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STOCKHOLM 2019

Jesper Kurlandsky and Fredrik Wenzel • Directors of Charismatic Megafauna

“You have to find that one perfect minute, there and then – it’s truly nerve-wracking”

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- We chatted to the well-travelled Swedish duo of Fredrik Wenzel and Jesper Kurlandsky about their joint directorial effort, Charismatic Megafauna

Jesper Kurlandsky and Fredrik Wenzel  • Directors of Charismatic Megafauna

For at least seven years, the well-travelled Swedish duo consisting of cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel (Burrowing [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, The Square [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile
]
) and producer Jesper Kurlandsky (The Ape [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Avalon [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
) have been working on a huge global concept in a very simplified context. The result, Charismatic Megafauna [+see also:
film review
interview: Jesper Kurlandsky and Fredr…
film profile
]
, is now playing in the documentary competition at the Stockholm International Film Festival. We spoke to them to get the low-down on the film.

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Cineuropa: You start Charismatic Megafauna with a quote concerning the question, "Why was it made?”, to which the response is: “It might have been made for itself.” Was this to set the tone?
Fredrik Wenzel:
We were looking for a small banister that the viewer could lean on ever so slightly while getting into it all, and thus hopefully reduce the confusion. The tempo and the absence of any classical narration meant that it may have felt a bit unusual to many viewers, we thought.

Those familiar with the works of Godfrey Reggio, famously Koyaanisqatsi, and sometimes also Terrence Malick may feel quite at home, though. Would you say your creation is related to any of them?
Jesper Kurlandsky:
There is no doubt that Reggio started the style that Charismatic Megafauna is part of. But we wanted to do an “inverted” Koyaanisqatsi. Reggio deals with ant societies and collectivism, and coldness and distance, while we wanted to connect on an individual level. We live in a time where we look at the downsides of individualism, compared to Reggio’s dealings with automation and assembly lines. But we certainly worked in a similar way with pictures, association and the music. We tell a different story, though.

FW: Reggio emphasises the stress, whereas we are more contemplative.

How many places did you visit?
JK:
Probably 16 or 17 countries. Sometimes we travelled for 18 hours in order to get one shot. Then we went cross-country to get one more shot.

How many shots are there, in fact?
FW:
Well, many of them are quite long, about 30 seconds long. Taking into consideration some of the faster shots at the end, I’d say between 200 and 250 images – before the fast parts, about an even hundred. The toughest part, perhaps, was travelling to the other side of the Earth and then going by car for all those hours – I think we did 40 hours one time – and then meeting a tiny, faraway tribe and getting to know them. And then, bam, you have to find that one perfect minute, there and then – it’s truly nerve-wracking.

Something one comes to realise is that it is difficult to recognise exactly where we are. Despite a number of urban shots, for example, the cities were hard to identify. Was it Hong Kong, Shanghai or even London? Was this a conscious artistic choice?
FW:
Partly. It’s Hong Kong, by the way. But we also noticed while travelling around that there was this “mono” culture that has seeped in everywhere. No matter where you go, there are attributes that reoccur.

Let’s talk about the music. It’s very prominent and also quite romantic.
JK:
Yes, and if I may address the very apt Malick connection, very early on, we decided to dare to do something similarly wondrous and warm, which is a scary challenge, let me tell you. We listened to a number of contemporary composers, but we didn’t find that yearning, that fascination. Then we heard a piece called “Mouyayoum” by one Anders Hillborg – funnily enough a Swede, as we had been hunting internationally. This was our man, a man not scared of warmth. We got him to compose much of the music without looking closely at the film, so that the music would speak for itself.

Dare we still pose the question: why was Charismatic Megafauna made? And how long were you working on it?
FW:
Jesper came up with it…

JK: …Well, seven years, at least. There were very few global ideas being explored at the time, so it was a concept that was sorely lacking. We both sensed that there was a wider world out there – a greater, simplified context.

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