Film lifts lid on Austria's secretive Glock pistol empire

Sophie MAKRIS
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Cinematographer and director Fritz Ofner, creator of documentary "Weapon of Choice" with Eva Hausberger, was threatened with legal action in the early stages of the film

From Hollywood to hip hop, it's the weapon that is wielded by cops and outlaws alike. The Glock pistol has achieved global cult status but the business is still shrouded in mystery in its native Austria.

A new documentary about the Glock, titled "Weapon of Choice", says that since it was invented in the early 1980s by a previously unknown Austrian engineer called Gaston Glock, the brand has been the object of a "cult of secrecy".

Directors Fritz Ofner and Eva Hausberger have tried to shed some light on the company, whose 89-year-old founder has always shunned publicity.

"Hundreds of press articles (on Glock) have appeared in Austria but they're almost all about the company's charitable activities or society events," Ofner told AFP.

That could be because the firm is not reticent about taking action in the courts against those it deems to have unfairly damaged its reputation.

Ofner said the filmmakers were threatened with legal action when the documentary was in its early stages, followed by a letter from the company's lawyers once it was finished, "asking for a list of all the people we had worked with on the film".

That "sword of Damocles" meant a year's delay to the release date, said Ofner.

- 'Steve Jobs' of the pistol -

The strict secrecy around the Glock empire is of a piece with the character and background of its mould-breaking founder, said Ofner.

In the early 1980s Gaston Glock was running a business making knives and curtain rods when he decided to answer a call for tenders put out by the Austrian army, which wanted to update its pistols.

He devised a firearm that revolutionised the field: made largely of non-metal components, "lighter, easier to take apart, more reliable, able to carry more bullets" than other brands.

"You can really compare Glock -- who had no experience at all in firearms -- to Steve Jobs who invented the first Apple product in his garage," says Ofner.

Once the contract with the Austrian army was in the bag, the company's worth soared when it entered the American and then the global market, being adopted by police, gangsters and even jihadists.

Between 2014 and 2017, the company's worth is estimated to have risen by almost 50 percent to 464 million euros ($538 million).

It employs some 1,325 people in four production sites, including at its headquarters in the town of Deutsch-Wagram, 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside Vienna.

American pop culture in particular has helped Glock attain its iconic status.

"It's a new weapon which coincided with a new music: some hip hop and gangsta rap artists immediately adopted this minimalist black object, which fitted so well with their aesthetic," Ofner said.

And as luck would have it, Gaston Glock's surname offers ample rhymes: lock, pop, cop, shock, drop...

"At the end of the 1990s, Glock was the most mentioned brand in the American Top 50," according to Ofner.

As for security forces, the Glock is also used by most US police forces as well as the US, Iraqi and Norwegian armies.

- Larger-than-life characters -

The film adds to the air of intrigue surrounding the firm with interviews with two notorious ex-associates of the company -- the only ones who would talk to the filmmakers.

Gaston Glock's former right-hand man in the United States, Paul Jannuzzo, was jailed for fraud before being released in 2013 when the conviction was quashed under the statute of limitations.

Jannuzzo said he was the victim of a vendetta on the part of his old employer.

The filmmakers also travelled to a Luxembourg prison to interview Charles Ewert -- also known as "Panama Charly" -- who is currently serving a 20-year sentence for attempting to have Glock killed in 1999 after they fell out over financial disagreements.

Faced with a cast of such larger-than-life characters, the directors don't even attempt to get into the story of Glock's ex-wife Helga, with whom he has been embroiled in a legal battle for years over the terms of their divorce.

Now remarried to a woman 50 years his junior, the billionaire has lately been investing in horse-racing, opening a vast equestrian complex in southern Austria.

The Glock Horse Performance Center plays host both to races and red-carpet events graced by the likes of Robbie Williams and Naomi Campbell.

According to an investigation carried out jointly by the Dossier website and Austria's Der Standard newspaper -- and which was published to coincide with the film's release -- three government ministers from the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) have been hosted at the Center as guests of the Glocks.