To some it's the end of the world. To others, the gateway to a new life: the river Oder between Poland and Germany. Vibrant with expectancy, it's a magnet for people from all walks of life an their journey towards a better life. It's a place where Ukrainian refugees bargain for entry to the 'golden West' ... A place where a hapless business-man loses everything he owns but gains something more important...
Where a teen-aged cigarette smuggler defies his father and brother to free the girl he loves from a detention center... Where an interpreter risks her career and her freedom to help an illegal refugee ... And where an architect meets his former girlfriend and discovers that they've both changed too much to find common ground for a new start. At this crossroads between two worlds, where the law of the land is that of self-preservation, men and women struggle to maintain their dignity and their values as they are stripped to the raw core of their existence. Yet even in this often hostile climate, love and compassion blossom in the most unexpected ways. And although some hopes and dreams are doomed, others come to pass with the quiet joy of a small and humble miracle.

Director's Statement

DISTANT LIGHTS is about a number of different people who are all connected through the fact that their story plays out in one place within 48 hours. The characters have to struggle - but they go on struggling and never give up. No matter whether it's over minor things such as a Communion dress, or - in the case of the refugees from Ukraine - over matters of life and death. I feel a great sympathy for these people who fight so hard for their happiness.
The title means everything and nothing. "Lichter" - Lights - are many things and nothing at all. They can be the Communion candles in the church, the lights of Slubice, which the refugees mistake for Berlin, or the lights of Beata's taxi. lt is a very broad, open title. A play on a word that can mean hope and danger.
This is a unique place: on the one hand you have the beauty of the Oder countryside, but there are no bathers or boats. You can teil that it is a border river. The border crossing itself is very spooky. Particularly at night, when you come from Frankfurt on the Oder: it is extremely bright, lit up by neon lights, like a U.F.O.
DISTANT LIGHTS might stimulate discussions. For example about how rich the West is, how it closes itself off, how we raise the borders. One can speculate about who really gives us the right to use inhuman means to prevent people from living here. But in the end, DISTANT LIGHTS is also about various relationships and love stories: a young couple, a father, his son - people who are forced to realize that in a changed reality, they cannot find a path that will lead them together again. They run towards each other, but ultimately miss each other. Perhaps this emotional aspect of DISTANT LIGHTS is ultimately more important than the political level.

Director's Biography

Hans-Christian Schmid was born in Altötting in 1965 and lives in Berlin today. After completing his studies at the Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film in Munich, he won a scholarship from the Screenwriters' Workshop in Munich and did a scriptwriter's course at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles with the support of the DAAD. In 1989 he shot his first film, "Sekt oder Selters," a documentary about automat addicts that was awarded a prize at the Independent Film Days in Osnabrück. His short film "Das lachende Gewitter" was followed by the documentary "Die Mechanik des Wunders" about the conflict between faith and commerce in his native Altötting, which was awarded the Agfa/Geyer Promotion Prize, the prize of the Documentary Film Festival in Munich and the FBW mention "particularly worthwhile." In 1994 he shot the TV movie "Himmel und Hölle" with Hannelore Hoger and Katja Riemann. Hans-Christian Schmid has been collaborating with the producers Jakob Klaussen and Thomas Wöbke for many years now. His "Himmel und Hölle" and feature film debut "Nach fünf im Urwald" (1996) were already produced by Claussen+Wöbke Filmproduktion. He has been working almost as long with Michael Gutmann as an author's team, beginning with "Nach fünf im Urwald" ("It's a Jungle Out There"). For the script to "Nur für eine Nacht" (director: Michael Gutmann /1997 /TV) they both won the RTL Television Award Golden Lion in 1997 and the Adolf Grimme Award in 1997. For "23" Hans-Christian Schmid was awarded the Hypo Director's Promotion Prize at the Munich Filmfest in 1998, while the lead role August Diehl won the Bavarian Film Prize for best young male actor in 1998 and the German Film Prize in 1998 for best actor; the production also won the Film Band in Silver. Hans-Christian Schmid successfully adapted Benjamin Lebert's novel "Crazy" for the cinema, whereby he discovered two remarkable young talents: Robert Stadlober and Tom Schilling, who were awarded the Bavarian Film Prize in 2001 for best young male talents for their roles in "Crazy." In "Herz im Kopf" ("Heart Over Head" / director: Michael Gutmann / 2002 / feature) Michael Gutmann (director and screenwriter) and Hans-Christian Schmid (co-author) worked with Tom Schilling once again.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Hans-Christian Schmid

Written by: Hans-Christian Schmid

Produced by: Jakob Claussen, Thomas Wöbke

Cinematography: Bogumił Godfrejów

Editing: Bernd Schlegel, Hansjörg Weißbrich

Production Design: Christian M. Goldbeck

Costume Design: Ulrike Scharfschwerdt

Make-Up & Hair: Tatjana Krauskopf

Cast: Zbigniew Zamachowski (Antoni), Maria Simon (Sonja), August Diehl (Philip), Ivan Shvedoff (Kolja), Sergej Frolov (Dimitri), Anna Janovskaja (Anna), Alice Dwyer (Katharina), Sebastian Urzendowsky (Andreas), Martin Kiefer (Marko), Devid Striesow (Ingo), Tom Jahn (Maik)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Cinematographer – Prix Carlo Di Palma 2003
  • Feature Film Selection 2003