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IDFA 2022

Jon Bang Carlsen • Director of Dreaming Arizona

“The beautiful thing about ‘the real world’ is that it gives you resistance”


- According to the Danish director, there is no reality, so feel free to come up with your own interpretation

Jon Bang Carlsen • Director of Dreaming Arizona
(© Torben Eskerod)

In the IDFA title Dreaming Arizona [+see also:
interview: Jon Bang Carlsen
film profile
– a co-production between Denmark, Estonia and Norway – Jon Bang Carlsen asks five US teens to talk about their lives. They might be standing on stage, but according to Shakespeare, we all are anyway. And “all the men and women merely players”.

Cineuropa: You are interested in documentaries that are a bit different. Do you think it’s hard for people to understand that these films can be so many things?
Jon Bang Carlsen:
From the very beginning of my career, many years ago, I was always more intrigued by the fact that there is actually no reality. If we talk about describing it, that world we share, I don’t know how you see me, and you don’t know how I see you. We have to come up with our own interpretations.

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I am not pompous enough to claim that what I see is the ultimate truth. I can only be honest about my own observations. With all my films, I hope that maybe I can inspire people to come up with their own interpretations of what it means to be alive. Or, in this case, freedom and the lack of it, or the lack of love. I am amazed that people still think that as long as you shake the camera a little, it’s reality. With the new generation, we are getting a bit further from that: we know that what we create is totally subjective.

That’s a very honest way of putting it. Does it make it easier for people to trust you? This film certainly required trust – you are showing teenagers exorcising their demons.
The beautiful thing about “the real world” is that it actually gives you some resistance. With professional actors, as long as you pay them well, they will always do what you want. I wanted to tell a story about how we deal with the concept of freedom. I am Danish, but I have done a bunch of stuff in America over the years. They talk a lot about freedom there. It dawned on me that to teenagers – and I have done a film about them before, Just the Right Amount of Violence – not being able to love your parents is very, very scary. We might all have some dreams that our parents don’t share, or have to break those bonds sometimes, but teenagers make for especially good protagonists because it’s a very “brainy” time in our lives. Suddenly, you have to face all the big issues. They are so sensitive: they really feel the world. They haven’t barricaded themselves off yet, which is a part of being a grown-up. They don’t have these shields.

Some of their stories are full of interesting details, like the fact that someone’s grandfather wouldn’t call a kid because he had 666 in his phone number. I was wondering if these things were real or made up.
Everything that takes place on the stage is true. The reason I keep quoting Shakespeare is that, yes, we all have our “exits and entrances”. Later, this play starts to spread out across their small town, their reservation. They belong to a drama class, but instead of playing some roles that were already written, I asked them to talk about their lives: their environment, their fear of whether they will be able to attain their dream. These are their own words, their own wounds.

You play with different tones here. You introduce horror elements and more comedic moments, like when someone sighs, “Parents, man,” after a dramatic exchange.
All of the kids were enormously courageous. In the scene that you mention, one of them said that when this father figure walked out on her, he crippled her ability to relate in loving relationships. It was all improvised dialogue. I was surprised all the time while making this film. I just provided them with a frame. At one point, we see this girl running to the cinema and hear the sounds of some B movie. She watches it and starts projecting her own situation onto whatever is happening there. We fight for the right to create our own reality and define our own life instead of just being echoes of our parents.

When I saw Dreaming Arizona with the audience for the first time, there was mystery in it, but also some truthfulness. After talking to the main characters, after they saw the finished film, I know they feel that way, too. I have been making films all over the world, and no matter how far I go, I always feel that the fundamental feelings are more or less the same. Which is reassuring, don’t you think? It makes us hopeful.

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