The Monster: Interview with Johan Palmgren & Lisa Gustafsson

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Directed by Johan Palmgren & Lisa Gustafsson / Produced by Johan Palmgren & Lisa Gustafsson / Country: Sweden / Language: Swedish, German

Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (International Premiere)

Johan Palmgren & Lisa Gustafsson

How did you find Elena?

Lisa: I got to know Elena when we were neighbours a few years ago in the Swedish suburb Rågsved. We got quite close immediately and one night at the balcony we started talking about sex, sexual preferences and shared things none of us usually were that open about. She told me about her longing for blood and the consequences from that; all the years feeling like a monster and the constant urge to get hold of it.

Considering she came across as ‘ashamed’ early on, I can imagine she was hesitant. Was Elena open at first to being filmed?

Johan and Lisa: We discussed it quite a bit before we started. Was she ready, what would it mean to her, her family, her work? Questions like that. But after years of hiding, Elena felt quite determined to ‘come out’ and we decided to start filming.

It was a tricky journey though. Sometimes it felt as we were ahead of her process, and sometimes reversed, and that we don’t quite understand what she actually wanted to tell and/or share.

When we finally showed the film for Elena we were both quite nervous. Had we captured her story as it was and portrayed her in an honest and correct way? To see her reaction made us sure we had. ‘This is exactly how it was’, she said.

What surprised you the most during the making of this documentary?

Lisa: That I thought I was super cool talking about everything concerning sex and sexuality but I often found myself insecure asking her about her lust for blood, afraid of making her uncomfortable. Though I think it was just me not being as free with my own sexuality as I thought I was.

Johan: I was surprised, again, that every new film has such completely different challenges. At first, I thought this would be an easy short film to make, but two years later we realised that it was a lot of work to find the right balance and soul for the film. We were very careful on matching the film accurately with Elena’s own picture of the difficult process she went through.

How common is this character trait Elena has?

Johan and Lisa: We didn’t have any numbers but after making this film it is very clear to us that this is much more common than we thought. There are whole communities spread over the world with people with the urge of drinking human blood.

Also, historically, blood appears in several cultures; in various ceremonies and traditions and often with a strong symbolic value. So, it’s really nothing new that people are fascinated by it. •

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.