Gottfried Helnwein and The Dreaming Child offers a rare and intimate glimpse into the creation of The Child Dreams, an opera designed by world-famous Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein for the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv in 2010. The Child Dreams is based on the play written by Israel's most famous and celebrated playwright, Hanoch Levin, who died in 1999. The libretto portrays the hopes and dreams of children in search of freedom and peace. Helnwein was chosen as production designer because the themes of childhood are a motif through much of his work and because of his LA Opera production of Der RosenCavalier, which was brought to the Israeli Opera in 2005.
Film Director, Lisa Kirk Colburn, takes viewers on the stage and behind the scenes to choreographic sessions, rehearsals, the makeup room, and set construction. The film captures the escalating clashes between the purist production designer Helnwein, who is determined to stay true to what he believes is the writer's original vision, and the opinions of the Israeli Opera production team. Helnwein's insistence that the protagonist is played by an actual child, as Levin states in his libretto, is pitted against the director Omri Nitzan's desire to cast an adult portraying a small child, causing a passionate dispute between the Viennese artist and the Israeli team.
In the 4th Act, Levin writes about a pile of dead children. Finding this image impractical for stage, Helnwein masterfully creates a set using real children suspended in air. With additional images he gives the audience the illusion that there are endless dead children slowly spinning while singing of their many lost hopes and dreams. What results is a visual feast for the eyes that resonates beyond the opera world.
Gottfried Helnwein is a conceptual artist concerned primarily with psychological, sociological and historical issues who has worked as a painter, draftsman, photographer, muralist, sculptor, video and performance artist, and also is renowned for his stage and costume designs for theater, ballet and opera productions worldwide. One of his most famous works is Selektion, a 100-meter long installation of photographs of children along a railway station in Cologne, Germany, mounted in memoriam to the 50th Anniversary of Kristallnacht.
Helnwein grew up in Vienna in the post-WWII era and was greatly affected as a child by what he describes as a pervasive sense that something unspeakably terrible had happened in Austria. Upon finally learning the story of the Holocaust, he became fixated on the image of the child and theme of innocence betrayed. Helnwein studied at the University of Visual Art in Vienna (Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Wien) where he was awarded the Master-class prize (Meisterschulpreis) and the Theodor-Körner prize.
Filmmaker Lisa Kirk Colburn began working on the set of The Executioner's Song with Tommy Lee Jones in 1980. Studying at UCLA, Lisa has gone on to write eleven screenplays, many of them award winning. Her first, Clouds of Tragedy, was a finalist in the Eugene O'Neil Playwrights competition in 1994. The feature film The Journey, which Lisa co-wrote while working at the Sundance Lab, was produced in 1997 and won many national and international film festival awards, including the Audience Award at the Miami Film Festival. In 2005 Lisa produced and executive produced the feature length documentary Sacred Stage: The Mariinsky Theater, which tells the story of the survival of the renowned Russian theater in St. Petersburg and its artistic director Valery Gergiev, and which premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and at Lincoln Center in New York City.