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Mats Grorud • Director

"There’s a lot that isn’t talked about that you have to take the time to unearth"


- Norwegian director Mats Grorud talks about his debut feature film, The Tower, an animated film unveiled at Annecy

Mats Grorud • Director

With his first feature, The Tower [+see also:
film review
interview: Mats Grorud
film profile
, screened in world premiere and out of competition at the 42nd Annecy International Animated Film Festival  (from 11 to 16 June), the Norwegian director Mats Grorud retraces the history of a family living in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon since 1948 through several generations.

Cineuropa: Why did you choose to set your film in the Palestinian refugee camp of Bourj el Barajneh in Beirut, Lebanon?
Mats Grorud: When I was a child, my mother worked in Lebanon during the war as a nurse. When she came home every three months, she would tell me about the camps and show me pictures. Then, in 1989, when I was 12, we went to live in Cairo where she worked at the Palestinian hospital. We took the opportunity to go to Jerusalem and Gaza during the First Intifada. At the end of the 90s, I went to Lebanon for the first time, then I lived in Beirut for a year in 2001 while working for an NGO in the Bourj el Barajneh camp. I was involved in the medium-length documentary Out of Place, Out of Time,shot by an Australian. It included classic interviews and I wanted to use my animation skills to do something different, not just another documentary about Palestinian refugee camps, but a film that tries to reach a new audience in a new way.

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What was the writing process like?
It was quite long. I wrote the screenplay and then Trygve Allister Diesen and Ståle Stein Berg, who are somewhat more experienced, came to my aid. I worked a lot with storyboarders, but also with Palestinian friends living in Sweden, Norway, Lebanon. I’m not Palestinian myself and I have a lot of respect for the subject, so I had to make sure that there was complete truth to the situations, moods, dialogues, etc. My initial idea was to create a film about three characters stuck on a roof representing three generations: the great-grandfather Sidi who fled Palestine and belongs to the generation that is slowly disappearing, Wardi the great-granddaughter, and the boy with the pigeons who sits in between them. The idea focused on the differences between generations, experiences, connections with the past and how the events of 1948 shaped people’s lives, how they live today, how they lived and what they think of the future. I then decided to broaden the idea slightly because I wanted to show more contrast, larger slices of life and sections of the camp and a wider range characters.

How did you manage to integrate dramatic aspects (exile, poverty, struggle, etc.) without allowing the film to become a drama?
The film reflects life in the camp and you don’t initially realise everything that these people have experienced or know. Families try to live with dignity and don't talk about the more dramatic aspects of their lives. But they might have a little brother who was killed, or a part of their family in exile in Australia, or a grandfather who has died because he didn’t have enough money for medication. There’s a lot that isn’t talked about that you have to take the time to unearth. And that’s how I wrote the film. Everything from the past is lying dormant and can hit you suddenly. The film reflects life in the camp. Occasionally there’s war, but when I was there, that was not the case. In a way, it's a view of the camp through my eyes.

Why did you choose to create an animated film using puppets and 2D?
I’d already done so for my short films and it worked. It was obvious that drawings would be needed from the start, given all the flashbacks, numerous characters and different points of view of Beirut, etc. Then we developed the visual style of the film with Rui Tenreirowe. And the French studio Foliascope, in Valencia, did a great job. The animation itself was completed fairly quickly, in eight months, while development and funding took six to seven years.

Is The Tower a political film?
It's a film about human beings and human relationships. Events in Israel are not at the heart of this film. Instead, it focuses on what’s happened to Palestinians and how their lives have unfolded afterwards. I lived in the camp for a year and made this film as a big thank you to the people I met there. They've been there for 70 years and it's hard to live a life watching your loved ones die slowly every day. In general, we don’t talk about refugees or the fact that it’s an unsolvable situation. I am obviously politically engaged and this is my contribution to showing the rest of the world the humanity of a group people who should be better treated.

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(Translated from French)

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