Carolina Hellsgård • Director of Ever After
“A horror movie is a great tool to confront the characters with their own lives”
by Simon Kingsley - German Films
- German Films interviewed Carolina Hellsgård, whose latest film, the apocalyptic zombie horror and female relationship drama Ever After, took Toronto by storm
Carolina Hellsgård hails from Sweden and moved to Germany in 2001 to study Experimental Media Design at the Berlin University of Arts. On graduating in 2008 she won a grant and a year at CalArts to study film Directing and Screenwriting. Returning to Berlin she made her first feature, Wanja [+see also:
film profile], nominated for the Berlinale Best First Feature Award in 2015. Prior to Berlin, Hellsgård gained an MA in Film Theory and History at Stockholm University, that giving her an exchange to the Berlin University of Arts “where I stayed. The theoretical background to a film is very important for me, I’m formal in my approach. I look for a cinematic form which ties into the state of being that the characters are presently in: the person in the film influences the cinematic image since it reflects the characters’ inner state.” Right. So how does that work with zombies? Incredibly well, as we now know through her latest film, Ever After [+see also:
interview: Carolina Hellsgård
film profile], world-premiered at the latest Toronto International Film Festival.
“When I read Olivia Vieweg’s screenplay, I was fascinated by the topic of guilt,” Hellsgård explains. “As a person, you often feel guilty about certain things. It’s about all the bad stuff we did and all the good things we did not do. A horror movie is a great tool to confront the characters with their own lives, and question their own morals, as well as challenge their inner demons. How does one exist as a human being in this world? How do I treat other people? And when I face chaos and difficulties, how do I react?”
Unstinting in praising her key and female team, Hellsgård explained, “DoP Leah Striker is a fantastic and very experienced camerawoman. I had been an admirer of the set designer Jenny Rösler’s work for a long time. The costume designer Teresa Grosser has her own style and provided a very strong costume concept, which I loved.” The composer Franziska Henke and producers Ingelore König and Claudia Schröter are also female, and, of course, the two leads, Gro Swantje Kohlhof and Maja Lehrer. But a read of the end crawl shows the production was actually 50-50 male and female, Hellsgård believing that to be the best ratio.
She certainly knows her way around genre as well, perhaps growing up with all those Swedish trolls! “I grew up with Nordic fairy tales with trolls in the forest and moral questions about right and wrong,” Hellsgård expands on the theme. “Zombies are like trolls. They embody existential anxieties. Here they also embody how we treat the environment and how we relate to nature.” Bringing all the elements together, and her love of anti-heroes, of people who are outsiders in society, marginalized, how they live and deal with problems, daily struggles, their dreams and emotions,” and a post-apocalyptic zombie film, “arthouse horror” as she calls it, is the perfect vehicle.
Hellsgård, who used to be a film critic before there was an Internet and took herself off to Cannes, is now working on her third feature film, Sunburned, in which 12-year-old Claire is holidaying with her family in Spain. While being neglected by her mother and sister, she meets a Senegalese immigrant called Amram on the beach. As a part of a childish game she makes him a promise she can’t break.
Every film she makes, Hellsgård explains, “is a reaction to the one before.” So where Wanja is “strict and minimalistic,” Ever After is “maximalistic!”. “Sunburned will have a different pace.” And for the one after that, “I want it to be a thriller. I absolutely love a good plot. It gives me lots of freedom to make it more atmospheric. I plan to make a very plot driven and hard-boiled thriller, a Berlin Noir. I like it where you can’t trust the main character. Evil or good is too easy.”
Apart from her love of film, Hellsgård has a special place in her heart for Berlin as well: “I feel privileged to be here,” she enthuses. “There are lots of very talented people around and Berlin is a great city! I graduated ten years ago and have been working extremely hard, collaborating with new people, it’s a very dynamic place to be. You need a certain amount of luck as a director, you need good people and I found them here.”
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