Student Academy Award for film project

24 Oct 2022

Alumni and students of the University of Television and Film Munich (HFF Munich) and of LMU have created the short film Almost Home, which has just won a gold medal at the Student Academy Awards.

The production team of Almost Home, led by director Nils Keller (2nd from left) and producer Jonas Lembeck (right). | © Le Hof Media GmbH

For a launch site, it’s a rather improbable location, the run-down former municipal waterworks building in Munich’s cultural quarter. A bit of an odor still clings to the place, and rain trickles through the roof every so often. Nevertheless, the great hall served as the launch pad for a fictional spaceship and indeed for a film project by Munich-based students. The finished movie, Almost Home, has just won a Student Academy Award – or “Student Oscar” as they are dubbed – in Los Angeles. It tells the story of a scientist and space explorer who has been on a two-year voyage with her now 17-year-old son.

On their return journey, they learn that a pandemic is raging on Earth, against which the young man, who suffers from an autoimmune disease, would be defenseless – if, that is, they were to fly home as planned. But cooped up in the isolation of the spaceship, the adolescent no longer wants his mother to make his decisions for him – he wants to live his own life, make his own decisions, even if they could spell death for him.

Having courage in your convictions

Nils Keller, graduate of the directing program at HFF, sketched out the plot for this 30-minute coming-of-age drama and final thesis at HFF within a day. He was inspired by a news story about the pragmatism of cruise liner passengers who were not allowed to leave the ship because of the coronavirus. “They decided to wait out the pandemic on board,” he says. “That impressed me.” The isolation, particularly in confined surroundings, and then with the mother-son conflict on top, are aspects of this unique chamber drama that the filmmakers were repeatedly warned to avoid.

“‘Science fiction and low-budget! Don’t do it – you’ll get your fingers burned!’ This was a common refrain,” says producer Jonas Lembeck, who also completed his studies in film production at HFF and business administration at LMU this year.

He produced the film with the help of the ten-strong team at Le Hof Media – a company he jointly founded with colleagues. In a project like this, Lembeck emphasizes, it’s “often better not to listen and to follow one’s own creative vision.”

The production was able to attract various backers (see below). “As great as it was to get this funding, it wasn’t enough to cover things like the daily rent for a studio” says Lembeck. So they went scouting in the cultural quarter and hired the old waterworks building at a relatively low rent for the complex shoot. “The building wasn’t in great condition, the sound was dodgy, and the roof was leaking,” says director Keller. But with plenty of duvetyne here and pool liner there, the team was able to mask the biggest inadequacies and start filming.

It seems as if Jeremias Meyer is floating effortlessly through the spaceship...

© Le Hof Media GmbH

...but on the set, we see the trickery that goes into defying gravity.

© Leon Schesselmann

The mother-son relationship is not always perfectly harmonious: Jeremias Meyer and Susanne Wolff.

© Le Hof Media GmbH

Down on Earth, the father (Stephan Kampwirth) relays the news about the pandemic via video link.

© Le Hof Media GmbH

Clear goal: international projects

A total of 1,800 short films were submitted to this year’s Student Academy Awards. Winning the world’s most coveted student film prize from among such a large field of competitors is a huge coup for the young Munich film creators. Moreover, it is an eloquent calling card given their ambition to shoot further movies – above all in an international context.

Keller and Lembeck had already gained lots of experience during various advertising film projects and had made important contacts. For example, they knew the set designer who created the spaceship. “He’s been working in advertising for 30 years and did up a basic concept for us that could be implemented within our financial constraints.” The film concept was impressive enough to convince top actors to join the project. With Susanne Wolff in the role of the mother, they had an established performer who had already won a German Film Award. Meanwhile, Jeremias Meyer, who plays the son, has been a rising star in the German movie world since his breakthrough role in the TV series Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo.

But nothing would have been possible without the combined efforts of the whole crew: 120 people did all kinds of jobs – set design, production design, camerawork, stunt coordination, administration, etc.: “They all put in way more than was covered by the minimum wage, which was unfortunately all we could pay them,” says producer Jonas Lembeck. “Without them and their commitment, the project simply could not have been done.”

With a shoestring budget and small crew, everybody had to double up on roles. “I did some production driver work, set runner work, and more besides. And there were days when I had to organize the Covid tests,” says production assistant Sophia Papperger, who studies German philology at LMU.

The timing of the shoot was fortuitous in that “most lectures and seminars were online. So when there was a quiet moment, I was able to take out my computer and get some learning done.”

She is enthusiastic about the project and says she loved being part of it. When she walked into the old waterworks and saw the model of the spaceship, she could not imagine that it would actually work. “But after the production designers had spent hours painting the prop until it shone like real metal, I was deeply impressed.”

And the shining metal – gold in color – awarded to the film in Los Angeles was a wonderful validation of all this effort.


The film was co-produced with the Bavarian public-service broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk with funding from HFF Munich, FilmFernsehFond (FFF) Bayern, and ARRI, the renowned manufacturer of high-end film equipment. ARRI supplied technical equipment and service know-how. The filmmakers also invested their own money in the project.

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