Transcript from post screening Q&A with Kaspar Peters, director of Nordic Grammar, at Slow Film Festival 2019. This Q&A was led by Emre Çağlayan.
EC: Hi everyone. Thanks for coming and thanks to everyone at the Slow Film Festival. And Kaspar Peters, thank you very much for a wonderful and mysterious film [Nordic Grammar]. Could you give us a little more context about the film and how did you come up with this project and what drew you to this story?
KASPAR: So I spent one year in Iceland in art school and during the summer vacation I was working in the fishing industry. And it was an interesting time because it was a very isolated town in the very northeast. And nature was very strong. And I felt quite isolated on an isolated island and on this isolated island even more isolated in an isolated town. And in this town, isolated as a foreigner. But also isolated because I was working in this big fridge, which is basically a fish factory. And I was working night shifts from midnight to noon. And so everything was kind of turned upside down. I was working in the night but it was bright outside but still I had no connection to what’s going on outside. And that created a certain feeling of disconnection and dislocation. And it was very strong. And it was kind of violent because there were all these dead fish. It was raining dead fish constantly. There are so many influences in this film. Icelandic Mythology certainly. This feeling of being a foreigner on the island comes from that. It’s a country of immigrants, of people trying to set down roots in Iceland like this woman in my film who tries to set down roots. I think that’s some kind of background.
EC: I guess isolation is some kind of theme. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it is unusual for short films to be shot on 16 mm nowadays. I can talk a lot about the colours in the film, they are very vivid, it’s a very visual film. Can you talk a little bit about your relation to film as a medium and as a material? Did you feel it was a luxury to work with film in an age where everything is digital?
KASPAR: Yes, of course it’s a luxury. But in this case it felt like the right choice to shoot on 16mm for several reasons. So the most practical reason is that we shot lots in strong winds or even storms and then it is quite practical to have a heavy camera and a heavy tripod. There are more reasons. I wanted to make a portrait of this very strong, very physical environment and it felt right to shoot on a physical medium. And then I think that 16mm film is more connected to the irrational. Digital film is more precise and it gets more and more precise. So it’s almost scientific. 16mm is more, for me at least, it’s more connected to the irrational and to the mysterious. It’s just a feeling I have. It felt right to shoot on 16mm.
EC: I’ll open to the audience in a minute but just one more question about the protagonist, the mysterious woman. Is she based on someone you know? You mentioned Icelandic mythology. Is she representative of something else in Iceland perhaps?
KASPAR: No. No, it’s maybe… I mean the very first idea for this film was to shoot a film about a woman who was waiting for her husband who had drowned at sea, which is a very vivid, vivid myth in Iceland because so many fishermen have drowned in the sea. Mostly they could not swim. So the first idea was to make a film about a woman waiting for her husband. But it changed a lot. As you can see, in the end, there is nothing left of this idea. It was just a start.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: In relation to this concept of isolation, I have a question about the humming as this repetitive song that this woman sings to herself. Is it a comforting action for the woman in her isolation, or is it a sign of insanity, or is it part of a musical tradition, something mythological?
KASPAR: So for me this humming creates a certain intimacy because it’s like the sound of her mind. It is actually recorded much, much later. Recently. So this film was shot in 2018, but this sound was recorded two months ago. Olga, who you can see here, she gave birth in April and she was singing to her kid. This humming. It is a Polish lullaby. And we thought it might fit this film. So that’s the story behind the humming.
EC: There are these motifs that you put in: the windows, the mirrors, sunlight coming inside both on the boat but also in the house as well. And of course mirrors and windows are very pertinent metaphors for cinema because they are ways in which we can look through and reflect. I was just wondering how you thought through these concepts when you were putting this film together, were they in the script or were they things that you wanted to do while you were shooting? Did those ideas become more obvious when you were at the editing stage?
KASPAR: There was no script. There were just some ideas. So we knew a number of locations where we wanted to shoot but this film more or less happened. This window you mention. This film is a bit odd. The outside wants to come inside. The light is shining through the window. You can hear the storm. The storm wants to move inside the house. Someone is knocking. So there is a feeling of threat from the outside. So for me, the window is not only a window to the outside. It’s also a fragile spot where something can enter. This was not planned. It just naturally emerged that there were many windows in this film, which partly has to do with the fact we need as much natural light as possible. Because we were shooting on 16mm we always had to shoot where the light was.
Click for more articles about the 2019 Slow Film Festival: