5 Questions with Fritz Ofner
Fritz Ofner is the director of Weapon of Choice which has its UK Premiere this Friday, and continues to screen exclusively all week as part of the DocHouse First strand. This urgent documentary looks at the prolific use of the Glock pistol, from war zones in the Middle East to households in America, exploring why people attach themselves to this weapon brand and the dire consequences of a manufacturing process that produces 34,000 guns a week. Book tickets here.
What prompted you to make a film focused solely on the Glock pistol?
For my previous projects I travelled a lot to war and conflict zones. Wherever I went, people knew about this pistol made in Austria – it was like there was a myth surrounding it. Yet, back home, there was a veil of silence surrounding this company. I was intrigued. How is it possible, that a small Austrian gun manufacturer became a global player in the arms industry?
The film maps the use of the Glock pistol from a political, military standpoint, but also considers local instances of the Glock being used in the streets - including fatally. Was this balance between a political and personal perspective always your intention with the documentary?
The idea was to follow the pistol from its production in Austria to the people and places where it’s used - because it’s mostly used outside of its country of production. By talking to Glock owners I wanted to find out what kind of meaning they give to this object. And because a pistol is nothing else than a portable killing machine, the meaning they give to this object, tells us a lot about the forms of structural violence. So the film is personal on one level, and analytical on another level.
Were there any legal issues involved in digging into the Glock company?
Yes. The reason why so little was known about the Glock company in Austria was the legal pressure that Glock put on journalists, investigators and human rights activists. After we asked for an interview with the inventor of the Glock handgun, Gaston Glock, we immediately received a letter from his lawyer threatening us with legal action. In Austria it was very hard to get people knowledgeable about the company in front of the camera. But we did manage to get interviews with two former high ranking Glock employees outside of Austria: one of them was just released from prison, the other one was still imprisoned for ordering the assassination of Gaston Glock. These two former employees give us deep insight into the mechanisms of the arms trade and how Glock became the global player it is now.
Some of the individuals you speak to have very moving or interesting relationships to the Glock, such as the army veteran, or the 82-year-old woman who replaces her dog with a Glock. How did you come across these stories?
We worked 5 years on this project and the research almost turned into detective work. For example, I learned that George W. Bush had the Glock pistol from Saddam Hussain framed and hanging on the wall of the White House. I wanted to find the army veteran who captured Saddam Hussain. That wasn´t easy. On a picture that we found of him we saw a street sign in the back that we could locate in the Bronx. There we went from door to door asking about the „war hero“. Eventually, somebody opened the door who knew him. We left a message. He replied. But it took us weeks to gain his trust - he suffers from PTSD and had bad experiences with journalists in the past. It took us quite some time to shoot the scene with the veteran. Next task was to get permission from the George W. Bush Museum in Dallas to film Saddam´s Glock… which was not easy either. I am not the BBC, I am just an independent filmmaker who wanted to tell the story. But eventually I did get permission, and the scene turned out hilarious.
A tragic story in the film sees the death of a 7-year-old child in a Glock shooting in Chicago, USA. This is shortly followed by community march asking for peace and gun control. From your point of view, is the USA changing its perspective on the second amendment?
No. I think the United States are still very divided in the questions surrounding gun control. One example: The former Glock CEO Paul Jannuzzo told us, that the first time a Glock handgun was used in a mass shooting, was in Killeen Texas in 1991 - it was the nation’s biggest mass shooting in history. The media focused on the dangers of this new semi-automatic handgun. It was a huge marketing effect for Glock - sales sky rocketed. In Congress, there was a debate about gun control. Since I have been working on the film there were various mass shootings taking place, and the effects were exactly the same as in 1991. The discussion about gun control goes nowhere, and the sales of the gun that was used in the mass shooting go up.