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TRIBECA 2021

Thomas Robsahm • Director of A-HA – The Movie

“What I like the most about documentaries is that you don't know exactly how the film is going to turn out in the end”

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- The Norwegian filmmaker offers a homage to one of the most successful European bands of all time

Thomas Robsahm  • Director of A-HA – The Movie
(© Birgit Solhaug)

The documentary A-HA – The Movie [+see also:
trailer
interview: Thomas Robsahm
film profile
]
by Thomas Robsahm and co-director Aslaug Holm is premiering as part of the programme of this year's Tribeca Film Festival. The team have created a very dense portrait of the titular Norwegian band, which depicts their passion for music and their dream of being recognised for it. The film is a study on creativity, success and, ultimately, also on human relationships in general. We talked to the Norwegian director about his fascination for the band and his approach to the doc.

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Cineuropa: How did the adventure with A-ha start?
Thomas Robsahm:
I guess you could say it started back in 1982, when I first learned about the existence of the band. I was also a musician in the 1980s, and we heard about these Norwegians that went to England and had the ambition to become pop stars. At the time, people thought they were crazy – nobody believed it could happen. Norway was on the outskirts of Europe: we got nul points in the Eurovision Song Contest and never qualified for anything in football. It seemed impossible to be successful abroad. And actually, the first version of the song “Take on Me” was a flop. But then, the second one was a big success, and we began to take A-ha seriously. With their second single, “The Sun Always Shines on TV”, I was really impressed on the musical level as well. They stood apart from the rest, and I’ve followed their career ever since that point. The idea for the film came later on, after seeing the documentary Let It Be on The Beatles. In 2009, I talked to Magne [Furuholmen] from A-ha and shared with him my desire to make a film about the recording of their next album in the studio. He liked the idea for the film, but said that there would be no “next album”, since they were going to split. Then they had their comeback in 2015, and I started to work with them in 2016, always hoping they would do the recording I had wished for.

In your animation, you used the aesthetics of some of the band’s music videos. How did you develop the visual concept of the film?
What I like the most about documentaries is that you don't know exactly how the film is going to turn out in the end. There were many different options: my idea was to be in the studio with them, recording. There, I would have used more cameras and would have needed less archive footage. Since I wasn't sure whether this would happen, I had to decide on the visual concept once we were done filming. I had to find the movie during the editing. I used the animations to illustrate the period when they were very young, since there was not much material to use there.

You used a huge amount of footage and archive material. How did you do your research?
I was afraid of using too much material that people already know from YouTube, for example. Of course, I searched on YouTube as well, but fortunately, we found unseen material that we could use.

Did your perception of the band change during the production of the film?
Not that much. On the one hand, they are extremely nice people, but actually only separately. As soon as you are dealing with them as a band, it gets very difficult. It's very hard to get close to the group – the band is like a child they have all had together, but which they can’t keep under control.

What were the biggest challenges in making the film?
To get them all into the same room, and get them to make music together. All three of them said yes to the film, but I never had the chance to talk to them at the same time.

Besides being a portrait of the band, the movie is also a historical document on this entire Norwegian and European generation. Did you find parallels with your own private and professional life?
Norway was more like a small village in the 1980s – nobody knew Oslo. A-ha made us more European and connected to the world. For me, A-ha changed the perception of Norway for the entire world.

What were the most important aspects of the band that you wanted to convey?
That they are the most underrated band in the history of pop. I really think so, because their music is so great and they deserve much more credit for it. I think that’s partly because they are Norwegians and not from the UK or the USA, and partly because they were perceived as a band for teenagers, which they were at the beginning – but they were also a very ambitious and musically advanced band. People don't know that live, they still attract a bigger audience than many other big bands that are better known. But they have made some bad choices along the way and should respect each other more. In a way, they are sabotaging their own legacy. It’s not only a film about a band, but also about friendship and how difficult close relationships are over time.

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