Jan Berg Jørgensen talks Klippfisk

Interview with Jan Berg Jørgensen, one of the founders of Klippfisk

Klippfisk is an open and publicly funded film and media workshop at the Faroe Islands which has been continuously active for more than ten years. Apart from being the only organised form of film education at the Faroe Islands, it had an important role in creating public awareness of the importance of film as a medium for the small Faroese nation and language. We sat down with Jan Berg Jørgensen, one of the founders of Klippfisk and Head of Board at the newly established Faroese Film Institute, to talk about the workshop itself and the impact it has had on the local film community, as well as about the new wave of young Faroese filmmakers, most of whom attended Klippfisk’s courses.

Where did the idea of starting Klippfisk come from?

Faroe Islands is a very small cultural and linguistic spot and film is really expensive, or has been. Our cultural production has been very versatile in terms of literature, music, paintings and various other art forms, but film and television came late to the Faroe Islands. I studied film in Denmark and I worked in Danish television. When I came back home, I thought that if we want to be significant to our younger generations, we need to be present in the art forms that are relevant for them. Because the consumption of literature is slowing down and the consumption of moving images in various forms is booming and is only going to increase, so it is important to be present both as a cultural region, as a language and as an art form that the Faroese youth can see themselves in and contemplate their own identity and not just go to American, Danish and foreign productions.

So I started a media workshop together with a friend in 2003. I wanted to introduce media studies at a gymnasium level, so I started teaching one class of media studies. I worked in Faroese television at that time. And then we started a TV show called Agurk (eng. cucumber), which was for young video enthusiasts. We had launched small short film competitions, we had some schooling and the show ran for a few seasons. And then we started Klippfisk, which was an open workshop.

Can you tell us something about the summer schools that Klippfisk organizes?

We first made a Scandinavian film summer school, where people from Norway, Finland and Sweden came to the Faroes, together with the Faroese. It lasted for fourteen days and we had professional teachers. We did that again in 2009. Then we started making a Faroese film summer school called Nóllywood, which is aiming at 14-18 year olds.

How is Klippfisk funded?

It is really low funded by the Municipality of Tórshavn. When funding went down during the financial crisis, we just had 250 000 Danish crowns a year to buy equipment and to pay somebody for opening hours, so it has been mostly pro bono work all these years. But when the funding went down, we started to change our focus. We focused on the summer school, on the courses and networking, sending people away. Simultaneously we started to build a Film Fund together with the Nordic House, and we made a Faroese film prize, annual Faroese film day called Geytin. For three years we had a small Film Fund together with the Nordic House and then we got the Ministry of Culture to finally get some money for film making and to start its own Film Fund. It took a long time, but finally we got it.

Apart from initiating the Film Fund, you were also a strong advocate for the establishment of the Film Institute (Film House)?

When we got the Film Fund and Klippfisk as the workshop for the young, we made a report where we outlined what has to be done in order to get the small Faroese film industry up and running. And one of the things that we also needed was a film institute. Not a big institute, but a film house, where filmmakers can collect the experience of those who have produced and gone out to festivals, but also for people wanting to film here, to have some sort of a front office, single point of contact.

Now that we have the Film House, we want to refocus Klippfisk on being only the workshop for the youth, because until now we have been doing everything. And we now have a generation of young filmmakers, like Sakaris [Stórá] for example, who are ready to produce their features, or have already done their features. But there seems to be a gap, because there has been low activity for the youth in the past years. We need to bridge that gap and re-establish that. We have a fair amount of talent, but talent work still needs to be done. So Klippfisk is a workshop, and even though it has been underfunded for all these years, I think it has been the driving force to get something to happen. Now we have a small film community and things are happening.

Who teaches the courses at Klippfisk?

At the beginning I taught some, and then we collected all the film people that we knew, so now it is mainly film people from the Faroese film workers association (Felagið Føroysk Filmsfólk) who teach there. There are about 40-50 people in the association.

Are there many people interested in your courses?

Over the past seven years we have had 120-130 students going through Nóllywood. And we are also making short courses and short competitions and events. So it is growing, but it is still not where we want it to be. I think we should try to get more funding for the workshop and better placement in the local community, and also focus on getting more attendents.

Is there any other form of film education in the Faroe Islands?

We have some media lines at the public schools, there are media studies at the gymnasium, some courses from Klippfisk, and also some master classes now and then. But there is no formal film education here, not yet. We talked to the university about establishing a two year art education, like the one we have for writers and musicians. We would like to make a film version of that, but it has not come to that yet.

But despite that, a wave of young Faroese filmmakers has recently emerged…

When we started making this small TV show, Agurk, we organized some competitions and that started something, as did the film summer schools. Those who are making films now, they attend these film schools. And the fact that you have some education and something to produce for, some place to send your production, that created possibilities. And then we have some talents, and these talents have developed themselves. We have eight talented film makers who are making films and we have a growing amount of film workers who stated their own small companies, so there is an increasing production and increasing specialisation. Some of them also work in television, with commercials and music videos.

We have also had a couple of films from the outside filming here, for instance, Wim Wenders shot some scenes from Submergence here. This year we had Swedish feature film called The Bird Catcher’s Son, with half Swedish and half Faroese film crew. It was a crew of about 30, we built a studio and we had Faroese functions on sound, photo, costume, make up, production, production management.  I think the shooting process was positive for us and we had some good work. So when we got the Film Fund running as well, people started applying and releasing their shorts. Others went from doing short films to doing feature films. We have had a growing production that is changing and evolving. The wave is continuing for now, but we also need to ensure that there are waves behind.

Is the government supportive?

The government has been quite supportive. First they started the Film Fund, then they started the Film House, and now they are making a tax incentive scheme which is still at the beginner’s level, but it is going to be important in the long run. Both this government and the one before it have been supportive, and hopefully the next one will also see the importance of being relevant, both in terms of having a creative industry, but also in terms of producing for our own market, for our own youth.  It is important that we are producing for ourselves, to have our own realities and our environment portrait both in documentaries and features. Because nobody is going to do it for us, that’s for sure.

Until almost recently there haven’t been almost any Faroese films?

There have been some Danish productions, and one Spaniard produced a couple of films. But Katrin Ottarsdóttir was a pioneer for our filmmaking, she made three films. But she made them alone more or less, there was no community here then. Now there is sort of a film environment here, so that is the difference.

What are the plans for Faroese film in near future?

We hope to be present at the Berlinale next year, we are planning to have a three hour Faroese happening there, so that we can really kick off and make ourselves heard. Our ambition is to get our productions out to relevant festivals, but also to get more filmmakers to come here to produce. I think we have something unique here, both in terms of landscape and culture and language. And it is a small country, so you are never more than an hour away from where you want to be. It often surprises people how many things you can get done and how much you can have established in a small period of time. In a small community like this, we are well connected, so it is really quick to solve problems. And I think we are flexible and we can provide some services, and we need some inspiration from the outside as well.