Sandra Harms • Sonet Film
by Jorn Rossing Jensen
10/05/2012 - “I really want to work internationally, so I hope being a Producer on the Move will be a door-opener in Cannes,” says Swedish producer Sandra Harms, of Stockholm-based Sonet Film.
A producer graduate from Stockholm’s Dramatiska Institutet, Sandra Harms worked for Memfis Film – the production company that launched Lukas Moodysson and Josef Fares – then joined Breidablick Film, before she was signed by Sonet Film AB, a sister company of Swedish major Svensk Filmindustri AB, which also produces the films of Kjell Sundvall, Kjell-Åke Andersson (and Lasse Hallström’s The Hypnotist).
Harms’ feature debut was Swedish director Teresa Fabik’s Starring Maja [trailer] (2009), which was nominated for three Guldbaggar, the Swedish national film award. Her second film, Kurdish-born director Karzan Kader’s first feature, Bekas, will be released domestically on November 30 and is set in Iraqi Kurdistan during the Saddam Hussein regime. It is the story of two homeless Kurdish boys who have watched Superman in the local cinema, then decide to run away to the USA.
Cineuropa: How do you work with your directors?
Sandra Harms: My role is to make the creative people, especially the director, perform as good as possible, so it changes a lot, so you must be sensitive to their personality and their needs, but this is also what I like about it. What makes one stronger, might make the other nervous. I like the balance of the producer’s position, on one hand you are the head of the project with the highest responsibility, on the other you are a sort of psychologist, extremely empathetic to people who are often very vulnerable. I do not pursue a distinct method, the most important is the encounter with the people you are working with, and what you achieve together.
How did Starring Maja come your way?
It was Teresa’s idea, she wrote the screenplay – we developed it together, and it was our common dream to make the movie. We had a perfect collaboration, we have very similar tastes, we like the same things. Since we know each other so well, it is also easy to trust each other. When we shot the film we probably crossed each other’s borders , because it really felt as if we were doing it together – it was easy to relax and let the other go. It was different on Bekas, because Karzan and I did not know each other from the beginning, and you have to build up confidence in a producer-director relationship, especially if both have strong wills.
Bekas started as a short – how did it become a feature?
Karzan had made the 29-minute Bekas as his graduation film from the Dramatiska Institutet, and I thought it was fantastic – it won the Student’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film. He wanted to make it as a feature, which I spontaneously was against, because the short was so perfect. The script convinced me – he had planned the feature all the time, the short was simply derived from it. It was very much his project, so it did not offer the same creative stimulus to me as producer as Starring Maja gave me.
On the other hand, the production was difficult and a challenge in ifself, shooting a film in Iraqi Kurdistan during the Arab spring – my toughest job so far. Two weeks before we were supposed to start filming, demonstrations broke out in central Sulaymania, while we were there, with stone throwing and shootings. The first day, eight people were killed and 50 wounded just a few kilometres distant. In a way, this made the film even more important to complete.
But the situation got worse, so after a few days – and following advice from my contacts at the local TV station – we packed up and went home. We had not shot any footage to take back, but burnt a lot of money, so I had to spend six months refinancing the project. When we returned to Kurdistan we were received as heroes – this film means so much to the locals, more than I could imagine.
Anything that you are particularly good at as a producer – and anything that you are definitely not?
I think I am good at adapting myself to what I believe is best for the project. I can be in front when I need to, but also stand back when necessary. There are a lot of things I am bad at, but you can usually get help from others, fortunately...
What’s on now – and what’s next on the agenda?
I am developing a multi-plot feature, written by Maria Nygren, who will also direct – we hope to shoot it this autumn. I am also working on a television series from an international best-seller, but the contract has not been signed, so I dare not say which. But it will be really cool.