COVID in High Places: Star Director Robert Dornhelm Tests Positive After VIP Event

“Freud” director Marvin Kren steps in for leading Austrian filmmaker, who remains ill following an Aug 18 diagnosis and an elite reception at Grafenegg.

One of the highlights of summer in the greater Vienna area is the magical summer music festival at the Metternich Schloss Grafenegg, in Lower Austria, which this year, under the uncertainties of the coronavirus, opened only on August 14th running through September 6 – a short three weeks. For the Festival opening, the state governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner hosted a reception “im kleineren Kreis” – a more intimate list of VIPs than would usually have been invited, only 83 people, honoring the caution of the times. 

Among the honored guests was Austrian star director Robert Dornhelm, 74, with a lifetime of credits in Austrian film and television, who was set to restart filming of the Netflix series of Vienna Blood, suspended because of the lockdown.  

So a chill went down the spine of hosts and invitees when, just three days later, Dornhelm tested positive for COVID-19, in a routine screening of direction, cast and crew for the Netflix series. Immediately, tests were offered to all guests; many responded and no additional cases emerged. There was a massive sigh of relief.  

Weeks later, a diplomat who had attended was still shaking his head in bemusement.  “How can we ever be sure,” he wondered? “It’s just the spin of the wheel.”

Dornhelm himself was quite sick, and without a director, production on “Vienna Blood” was again suspended. A week passed, and it seemed unlikely he would be able to start work again quickly. Cast and crew, contracts and commitment were in limbo. 

Then, on Sept 7, just as the Grafenegg Festival came to a close, work began again on Season 2 of the Netflix series, now under the hastily arranged direction of Austrian director Marvin Kren (40). Already established on the streaming channel, Kren is the writer, producer and director of another popular Austrian Netflix series Freud, which launched on March 23.

The first episode of Season 1, The Last Séance, had launched on the BBC in November, 2019 and on the ORF in December, and had been well received.  Filmed originally in English in Vienna and London, the series stars English actor Matthew Beard, as Max Liebermann, and Austrian Jürgen Maurer as Oskar Reinhardt, in a cast including a long list of leading lights of Austrian stage and film: Maria Bill, Roland Koch, Ernie Mangold, Michael Navariani and Ursula Strauss, and German film star Ulrich Noethen, who all did their own dubbing. 

So it’s an important project, a very home-grown film, whose aesthetic and direction have been shaped by Dornhelm, and whose absence – even with the proven talents of Marvin Kren – will alter the future of the series.  

Dardis McNamee
Dardis McNamee is the Editor in Chief of Metropole. She has written for The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler (NYC), the Wall Street Journal Europe and Die Zeit in Vienna, as well as having been a speechwriter to two U.S. ambassadors to Austria. She was awarded the 2007 Kemper Award for Excellence in Teaching (Media & Communications).

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