NewFest: ‘The Circle’ Director Stefan Haupt on the Inspiring Lives of Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp

The Circle is the English translation for Der Kreis, the title of a Swiss gay magazine that was published from 1932 to 1967. Originally focusing on lesbian issues, Der Kreis eventually garnered readers throughout Europe and the United States. It was the only gay magazine that continued publication through the Third Reich, as well as being the only gay publication still available in Europe throughout World War II. 

Stefan Haupt's film centers on the romance between two prominent figures within the social network of Der Kreis, schoolteacher Ernst Ostertag and drag performer Röbi Rapp. Their lifelong romance is told along with the history of the groundbreaking publication. The Circle won a Teddy Award for Best Documentary at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival, and will screen as part of the 26th NewFest, New York's LGBT Film Festival at the Film Society, July 24-29. We asked Haupt some questions about the film and its subjects. 

The Circle
Stefan Haupt | 2014 | Switzerland | 101m

Responses by Stefan Haupt:

On becoming involved with The Circle...

Although I normally find the topics of my films on my own, this was different. Producers Ivan Madeo and Urs Frey from Contrast Film asked me if I would be interested in making The Circle. They showed me a first treatment that had a lot of promise. I already knew the two protagonists of the film, Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp, and I am from Zurich myself, which was the center of the gay organization called The Circle. These reasons drew me into making the film.

On telling the story of Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp...

Ernst and Röbi, both in their eighties now, were the first same-sex couple to get married in Switzerland. When they met in 1956, Zurich was a liberal place. But all of that soon changed. Ernst, being a schoolteacher in Zurich and coming from a bourgeois family, had to hide his sexual orientation. He would never tell his family. 

Being able to tell Ernst and Röbi's story, and the fact that they now life their lives openly, makes us realize how much society changed for the better. But at the same time, it makes you reflect on all that still needs to be done.

On using various narrative styles...

We decided to mix documentary-style storytelling—the interviews with Ernst and Röbi, and with their friends, as well as archive material—with slightly fictionalized reenactment scenes. This was a huge challenge, because I wanted to blend these two forms of storytelling so that it doesn't feel like two separate films. Thanks to Röbi and Ernst, as well as the two great actors Sven Schelker and Matthias Hungerbühler, I believe it matched perfectly and really worked out the way we wanted it to.

On LGBT film influences...

I can recall the strong impression that The Times of Harvey Milk had on me. At that time, I knew very little about gay history in America, and the film was overwhelming to me since it beautifully combined historical facts as well as touching, personal stories, all while evoking the spirit of that time.

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