A Place Called Lloyd: An interview with the director, Sebastian Cordes

Cinema Scandinavia: How did you hear about this airline company and their current situation?

Sebastian Cordes: It would be a great story if I said I was travelling around in South America by foot, and suddenly I stumbled upon this desolate airfield where people just show up for no apparent reason – but the reality is that I read it in the Danish newspaper Politiken. There was a really well-written piece by Jens Lenler and some stunning photos by a photographer called Nick Ballon. I honestly thought that someone had already done a film at this magical place, but apparently nobody had done that – so we simply said ‘okay, let’s go straight away, this is a story too great to miss’.

CS: Why did you want to shoot a documentary around this idea?

SC: Two things. I fell in love with the existentialistic absurdity that seemed to flourish at Lloyd. As if I had discovered a modern Bolivian Sisyphus myth. How much loyalty and stubbornness do you have to have, to continue working for 8 years for an airline that can’t fly? That’s commitment at a whole new level. Secondly, it was a perfect setting to experiment and develop an aesthetics of slow cinema, or slow documentary, in a feature length film, which I have been dancing around and testing for a long time. This idea of boredom and slowing down as positives, a method to immerse yourself in something, a more bodily, instead of intellectual experience. This place seemed to fit that notion, where the shots almost approach the stillness of a photography. And where the soundscape gets a much bigger part in guiding you around. Eske Nørholm, who did the sound, did a fantastic job on that.

CS: The producer Niels said that this documentary was different from other Nordic ones and that the production itself was also rather unique. Can you explain why?

SC: Well for one the production cost was a mere 9000 dollars. We just wanted enough funding to pay for tickets etc. and the equipment we got from the Copenhagen Film Workshop who supported us as well. We didn’t want to risk losing the story in a long rigid development phase, applying for funding etc. So we were a small three-person crew, which meant that Niels for example also would do sound at some points, and I would have to operate the camera when Jakob Bæk, the cameraman, got sick etc. And then, for the editing, we only spend a couple of weeks on it, because the material was somehow ready to become a film immediately.

Artistically speaking, there’s a strong tradition of character or plot driven film in the nordic countries, and A Place Called Lloyd is neither. It’s portraying the experience of a place. Our inspiration for editing, for example, comes more from music, the repetitiveness and meditative effect of New York minimalism, and Anders Obbekjær, the editor, really pushed the limits of the material and approached it very untraditionally. I’m currently developing a slow documentary on the refugee crisis with him actually.

CS: You left Bolivia after a month with four hours worth of footage. Did you plan to shoot in the country longer and run into problems, or was this your intention? Why?

SC: The usual reaction when we say we only had four hours of material is that there must have been problems. It was quite the opposite. We shot as though we were editing the film right away, and put strict rules on the production. 1) There cannot be one single ugly picture in the film 2) Only shoot what you 100% believe will end up in the film.  3)  Everything is shot on the tripod, to embrace the stillness of the place. 4) We will do no research, but let ourselves sink into the place and film that experience.
Having these restrictions simply left us with a space to fill, and that’s what we did. Accepting that we were not doing ”The History of LAB”, but trying to emulate the experience of the every day there, we found that these limitations really set us free from thoughts on narrative, facts and the established practices of documentaries.

CS: The style of the documentary is very observational and in a way slow. Why choose this style?

SC: This comes back to the temporality of the place. It would simply be an assault against the place and the people to film this in a traditional way. These are extraordinary people, it can’t be shown in an ordinary way, in my opinion. A place has it’s own temporality, and it’s like the tempo and the style came out of the soil of LAB. You could in a way say that time itself is the main character of the film.

CS: How open were the crew to being filmed?

SC: Bolivians, in general, is in my experience quite reserved but friendly and open when you get closer, so we had no problem there. Especially after the CEO of the company, Senor Nogales, held a big speech in the hangar for all the employees, in where he mentioned that they should all be helping and assisting us with the film, since they wanted their story out in the world.

CS: How was shooting in Bolivia different to Denmark? Any interesting stories to share?

SC: There is, of course, a certain Bolivian time. This means that they may or may not show up, but once you accept this it becomes part of the film as well. For example, the last day of shooting, we wanted two people to play a traditional ode to the city of Cochabamba on a bench at the premises of Lloyd. This could be the last shot of the film or the beginning perhaps. We ended up waiting the entire day for someone showing up with a guitar. Which never showed up. But we would film the empty bench then, and that’s in the film, as an image of this exact temporality at this exact place. Somehow the absence of action in that shot is more fitting for the film, coincidentally.

CS: In the end the film offers a little solution, especially considering they failed the inspections. What’s interesting is that it shows the crew are very hard workers. What did you hope to achieve with this film?

SC: What I would like to offer is a little perspective perhaps. Share my admiration for the workers, and immerse people in their world. These are extraordinary people, and their story needs to be heard. But I’m not offering knowledge or facts, but their stories, their temporality and their everyday. Simple things that make up their lives. Perhaps people will throw themselves into this world that we present, and get themselves back in a different form.

CS: Which documentary makers inspire you?

SC: It might sound weird, but I don’t watch a lot of movies. I find that most films embrace the same streamlined structure, and literature, music and painting is so much more developed. But there are of course great ones. Jørgen Leth, Geyrhalter, Michael Madsen, and right now the Harvard Ethnography Sensory Lab is really breaking new grounds. Film after film they just re-invent the genre. And Joshua Oppenheimer is also interesting to follow. But photography such as those by Richard Avedon, or theoretical texts – philosophical and anthropological – inspire me more. In that sense, I feel a little like an outsider to the business.
CS: The film is premiering at the IDFA. Is it going to be screening anywhere else?

SC: It had it’s world premiere at CPH:DOX last year and was nominated for best Nordic film, and is now having it’s international premiere at IDFA in the segment ”The Quiet Eye” for slow documentaries. We are working on several fronts right now. In terms of VOD, we will be joining the new Slow Cinema platform tao films (https://tao-films.com) that launch next year. We are also considering universities for screenings and debates after this festival cycle, since I also have a background in philosophy, and museums as well, given the artistic take the film uses.



Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.