathtaking scenery could be captured by both the ALEXA LF, and the ALEXA Mini. The two cameras brought their own unique advantages to the project. Director of Photography Felix Reichert comments, “The new ALEXA LF with its incredible large sensor gave us the opportunity to approach the American landscape in the most cinematic way we could imagine. The Signature Primes lenses with their beautiful colors and naturalistic skin tones completed this extraordinary setup. While cameraman Valentin Rapp remembers, “The ALEXA Mini, being lightweight and agile, was a great solution for the balloons, where every pound counts.” The Mini, complete with cameraman, was even lowered outside the baskets for various takes. 

After months of planning and preparation, the team of One Inch Dreams was able to claim another successfully completed project. Slackliner Niklas Winter managed to cross the 10 meters of line and complete the stunt at 400 meters before making an attempt at 1400 meters above Monument Valley, which would have been a new world record. Winter wrote an account of his experience, wrapping up his account with these words: “Unforgettable and beyond compare with any previous undertaking. Definitely one of the most special days of my life.”

Back on the ground, the team was busy creating footage for the short film as well as for the making-of feature. The ALEXA LF was the main camera for the short film, which tells a narrative about an elderly local whose home is rapidly changing around him. In addition, SkyPanels were often used on the ground and proved to be quite helpful for the production. DP Felix Reichert recalls, “By using the lightweight but ultra-bright ARRI SkyPanels, we were able to shoot a cinematic short film in the middle of nowhere with equipment that fit in just one car!“ 

The team from One Inch Dreams, together with ARRI Media, is now busy editing and grading the material in Munich on mLogics’ lightning fast mSpeed RAIDs which were also used for the DIT on location. In order to keep all the precious footage safe, they trusted Archiwares’ P5 software suite during the entire production.

Stay tuned early next year for the short film and the making-of video of this spectacular, one-of-a-kind, and historic event.

Photos: One Inch Dreams