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“Why Not Get a Different Angle?” An Interview with Jesper Ganslandt, the Director of JIMMIE

This interview is in the March issue of Cinema Scandinavia and will be free for 48 hours before being only accessible to subscribers. 

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We just came from an audience Q&A session you did for the film, which was an excellent experience. Between Gothenburg and Rotterdam, what has the audience response to the film been like?

The audience response has been so overwhelming because with a film like this I feel it’s important to hear what people think about it, plus if they’ve experienced anything similar. I’ve been really happy and humbled by what people have said. Q&A’s are always really interesting, but I’ve never had an experience like this before. It’s different somehow, stronger.

What was the starting point for Jimmie?

I was interested in writing a story told form the eyes of my son and how a child views a dramatic event that’s occurring. It needed to be a complex event that adults would understand but children wouldn’t understand the full context of it. As a father, I was thinking about what it would be like to be forced to flee from home and leave everything behind.

Was it always essential to you to have your son star in the film?

The whole film started because I wanted to do it with him. I would know every boundary and I would also be able to understand his reactions and make it easier to capture through the camera. I didn’t feel I would be able to get that close with any other child.

With kids in the leading roles, it seems like you’d have to be willing to improvise a lot…

The script was all about improvisation. On the cover of the final script I wrote that all the lines were just suggestions and the kids would probably come up with something better. That was the approach. When we went to set up a scene I tried to capture what it was like to exist in the scene, rather than follow the script. The scenes also had to be very short because of the attention span of children. We’d just have to sit back and think “okay, let’s see how this goes”.

The film is shot throughout Europe. How was that, especially with small children?

In Sweden it was easy because we could just go home at the end of the day and everything was close by. When we got to Vienna it was intense because we had planned too much and there was a limit to how much we could do every day because of children work laws. After Vienna, we had a caravan and travelled to Slovenia and then Croatia, stopping along the way to shoot various scenes. Vienna was definitely the hardest due to time constraints. Croatia was a good place to shoot because we had a Croatian production company helping us out and they understood what we were trying to do.

The director of photography is Måns Månsson, who is also a well-known director. It must’ve helped having him on board…

I had never worked with him before, but we knew each other, and I asked if he wanted to shoot this film because of his directing experience. It was a huge plus because I was going to be pre-occupied with being a father and an actor and Måns was able to step in and do some directing. We’re going to do it again, I think.

Would you act in a movie again?

It depends on what it is. So far, I have only acted in my own films.

Refugees have become a political topic across Scandinavia; was it your intention to make a political film?

I wanted to explore the political side, and a lot of films are political even if you aren’t aware of it. The refugees are a topic that is extremely engaging but in this fictional story I wanted to tell if from a different angle.

Did you do a lot of research into real-life stories experience by migrants?

I didn’t look into anything in particular, but we did talk to some people and listened to some stories, but, in the end, it was about taking those stories and adapting them into how they would be for us. I’m not talking about Swedes, but I’m talking about myself and my son. In my imagination, how would that look? That’s what I wanted the film to be based on.

The film doesn’t explain the conflict the characters are running from. Why did you make that decision?

If we showed the conflict, the film wouldn’t have been told from a child’s perspective and it wouldn’t be genuine. If you explain the backstory, you then have to convince the audience that the film is fiction, and, in a way, you have to sell the story. It also conflicted to how I pictured the story in my mind. The film started to work really well when we went totally into Jimmie’s world and his impressions of things.

Were you worried that the film would come across as the refugee wave as depicted by white Swedes?

It was not how I made the film and how I thought about it. I’m not trying to explain the reason the refugees fled to Europe because we are the point where most people know what happened. I wanted to tell a story about a father and a son in the hardest possible situation I could imagine, and that was being a refugee. There are some great documentaries, such as the Norwegian 69 Minutes of 86 Days, that talk about the migrant crisis and I feel they are really complete. Would a crisis like this happen in Sweden? I don’t think so, but that’s not the point. It’s a parallel universe and about how a child views the situation. If a story like that can evoke empathy for real people then that’s great, but it’s not the goal.

Well, the film has certainly been effective. During the Q&A a woman stood up and thanked you for the film, explaining that she works with Afghan refugees and was so glad there was a film that would show their struggles…

JG: I really enjoyed listening to her because she was so upset and the film did something for her, so I’m grateful for that. I’m going to remember her. She was like “the politicians need to watch this before they go to bed every night!” and I’m like: yes! That’s a good idea! And why not? Why not get another angle on something that is a big concern and really matters to people? It matters to me and it matters to others.

So you are not worried about divided opinions?

A film like this is worth some divided opinions. But there’s something about that. It asks the questions if you get a little numb from seeing the same thing and not seeing any change or progress. This is a similar image, but different. It can reawaken thoughts and feelings. In films, you should be able to do that and ask these questions.

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.