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VILNIUS 2018

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Jens Assur • Director

“Trust is the most essential part of good directing”

by 

- A revealing conversation about Ravens, Jens Assur's debut feature, which was crowned with the Cineuropa Prize at Vilnius

Jens Assur  • Director

Cineuropa’s love story with Ravens [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Jens Assur
film profile
]
 started as soon as the film was screened in the New Directors sidebar of the San Sebastián Film Festival. It continues now at the Vilnius Film Festival Kino Pavasaris, where the Cineuropa Prize was offered to Jens Assur’s atmospheric, universal family drama. Here is what the director has to say about the complexities and challenges of his assured feature debut. 

Cineuropa: How did Ravens come into being? Was it inspired by real events?
Jens Assur:
 After two decades as a photojournalist, and later as a writer and director of four critically acclaimed shorts, I felt ready to develop my first feature. I was researching and developing several ideas at the same time. I was looking for a project where I could challenge the audience in terms of both content and visual style. Ravens is based on a book that I did my own interpretation of. I switched the main characters and altered the structure, but remained very loyal to the intellectual theme.

No matter how convincing they are in their roles, Reine Brynolfsson and Jacob Nordström have very different acting backgrounds. Did you use different approaches for the two actors?
Reine played a leading role in my first short, The Last Dog in Rwanda, and I know from that experience that he is a very dedicated and talented actor. I would even dare to say he is in the same league as some of the really great ones, like Hoffman and Brando. A year before shooting, we started to develop the character together. Even if the most demanding part of Agne is his inner life and struggle, we also put a lot of effort into Reine’s physical appearance. He was, for example, put on a very strict diet and training programme. All of this was to enable him to get into character and in the end become Agne, the hardworking farmer.

The character of Klas had to be played by a non-professional actor, and it was important for me to look for him in rural Sweden in order to find a credible and authentic boy. I was also looking for someone who was sensitive and intelligent – someone who could take direction. Jacob did an amazing job as well and was very pleasant to work with. My vision as a director is to be very honest, open and straightforward. That is only attainable through an open form of communication and trust. I believe trust is the most essential part of good directing.

The farm feels like a central character in your film. Was it difficult to find? What did you actually look for?
You’re absolutely right. I have always described the farm as one of the vital characters. I searched for the farm all over Sweden. First of all, the main challenge was to find a small farm that was run like they were in the 1970s, well preserved but also still working and well maintained. The second challenge was to find a place without any obvious beauty or relief, a very practical and unflattering spot. Thirdly, I did not want a typical Swedish farm, but rather something unidentifiable in terms of its geography and origin. 

Ravens is about the harshness and even the cruelty of nature. Was the weather an issue during the shoot?
I love working on location. It gives the actors and me an authentic space to work within. From my point of view, the seasons, nature and the weather add a very important dimension to a film. It is very rewarding to work on location, but it is just as hard and as difficult to work in minus ten degrees and the pouring rain. It’s both physically and mentally exhausting for everyone. 

Is there anything that nobody has asked you about Ravens that you would like to tell the film's fans?
There are two main characters in Ravens, Agne and Klas. But essentially, they are the same person. Agne used to be Klas in his youth, and Klas will one day become Agne. That’s why the film ends with Klas at the kitchen table, gathering strength to start working, just as it starts with Agne recovering from the hard work at the farm. It is all circular, just like the film’s farming year that starts with spring and ends a year later.

Are you developing a new feature? Can you tell us what it's about?
I have just started to outline a new script. This one will be an international drama. I will have to spend the coming month doing research and developing the story before I can tell you more.

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