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IFFR 2019 Tiger Competition

Ulaa Salim • Director of Sons of Denmark

“Every movie should be made within the DNA of a story”


- Cineuropa met up with Danish newcomer Ulaa Salim, who competed in Rotterdam's main competition with his thriller drama Sons of Denmark

Ulaa Salim • Director of Sons of Denmark

The 2019 edition of International Film Festival Rotterdam’s main competition features the feature debut Sons of Denmark [+see also:
film review
interview: Elliott Crosset Hove
interview: Ulaa Salim
film profile
, written and directed by an emerging Danish talent, Ulaa Salim. A drama-cum-thriller, Salim addresses the thorny and topical question of the radicalisation and normalisation of extremism. Cineuropa met up with the rising star filmmaker to talk about genre filmmaking, the way reality caught up with his story and finishing his first feature film after graduating. 

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Cineuropa: Sons of Denmark addresses biting socio-political issues but more as a genre film than a traditional arthouse drama. Why is that?
Ulaa Salim
: I think that every movie should be made within the DNA of a story. I want to grab hold of big issues, I want to grab hold of complex characters. In a way, the thriller genre almost approached me, and it felt like the natural vehicle to tell this story, which is so much more than a genre film. At the end of day, I did not want to adhere to any specific genre, I wanted to be able to make any film I fancied, but I used the filmmaking tools I had available to me to tell this important story. In a sense, those two aspects found each other while I was writing. It felt very natural, because there is also is an element of surprise to the story before I had any idea what kind of film it would be.

Sons of Denmark has a distinctive structure. Why did you build the narrative this way?
Film openings are very important. When an opening captures the essence of a story, it stands for a lot. That's why it felt appropriate to create a premise to the story in the prologue, because by doing so, I was able to say that this was the world that the story would be set in, rather than this was a world constructed for a story. I also wanted to push the boundaries of the normal, classical, structure of storytelling but while using certain themes, such as where do you belong? Who are you? What is your community? I wanted to use those themes in the structure.

You said that when you started writing the script, people considered the story too far-fetched. Over the course of a few years, reality caught up with your story. Yet you set the story into the future. Why?
I have two reasons for setting it in the future. Firstly, as a filmmaker, I love to have the freedom to make the film however I choose. I think filmmakers should use their imagination and try to tell us how they see the world and how they speak about the world. I did not want it to be a discussion about whether or not it was my own view. It’s not actually how I see things, but I made this film to discuss the society we hope to have in the future. There are many possibilities as to how society can develop, and this story is just one of them. It gave me more room to play with the storyline as a filmmaker. 

You finished school in the summer of 2017 and half a year later your feature debut had a world premiere. How did you manage it?
I was always planning to make the film. The first day I finished school, I submitted the first draft for financing. Daniel Mühlendorph and I had already founded our production company Hyæne Film, so we were prepared to go 200 miles an hour. We have a New Danish Screen programme in Denmark and it is really good for young emerging talent. They fully financed the project and they really believed in the story from the beginning and we developed the story there for six months. And you get also visual study, so you get to actually shoot a couple days of the film and I could also look for actors, too. So I was working on the screenplay and the film at the same time. I was always in pre-production mode somehow. We shot for 45 days. I wanted a long shoot. That was important, because I also like to have some days that are not scripted. I always have done.

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