Natanael Ericsson of New Land tells Alex Reeves how he made his honest, poetic short about the magic of film
They say you should write what you know, so if you’re a filmmaker who loves shooting on celluloid, making a film about, well, film, should be easy, right? Not so fast. That’s actually quite a lot of pressure, as Natanael Ericsson found over the two years it took to make this short profiling the father and daughter team who run the last film lab in all of Scandinavia. But Natanael’s passion helped him to handle the pressure of the project and the resulting film is a credit to the New Land director’s love for his craft, as well as that of Ali and Nina Boriri, his subjects. The pair come across as philosophical, caring and knowledgeable and the film is way more than a series of talking heads - it looks and feels like a substantial work with something to say.
LBB’s Alex Reeves gave Natanael a chance to reflect on the project.
LBB> How did you get involved in this project with Ali and Nina?
Natanael> In Sweden everyone that works in the film industry knows Ali & Nina in one way or another. I got to know them through Gustav Johansson, director and co-founder of New Land with Erik Torell. I had been a directors’ assistant for a couple of years at New Land and was just starting out working on my commercial reel. Most of my director colleagues told me ”it’s going to take two years until you see any jobs”. That was true. I was doing small commercials and trying to get the next one. Gustav had told me that he and his brother, the talented DoP Niklas Johansson, were talking about making a portrait of them, but they didn’t have the time to make it. I thought it was such a great idea, and said that I wanted to help out if they needed anything. I had just come back from Christmas holidays and didn’t have any project to return to, so Gustav asked me if I wanted to do the film about Ali and Nina. I didn’t have to think twice about that.
LBB> What's your personal connection to shooting on film? Is it something you're particularly passionate about?
Natanael> For me, it’s the most beautiful way of capturing what we see, but there are two sides to it — the image and the way it makes me approach my work. As for the image there is nothing so pure and beautiful as celluloid and there is a lot to be said about it, but I think Hoyte van Hoytema pinpoints it in the film saying: “Ultimately it’s about your instantaneous affection”.
Shooting on film forces you to make choices. What do we actually need to tell the story? I love that way of making film. It puts pressure on you to make up your mind and not shoot stuff you would never use. It also creates a different atmosphere on set. Everyone knows it is money rolling through the gate and that makes everyone a lot more focused. I love having boundaries when working and I think I’m better at what I do when I can’t get everything.
LBB> I love how poetic both of them are - how did you elicit those amazing bits of speech?
Natanael> It was important to me that everything felt honest and I knew I would never be able to write the words that I wanted them to say. I had a long sit down with them before I recorded anything, that way I knew their journey and what they do in depth. That sit down became the foundation of what questions I wanted to ask when I interviewed them for the film. Both Ali & Nina are truly passionate and believe in the importance of what they do, so for me it was more a matter of knowing what we wanted to tell.
LBB> How did you work out how to depict Ali and Nina and the moving parts of their lab? It's visually really interesting?
Natanael> We early on decided that their story would be told through following a single can of film from the moment they get it to the lab to when it has been processed. That way the narrative had a natural beginning and end. Then it was a matter of working out the most interesting way to capture it. I thought I knew a lot about the way film is processed going into this project, but coming to Focus Film was a very humbling experience. Ali and Nina walked us through the whole process from when they get film all the way to when it is scanned. All the different stages the film passes through is so precise that if something went wrong, everything could potentially be destroyed. The sense of craft and knowledge throughout the whole process intrigued me.
LBB> There must be a lot of pressure on making a film like this look good and do the medium of film justice. What were your biggest preoccupations around that and how did you make sure it ended up looking so beautiful?
Natanael> Well thank you! Obviously a lot of the credit goes to Niklas Johansson, the DoP of the film, as well as Tim Lorentzén and Hannes Isaksson that did additional photography. Niklas is a master of capturing the ordinary in an intimate and visually beautiful way. The most difficult thing to capture on the day was the processing of the film. When you start the machine you can’t stop it because the film would be ruined. So there wasn’t any way to reset. We had to map out all the shots we needed in advance and literally follow the film through the different baths, the dryer and finally it being spooled up at the final stage of the processing. I was fortunate to have a really experienced crew that were able to pull it off on the first try.
LBB> Where did the idea for interviewing the DoPs come from? And why did you approach them the way you did?
Natanael> When we started editing I hadn’t planned on interviewing DoPs. The film at that point was only about Ali & Nina, the lab and their relationship. But when me and my editor, Anderas Arvidsson, started structuring the story we quickly realized Ali & Nina didn’t have the answer to our main question — “Why film?”. They could talk about the importance of giving artists the opportunity to shoot on film, but not why artists choose to shoot on film. Then it became clear that we needed to go back and talk to the people that make that choice.
LBB> What were the most interesting challenges involved in this project?
Natanael> The shoot was only one and a half days, we only had 12 cans of film, we finished shooting after three weeks, but the film took two years to finish. I have never worked on something for that amount of time. The decision to include the cinematographers in the film made the process of completing the film a lot more complicated. First I had to get a hold of them, but then we also needed their footage to use in the film. It took a year just to get the rights, the footage in good quality and all the cast to okay the use of it. At the same time I was working a lot on other projects and getting the time to sit down with my editor that also worked on different projects meanwhile was challenging. The journey to the finished film was a stretch, but in the end very rewarding.
Directed by: Natanael Ericsson
Produced by: Sophie Hedberg
Executive Producers: Gustav Johansson, Erik Torell, Therese Engberg
Director of photography: Niklas Johansson, FSF
Editor: Andreas Arvidsson
Music composer: Petter Winnberg & Pierre Riddez
Music Supervisor: André Brink
Post Producer: Adam Holmström
Art Director: Linnea Mesko
Production Coordinator: Adriana Vasquez Johansson
1st AC: Mikael ”Stickan” Olsson
Loader: Sonya Gudmundsdotter
VTR: Gina Ideström
Grip: Emil Hall
Gaffer: Axel Thornéus
Sound Recording: Edvard Saare
Additional Photography: Tim Lorentzén
Additional Photography: Hannes Isaksson
1st AC: Anton Bergström
Loader: Laura Fernandez
Production Assistant: Enzo Paredes
Colorist: Nina Boriri
Sound Design: Anton Ahlberg & Robert Eklund
Raw Stock: Provided by Kodak
Laboratory: Focus Film
Developed and Scanned by: Ali Boriri & Nina Boriri
Special Thanks: Ljud & Bildmedia – Daniel Thisell, Dagsljus – Pelle Mellqvist, XO MGMT – Nathalie Cohen, The Talent Group – Sofia Misgena, Felicia Bjurefors – Red Pipe, Frida-My, Zita Folkets Bio, Zach Zombec
Production Company: New Land