John Kare Raake • Screenwriter of The Fortress
“In Norway, we've felt like a little brother to Denmark for decades”
- We delve deeper into the Norwegian sci-fi series that has just taken home the Best Screenplay Award from Lille’s Series Mania Festival
The winner of the Series Mania Festival’s Award for Best Screenplay (see the news), the sci-fi series The Fortress [+see also:
interview: John Kare Raake
series profile] sees Norway build a wall around its borders and completely cut itself off from the rest of the world. It’s a sci-fi premise with a nod to the COVID-19 crisis, although screenwriter John Kare Raake tells us that the show was pitched before the pandemic, and actually drew inspiration from Emmanuel Macron’s modern take on politics.
Cineuropa: Would you call The Fortress a dystopia?
John Kare Raake: I feel like it's both a thriller and a drama. But it has dystopian elements to it, that’s undeniable. I might have been inspired by some works from the genre, although I wouldn't be able to pin down one, specific title. I just like science fiction, and I especially like inventing worlds.
The Norwegian government in the show uses elections, rather than physical control, to assert its power. Why does it still feel authoritarian?
I thought it would be more interesting for the prime minister in the show to have been elected. Statistics show us that the number of democracies has decreased in the past 20 years. If you look at those countries, most of them didn't really go through a coup; it's more of a day-by-day and policy-by-policy spiral. Your society slowly changes, and suddenly, you’re not living in a democracy any more. It’s a new paradigm that people might have voted for. We saw an extreme version of this in the USA. But look at Brexit: it's just next door. I suppose the problem we all face today is how slowly democracies work. If you have a problem, it takes years for it to be solved. But people get impatient.
Are the protectionist prime minister and his party, called “Our Way”, inspired by real political figures?
I was actually inspired by Emmanuel Macron. Not because of his programme, but because he started a party from nothing and came to power very quickly. I felt that it was a very modern way of doing politics. Parties used to be over 100 years old, and here, you have this guy who decides he has no time to create a political movement from the bottom up. He just had this one, catchy idea and blended it with his fresh appeal.
Is the series’ title an echo of the expression “Fortress Europe”, invented during World War II and now used to criticise the European Union's border policy?
You know, I didn't know that expression. The native title of the show is simply Fortress Norway. We didn't overthink it; the word came pretty quickly with the concept of isolation. But since we're talking about a nation obsessed with preserving its wealth, I'm not surprised about the parallel.
The show is very much about Norway, but the cast and dialogue feel international. Was this done by design for foreign audiences?
It started off as a very Norwegian story to begin with. But the international characters popped up as soon as we got into the nitty-gritty of creating this world. We first thought of a foreign husband for a Norwegian woman, someone who was a resident before the construction of the isolation wall. Then came the refugee family from England, with the father played by Russell Tovey. It all came from the story, rather than being a well-thought-out marketing strategy. Now, will the show be sold outside of Scandinavia? We hope so! But it feels secondary to our primary intention, which was to tell a story about how we're living together on this planet.
Scandinavian shows are very popular with foreign audiences. Why do you think that is?
In Norway, we've felt like a little brother to Denmark for decades, but now, we feel like we're [equal] siblings. I guess one strength we have is our collective working method. We don’t have big crews like in the UK or the USA, so we have to carry each other and actually behave like a team. That allows us to make shows that look more expensive than they really are. Plus, Norway doesn't have a strong film history like Denmark or Sweden. Now that we're catching up, our artists feel free to create whatever story they want to tell. Perhaps not like the Danes, who are excellent at Scandi noir or Dogma, for instance, but they might feel framed by that heritage, in a way.
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