Austrian director Lukas Valenta Rinner makes his North American debut with his first feature, Parabellum, which was nominated for the International Debut Award at the Göteborg Film Festival. The enigmatic film tells the story of a Buenos Aires office worker joining a bizarre group on a secluded retreat to prepare for the apocalypse. Parabellum screens at the 44th New Directors/New Films series Monday, March 23 and Tuesday, March 24. ND/NF continues through March 29 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Lukas Valenta Rinner, Argentina/Austria/Uruguay, 2015, DCP, 75m

Description: A Buenos Aires office worker finishes his day, visits his father in a rest home, lodges his cat in a kennel, and cancels his phone service. (Did you overhear the news report of riots and social unrest on the radio?) The next day, he and 10 equally nondescript individuals are transported up the Tigre delta in blindfolds and arrive at a secluded, well-appointed resort for a vacation with a difference. Instead of yoga and nature walks, the days’ activities range from hand-to-hand combat and weapons instruction to classes in botany and homemade explosives. Welcome to boot camp for preppers, the destination of choice for the serious Apocalypse Tourist. Austrian filmmaker Lukas Valenta Rinner handles his material in his home country’s familiar style, with cool distance, minimal dialogue, and carefully composed frames, interpolating the action with extracts from the invented Book of Disasters, a must-read for anyone warming up for the collapse of civilization as we know it. People, are you in?

Responses from Lukas Valenta Rinner:

On film’s ability to combine forms of creative expression:

I was always a creative person, making my own music, painting, and writing short stories in my high-school years. I felt that film would give me the possibility to combine these art forms. Film has thus become an excellent outlet for my creativity.

On his attraction to the subject: 

We were already working on [Parabellum] when in 2012, following the end of the Mayan calender, many people started to participate in survival courses to physically prepare themselves for the “end of the world.” I thought this panic and hysteria was intriguing and worth looking at. With time, it occurred to me that these preparatory trainings were a way of escaping reality and routine. I got the impression that, for some, the experience was an almost touristic one.

On working with both professional and amateur actors:

We built a core cast of three professional actors and added a large cast of amateur actors. For me, it was important to be able to rely on the professional actors to sustain the dramatic impact of the film. However, the untrained actors added a wonderful authenticity. The training scenes in the film are good examples of this. The crucial element of the casting was knowing that the actors would be able to perform in extreme surroundings and precarious circumstances. We knew that the shoot would be extremely challenging both physically and mentally—for everyone involved.

On staying focused:

We started working on the film five years ago, so I think the hardest thing was to maintain a fresh and critical view regarding the film—and not to get lost in new ideas.

On upcoming projects:

I am currently developing scenographic videos for an opera in Austria. My next film project will be set in a nudist swinger club in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina.