Kenneth Elvebakk • Director
"I found it difficult to get people to accept my role as a mere observer"
by Maud Forsgren
- Cineuropa met up with Norwegian director Kenneth Elvebakk to talk about his documentary Ballet Boys, which is coming out in French theatres
Kenneth Elvebakk has some robust training under his belt in addition to an array of very varied experiences in the sphere of media and communication, but cinema is what truly enthrals this Norwegian director, who is very much concerned by ethics. His documentary Ballet Boys [+see also:
interview: Kenneth Elvebakk
film profile], produced by Carsten Aanonsen, of Indie Film, and distributed by Tour de Force for Norway and by Wide House internationally, comes out tomorrow in French cinemas, five years after the project was kicked off, following a relentless and fruitful development process. There is a shorter television version of the film in existence, which was broadcast last year on a Norwegian public channel.
Cineuropa: What is your creative process like?
Kenneth Elvebakk: First of all, myriad images flit about in my head, like butterflies. They become little notes that I glue and stick onto my walls in order to be able to visualise my project a bit better. I had initially considered making a film about six young secondary-school pupils, but that first attempt came to a sudden end.
Then you met your young dancers.
Yes, three students from the Oslo Opera House, with really endearing personalities. They embraced the project really enthusiastically right from the get-go, but they needed a bit of time in order to be themselves in front of the camera, to be natural and at ease. We see them, together with their joy, their sense of mutual assistance, their doubts and their dilemmas, which lends the film an element of suspense and really illustrates the main themes very well: friendship, dreams and ambitions. They are the ones who tell their own story, without the need for a separate, outside narrator. Syvert and especially Lukas take centre stage a bit more than Torgeir, who stays more in the background, at his own request.
Did the shoot take long?
We started off in Grasse, France, and it lasted four years: I was able to see these teenagers grow up, both literally and figuratively, just like I saw my project grow. Very soon I gave up on having the story unfold in a linear way and, working closely with the editor, Christoffer Heie, I used devices such as flashbacks and changes in the pace. I chose not to watch any excerpts of ballets so as not to let myself be influenced by that, so that I could focus more closely on my goal.
The film wasn’t easy to fund.
There is a lot of stiff competition when it comes to getting grants. In addition, I sometimes found it difficult to get people to accept my role as a mere observer, to accept this story in the making, because the financiers, the potential sponsors, like to have a well-defined screenplay. There were some obstacles along the way, I won't deny that, but paradoxically, more often than not they allowed us to move forward. For example, I didn't have the resources to call on the services of a full-time cinematographer, so photographer Torstein Nodland shot the dance scenes, the journeys, and I did around 60% of the shots myself, especially the ones in the changing rooms and backstage, with the Oslo Opera House's permission, of course. That enabled me to get as close as possible to these teenagers who trusted me to show the graceful moments but also the stress both on and off stage, the sweat, the exhaustion, the suffering – but while respecting their privacy the whole time. I was impressed by the courage, the determination and the sense of humour of these youngsters who have to contend with auditions, rehearsals, tests of their endurance, all the while continuing with their regular education, with no time out or lapses in concentration.
The original score for your film won an award recently.
Yes, the Gullruten Award, which is much sought after in Norway. And yet the shortage of money was also noticeable in terms of the music: the first version of the film, which was made purely as a trial, was livened up with music from films, pieces that were too expensive for me. Henrik Skram, the man responsible for the music, drew inspiration from this rough version to freely compose a musical score that remained true to the atmospheres conjured up by the images. Thanks to Skype, we were able to work with the Macedonian Radio Symphony Orchestra for a whole day. Henrik was in a studio in Oslo, while the orchestra was in Skopje. The recording was then sent to Henrik via Dropbox. It was Goran Obad who was in charge of the more modern musical sequences, and the piece you hear at the end of the movie is a remix of a song by Asaf Avidan.
(Translated from French)
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