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Simon Staho • Director

Portrait of the artist as an outsider

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Simon Staho • Director

Rendez-vous with Simon Staho in San Sebastian, where the 33-year-old filmmaker presented his second feature film, Bang Bang Orangutang. Shot in video, combining black and white images with flashy hot colours, and evoking unexpected lyrics by The Clash and Dolly Parton as a poetic expression of the characters' inner world, the film appears to be a criticism of the Scandinavian society hidden behind a love story, but not intended as a social manifest. Bang Bang Orangutang reveals a bold filmmaker, unafraid to provoke radical reactions from some critics and audiences.

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Cineuropa: Why did you decide to shoot Bang Bang Orangutang in video?
Simon Staho: Video is a modern medium, very much the expression of what images should be in 2005. For me, 35mm is beautiful but it is nostalgic; it belongs to other generations. The challenge is not to make video that looks like film, but try to find out how videos can look as beautiful and interesting as film. I also shot in video as a sort of provocation against cinematographers. When you tell them you want to shoot in video, they go "Oh no!". They think video is a second class medium, which is not true.

Since you are Danish and shoot in video, I have to ask how influenced you were by the Dogma 95 movement? Do you think Dogma is dead already?
I am not sure it has ever been alive (laughs). I don't think I have been influenced by Dogma directors because the way they used video was brutal. They wanted to get a social-realistic image, while I am interested in building something on the image. That is my definition of cinema: one has the duty to express something with the image. You shouldn't only photograph it and then put it on a film. It must be a self-portrait of who you are as a director.

Is that why you decided to combine black and white images with flashy colours? How important was it to use that technique to portray yourself and your characters?
From the start, I wanted to make an expressionist film in the sense that what the lead character sees is what we must see, so we perceive reality the way he does! The audience shouldn't stand outside the character. When he sees red, then we must see red too. When he is full of adrenaline I want us to feel the same way. I like films which make you feel close to the character and react, instead of just seating back and analysing them. I think such projects are necessary because there aren't many films like that nowadays. That was one of reasons I wanted to make an expressionist and emotional film. I wasn't interested in making a film to show how clever and philosophical I was. I forced myself to do something that would make the audiences react, in one way or another. There are many European films which are poetical and politically correct, but I am not interested in them.

You say Francis Bacon was an inspiration. I thought about Andy Warhol too, which seems to be in line with the colourful pop-arty side of film...
Bacon made amazing paintings with yellow, orange and green —although they are not his most popular works. What I like about him is that he is an expressionist, throwing his emotions into the canvas. You can certainly mention Andy Warhol, although I have never though about it. Warhol was a very educated and knowledgeable person - definitely not a pop idiot - and he wasn't afraid of using colours either. When he did the soup cans, he did it in such a way that people could immediately relate to it. It wasn't twisted in an intellectual or academic way. But he did it on purpose. That is what I am trying to do in the film.

Why did you shoot your film in Sweden, with Swedish actors?
The main reason is that I wanted to work with Swedish actors. Unlike Danish actors they don't do commercials and tend to look at their job more seriously. I like actors who believe in acting. If you have that talent, you should protect it and not waste it in advertisement. I would never cast an actor who has done commercials, lest the audience should refuse to take him seriously when they see him on the screen.

A lot of Danish films seem to be formalized projects. In this respect, yours is totally far from the norm. Do you see yourself as an outsider?
You can certainly say that. Many Danish directors think Europe looks at them as the most courageous filmmakers. We tend to think we are the centre of the world and obviously we are not at all. My films are a bit like the black sheep, like the bastard child.

How easy was it to produce it then?
The producer and I have our own little company, which allowed us to have control over this film. It takes a lot of courage to make a film like this. It's not mainstream; it doesn't look like anything familiar. You do it because you believe in it, not because millions of people will watch it!

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