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"I want to make the viewer believe they’re sharing a secret with me"

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Jorunn Myklebust Syversen • Director

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- Cineuropa sat down with Norwegian director Jorunn Myklebust Syversen, whose debut feature film, The Tree Feller, will be released in Norway on 7 April

Jorunn Myklebust Syversen • Director

A man chops down trees in a forest. He’s not a lumberjack. This is the basic plot of The Tree Feller [+see also:
trailer
interview: Jorunn Myklebust Syversen
film profile
]
, the debut feature film (released by Mer Filmdistribusjon in Norwegian theatres on 7 April) of Jorunn Myklebust Syversen, a Norwegian director who is known for her various contributions to video art, and who Cineuropa sat down with in the Birkelunden in Oslo, a park which gives the Grünerløkka district a somewhat provincial feel.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: Why this film?
Jorunn Myklebust Syversen: I love directing actors. Seeing them give life to characters is fascinating, when in my artistic creations, the actors are mere representations. With the encouragement of Maria Ekerhovd, a producer at Mer Film, I slowly but surely fleshed out my original project, which was a short film. I straight away thought of Anders Baasmo Christiansen for the lead role. Along with Benjamin Helstad, he is the only professional actor in the film, and, as I wanted everything to be simple and natural, the actors kept their first names. When we were location scouting in the Hallingdal I did a day of research on the ground, talking to the locals, and in the evening, in the chalet where part of the action unfolds, I worked on the screenplay.

And what did you write?
A story that lends itself to different interpretations. I play with symbols and cultural codes, but the film isn’t aimed primarily at intellectuals. I give the viewers clues, suggest avenues for exploration, but don’t give them explanations. I want to make the viewer believe they’re sharing a secret with me. I want them to experience what they find disturbing in an emotional and almost physical way. I didn’t give Anders a traditional screenplay, but rather thirty or so pages with specific instructions, very detailed descriptions. There was no double: he received guidance from a forest ranger, but it was really him chopping those trees down.

Let’s talk about Anders, the character in the film.
He’s back in the countryside following his studies, but he doesn’t know how to run the farm that has been left to him by his parents. He’s not very in touch with the rural way of doing things. His knowledge of nature is superficial, whilst Bjarne has a practical and pragmatic relationship with nature, and tries to help him.

Two very different approaches.
Indeed. I left Bjarne to express himself freely, without curbing his caustic humour. We follow his logic, we can understand why Anders’ behaviour irritates him, as what he sees is a mess. He belongs to another generation. Young people today have a romantic relationship with nature. Before, life was tough, you had to work the land to eat, and survive. Not giving the screenplay to Bjarne helped him, I think, to be spontaneous, to keep his intensity and bluntness without feeling any empathy for Anders.

Tell us about the shoot.
Ten days in a warm environment with a driven team. The team included, among others, Marte Vold, my director of photography, who I have been working with since 2009, as well as sound experts Tormod Ringnes and Svein-Ketil Bjøntegård, who enriched the images so skilfully. The music, which was largely composed by Jan Erik Mikalsen and Andreas Mjøs, at times evokes the state of mind of Anders and places him socially. Other times it surprises the audience, whiling away the time whilst creating a dynamic. After filming I did a quick edit and, once the funding had been sorted out, I had some great help from editor Christian Siebenhertz.

Is it fair to say that your vision of things is rather black and white?
No, there aren’t any striking contrasts here. The characters find their equilibrium in the nuances of their characters, their different senses of humour. I think the need to give meaning to your life can change your relationship with other people and create imbalance in those relationships. We tend to want to assert our convictions, and stigmatise those who think differently to us. I’m interested in the people we don’t ignore, look down on and refuse to understand. My approach is humanist and, I hope, of general interest. At any rate, I showed the film to my family. I was so scared that they would be disappointed, that they would feel used and betrayed, but they reacted very positively. It was a huge relief!

(Translated from French)

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