Whole Train hits France
The graffiti film Whole Train premiered in Paris on Tuesday evening to rapturous applause. The film, produced by German director Florian Gaag, tells the story of four graffiti “writers” whose frustrated creativity and need for escapism thrusts them into an illegal battle for the subway trains of the city. It goes on release at cinemas across France on Wednesday.
Although originally released in Germany in 2006 and recognised by several awards Whole Train has only just found its way onto the French silver screen.
Described by hip hop supreme KRS-One as “the best film ever made on graffiti”, it follows the lives of four young writers – David, Tino, Elyas and Achim – who each have their own reason for exercising their creativity on the walls and subway trains of the city.
Their crew, KSB, become embroiled in an illegal battle based on “bombing” trains, the practice of writing graffiti on stationary trains whilst they’re parked up at night.
Despite hailing from diverse and different backgrounds the young men are brought together by the fierce competition with their arch rivals, ATL, before a tragedy destroys the essence of their collective.
Director Florian Gaag told RFI that he’d been waiting a long time for the film to secure a distribution deal in France but it was worth it.
“I always thought this movie should be shown in France, because there’s a huge hip hop, graffiti scene over here.”
Gaag, who formed part of the local graffiti scene in Munich, denies that the film is autobiographical though he admits that there are “bits and pieces of my own life story in it”.
After studying in New York Gaag returned to Germany in 2000 to work on the screenplay.
Most people believe Berlin is the most influential city for graffiti in his home country, he says, but in fact “Munich has really been an important city in the German movement”.
“Munich was the first city to have a train-bombing movement in Germany, Berlin came long after,” says Gaag. “Being kind of a part of that whole scene was an important fact that played into the story I created with Whole Train.”
Gaag says he was particularly influenced by one of the first ever films focused on graffiti, Style Wars, and specifically wanted to emulate the iconic shots “where the original trains of New York are going across those bridges” covered in graffiti.
And it is clear that his creativity knows no bounds. The German director also produced the soundtrack collaborating with artists like KRS-One, Freddie Foxxx, O.C., Planet Asia, Afu-Ra, Grand Agent, Tame One, Akrobatik and El Da Sensei.
However, he admits that “in terms of the musical inspiration, it hasn’t really been Munich” hinting at his time listening to hip hop in America.
When asked how he achieved the realism with the graffiti writing and the obvious problems of the legality of what he was filming, Gaag coyly suggests that the refusal of Germany’s transport company to partner with him forced him to find imaginative solutions in Poland.
“This was a process that took us around two years,” says Gaag, before describing how he made “very interesting connections with people running the show” in Warsaw.
The film itself encourages the audience to have sympathy with the characters, while the shaky, close-up camera shots make the action gritty and intense.
It depicts the graffiti subculture in a genuine and authentic manner, with the character’s constant battle against the authorities and rival gangs revealing a tale of aggressive tension, in which the heroes transform dull urban spaces into colourful pieces of art.
Gaag is currently working on his next film, a psychological thriller – but sounds slightly sad to admit that filmmaking and producing music leaves him little time now to “write” graffiti.