INTERVIEW WITH CAROLINA HELLSGARD

HUNGER

a film by Carolina Hellsgård

I’m sure you’ve gotten a lot of compliments from this film, right?

Yeah, I mean, people do like it. It won some awards a couple years ago. And it’s been shown quite a lot. And I’m very happy with it.

Your film feels really authentic and specific. Was it inspired by something personal?

It’s a mix of things. Partly personal and partly from a story people told me about…something that happened here in Berlin. The story was about an immigrant family that got thrown out of an apartment and these people lived next door to them, and they actually went into this apartment and looked around. And they described it to me. When I heard this story, I felt like I needed to do something with it. There are lots of immigrants who are quite well adapted to Berlin society and still get deported. And I wanted to comment on that. And then, I read some horrible stories about children starving to death in apartments here in Germany). So I fused these things together. I mixed it: Neglected kids, immigrants, and personal memories of being a child and entering an unknown space and wanting to explore it. For me the child’s perspective was really important because I wanted to tell a story of a really tragic event, but seen through the kids’ eyes. They see it as an opportunity, as a moment of play.

There’s a kind of innocence that you capture that is beyond judgment, and beyond words. It’s very moving. But it’s not manipulative. You use only diegetic music, and it’s very well placed. It’s all about the moment. It’s a very specific way of approaching filmmaking and I’m curious what filmmakers inspired or influenced you.

I have so many references in my work. But for this film, it was mostly the Dardenne Brothers. Also Gus Van Sant to a certain degree. And then Chantal Akerman, do you know them? She uses time in a very interesting way. I’m fascinated by the way she lets time unfold. And how you can watch people in a space. It’s a mix of these influences. I just knew I wanted to watch these kids for as long as possible. And I wanted to take a moment and drag it out, hopefully without making it boring. Children experience time in a different way. At least I did, as a child. These lazy afternoons felt like weeks, but were only hours. And I wanted to portray this in the film.

I don’t know how long the brothers were in the other apartment, but for them it was a universe. So much happened, in a strange way. All the things they experienced, all the little moments. They pushed beyond their boundaries in so many ways. (pause) Are there any other artists that influenced you?

I like this photographer named Hellen van Meene. And this painter from the last century, Vilhelm Hammershøi.  He often painted people from behind, in sparse, empty rooms. Also, this writer Knut Hamsunwho wrote a novel with the same name as my film . It tells the story of a man walking around Copenhangen and he’s starving. It’s a very bleak story. But I really like it. You should read it.

What was the most challenging thing about making Hunger?

Hunger was actually quite easy to make. We did casting for about 3 or 4 months. And once I had the actors. I worked a lot with them. Because they didn’t really know how to move, kids can’t really cross a room. And I had to train them. But after we did that, it was just quite pleasurable. I think it was one of my easiest short films. We only shot 6 hours a day. And we were in 3 apartments the whole time.

How long did it take you to shoot it? Do you remember?

It took a while. It took 8 days. We had 14 takes per shot. It’s a bit tiresome. The kids had to count in their heads, to get the pacing right. And the camera had to be in focus in these long, moving shots. This film was extremely technical, and the kids were a bit bored towards the end. But they were very professional. And I think they liked it.

You obviously took great care to find actors with the right faces.

Casting is very important. Their own energy has to come through. You can’t do much more than find the right people to work with.

Who came up with the young brother’s dance? It’s incredible!

The dance moves came while we were rehearsing; it was the little kid’s idea of how a “techno-dance” should look.

What is the thing you liked the most about this film?

I like that even thought it’s only 17 minutes. It works very well. It’s kind of conventional. It has a beginning, middle and an end. At the same time, I think people are quite surprised when they watch it. How things unfold. It’s a peaceful film, but it’s also horrifying in other ways. I like the mix-the slowness, the tension. And it doesn’t feel artificial or constructed. Every time I see it, I believe in what’s happening in front of me.

This is really difficult. If you can actually sense that with something you’ve made, that’s a huge achievement. That must be very gratifying. What are you working on now?

I shot another film in the fall and we’re finishing it up right now. It’s actually about a young drug dealer. It’s a story I read in the papers. Lots of children deal drugs, they sell heroine in the subways, but they’re only 12 years old. And that inspired me. I don’t know why, but these horrible situations fascinate me. I feel like I have to do something with them. I’m also preparing a Swedish feature film to be shot in Morocco.

Is that your screenplay?

Yeah. I’ve been writing the screenplay for the last three years.

And do you know when the production will start? Or is it still up in the air?

We hope it will be in a year, but you never know. It’s quite a big project and this could be a problem, especially for a first feature. It’s quite expensive. So we’ll see if it works out or not.

Do you see yourself moving into feature films?

Yeah. I have nothing against shorts, but it would be good to do a feature. But it’s complicated. In Europe you have to apply for films funds. And you have to involve a lot of Countries. So it takes a lot of time.

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Carolina Hellsgård works as a writer, editor and director in Stockholm and Berlin. After completing a MFA from the Berlin University of Arts, she received a DAAD-postgraduate grant for Los Angeles, where she studied film directing and screenwriting at the California Institute of the Arts. Hellsgård’s films have screened in close to a hundred of venues and film festivals including the Berlinale, Clermont Ferrand International Film festival, Films des Femmes and Oberhausen Short Film Festival. They have been awarded several prizes including the Jury Award at the Cinema Jove Film Festival, “Best short film” at exground filmfest, Konstanzer Kurzfilmtage and at the Belo Horizonte International Film Festival. She is a former participant of the Berlinale Talent Campus, a Sweden-America Fellow and a recipient of the Berliner Künstlerinnenförderung.