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"Helping us to all live in better harmony is a constant concern of mine"

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Jan Vardøen • Director

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- Anglo-Norwegian director Jan Vardøen is releasing his latest film, House of Norway, in Norwegian theatres, and we caught up with him to talk about it

Jan Vardøen • Director

After Heart of Lightness in 2014 and Autumn Fall in 2015, this year is the turn of House of Norway, the third feature film by Anglo-Norwegian director Jan Vardøen, produced by his company Beacon Isle Productions. The film, which Vardøen also wrote the screenplay for, was received very positively at the recent San Diego Film Festival.    

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Cineuropa: Your film broaches a highly topical subject.
Jan Vardøen:
Yes it does. Last year Norway, like many other countries, received a massive influx of refugees, and the existing system for receiving and integrating them proved insufficient. Helping people from a distance is one thing, standing alongside migrants one day after the next is another. People were afraid of friction. There wasn’t any, as most Norwegians are generous. But coexisting peacefully is not easy.

What do Norwegians think of these migrants?
They think they’re not very talkative, even between one another. Then they’re astonished that no one, or almost no one, thinks to ask these new arrivals what they have to offer. We have a tendency to make them into victims that we treat condescendingly, when they have skills that the local population could benefit from. I think that we could, like in Portugal for example, better use the skills and talents of migrants, without necessarily having to give them things out of charity.

House of Norway is a comedy, is it not?
A satirical comedy, I would say, which is generally more effective, in my opinion, than barriers. I chose to incorporate serious issues into an entertaining plot, but they’re always there in the background. It’s useless to insist on what we call the problem of migrants. Everyone is aware of it. What I offer is a mirror: the reflection we see, of Norwegian society as it is today, is in places deliberately caricatural.

Filming was very short, I believe.
Exactly. We spent nine days in a big hotel near Ålesund, by a magnificent fjord that also has its place in the film. The process was a quick one, as I wanted to make the most of the small budget I had to work with. We used two cameras and I had some passionate discussions with the directors of photography, Nico Poulsson and Martin Otterbeck. As the style of acting was, in my opinion, an important comic element of the film, there are few wide-angle shots. But the situational comedy is definitely bolstered by the dialogue and highlighted by the editing by Anders Refn.

Were you not tempted to do some filming yourself?
Oh no, as I was lucky enough to be surrounded by specialists whose expertise astounds me. But I have good theoretical knowledge of everything to do with the cameras, lenses, optical tools, etc. I’m a passionate self-taught student, always listening and absorbing information. The actors also amazed me. They have experience that I don’t have. I’m not an interventionist and I decided to trust them, above all when I was working with them: this was the case with Hege Schøyen, Ingeborg S. Raustøl and Sven Henriksen, for example.

You’re a musician. Did you compose the score for the film?
Only partially. The film brings together two cultures, two worlds: Shahrukh Kavousi, who is originally from Iran, and has been living in Norway for a good twenty-odd years, and plays Ramin, and Gard B. Eidsvold, the director of the education centre in charge of instilling good manners in the new arrivals. So it was natural that Grieg’s music would go well with the Iranian pieces played by Javid Afsari Rad, a highly-skilled player of the Persian santûr.

You’re currently in the middle of promoting the film, are you not?
Yes. There are almost 200 cinemas in Norway. I decided to visit them all and submit my film for evaluation by people from all walks of life, strangers to the small official world of film, supplementing screenings with debates. This approach is enriching and allows me to improve myself. Recent Icelandic and Irish films are also a source of inspiration for me, and one of my role models is Ted Hope, an American producer of independent films. Like him, I’m currently in the process of setting up an organisation to help young creators: not to fund their works, but to get them contacts, help with their working methods, and get them advice from experts. I would like to help change people’s mentalities, to shoo away prejudice. Helping us to all live in better harmony is a constant concern of mine.

(Translated from French)

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