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“It Was a Difficult Process But We Made It”: An Interview With the Director, Editor and Producer of the Faroese Film DREAMS BY THE SEA

This interview is in the March issue of Cinema Scandinavia and is available for free for 48 hours before becoming only for subscribers. 

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During the Q&A session after the screening of the Faroese film entitled Dreams by the Sea, its director joked about a new cinematic wave that is coming from the Faroe Islands. With the establishment of the Faroese Film Institute and the success of the film Dreams by the Sea, this might be the case actually. To learn more about the film and the Faroe Island’s growing film industry, Cinema Scandinavia sat down with director Sakaris Stórá, producer Jón Hammer, and editor Amalie Westerlin Tjellesen.

Sakaris Stórá Photo by Torkil Djurhuus

Jón Hammer

Cinema Scandinavia: Let’s start with the very beginning. How did you three meet?

Sakaris Stórá: We all met through producer Katja Adomeit. What funny is that both Jón and I are from the Faroe Islands, work in the field of cinema and even have a lot of mutual friends, still we hadn’t really met before this project.

CS: Both you and Amalie had worked mainly with short films before Dreams by the Sea. I’m wondering what the transition from shorts to features was like.

SS: Of course, it is more challenging to make a feature film than short films. Still, at some point, I actually had that idea that a feature film is like a short film just five times the length of it.

Amalie Westerlin Tjellesen: I don’t really know whether it’s that much harder to edit a feature than a short film. When you edit a feature film, you get to learn the characters better, so you actually get into the film more than you would do it with a short film. You also get to know the pace of the film. The difference is that when you make a feature-length film, it takes 1.5 hours to watch what you’ve done, but when you edit a short film, you can watch the film anytime you want. However, I prefer features to shorts.

CS: Jón, what kind of films have you produced so far?

Jón Hammer: I’ve produced a few short films, some music videos, but I’ve also worked on quite a few feature films as a production assistant and associate producer; I’m based in Denmark where I’ve been working for Zentropa for five years. However, Dreams by the Sea is my first feature where I was the main producer. It was a completely new experience for me, and I felt confident in theory, but the technicality surrounding it was quite challenging.

CS: You’ve said during the Q&A after the screening that there aren’t so many Faroese films. I’m wondering how easy it was to produce this one.

JH: It’s never easy to produce a film, but it’s a bit more difficult to do it in the Faroe Islands. You don’t have a professional crew and equipment as well as you can’t really get so much funding there. This is why we did a co-production with Denmark. We managed to raise half of the budget from the Faroe Islands, some from Denmark, and we made deals with the camera equipment providers as well as post-editing and sound studios invested into the film by providing us with their equipment. That was the only way in which we could finance the film; we would have never been able to get enough funding only from the Faroe Islands. The financing plan has at least 20 contributors, I think, which is quite a lot for a low-budget film. It was definitely a long process to produce the film. Even when we were already shooting, we needed to seek funding to be able to do the post-production. It was a difficult process but we made it. We learned a lot.

CS: Did you talk a lot about the process of how the film should be?

SS: I like to see films from the beginning to the very end – the first line written to the end credit. In this case, the entire journey was kind of dynamic, a living process in a way. We were really organic somehow, and kind of evolved through the work, instead of strictly following what was written. During the editing process, it was really important for us to find the main story within the material and we just shaped around that. I think this way of working suited this film very well.

How much time did it take to shoot the film?

JH: In total, it was 30 days. We worked almost consecutively for 28 days, had a day off when Sakaris celebrated his birthday and had two extra days of shooting.

Amalie, did you visit the set or did you get to see the material only after the shooting was over and it was time to start editing?

AWT: No, I wasn’t on the set. It is pretty normal not to be on location because when you’re there you might get connected to something that might have nothing to do with the film. Maybe it was a physically demanding day and everybody was cold, and you might think we need this shot because it was just so much pain to make it happen. So you can easily get connected to the scenes in a way you should not be. You should be there for the film and the audience. And, of course, the director’s vision also matters.

CS: Did the concept change during the editing?

JH: I think this is what Sakaris was talking about earlier – to cutting down to the core and find what the main story was. When you feel you hit the main cord, in the case of this film it was the story of the girls, you automatically start removing the branches and side stories that don’t contribute enough to the story as a whole.

SS: We worked a lot on feelings and emotions, just to feel whether it was long enough and not just thinking about recipes and structures. It was good to have the freedom of not working with a predetermined length. We had to make choices all the time, but I really enjoyed the process. Finally, at some point, we discovered the film was done.

AWT: But we did work with the structure for a very long time. Until the very end, we moved the scenes around a lot. For me, it’s not about the length actually. I didn’t really think about it, but Sakaris did. It’s not like television when you have a time limit and you have to keep the film as long as the time slot requires it to be. When you make films, you don’t have to think about that, but, of course, you don’t want it to be too short either.

CS: Were the people living on the island excited to see you work there?

SS: I think so. I had made two short films before this one in the Faroe Islands and it was a bit scary that this was the first time when I felt people had expectations of me. That was a bit intimidating, but it was also really good to feel that people believed it was possible to make a film there. People were asking me whether they were speaking Faroese in the film, like being sceptical about that, because they didn’t know Faroese as a film language. It was also a challenge to shape and mould the Faroese language into a film and make it bearable in cinema because we really don’t have Faroese films screened in our cinemas. When you grow up with your own film as part of the culture, you don’t really think whether your language would work on screen or not.

JH: The locals helped us a lot. They didn’t know what we’re doing and they didn’t understand that they needed to be quiet on the set, but they were all contributing in some way or another. Some gave clothes, some props. Even in the case of the ship seen in the film. We called the captain and asked: “Can you back the boat up and do it again?” “Yeah, no problem”, he said.

CS: Do you think it is going to be better now thanks to the establishment of the Faroese Film Institute?

JH: Definitely! Faroese films, both shorts and features, are usually made by more or less one person really believing in the project. However, that person burns out sooner or later, because she or he is doing it alone. With the institute, you can gather people together, and not the director has to do everything from financing to PR. We’re going to have a system now that can help film-makers. It’s going to make a very great change in the coming years.

SS: While making the film, we couldn’t really ask people how to do things in the Faroe Islands. It is going to be much easier now.

Who founded the film institute?

Jón: Local people did, and it is under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade actually, while the film fund is under the Ministry of Education, Research and Culture. So the film institute is a combination of culture and industry. That is the only way that it could happen. People have been trying to do this only with the cultural aspect without any real success. Now people can see that there can be an economy behind film-making.   

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.