AWFJ EDA Awards @ IDFA 2016 Filmmaker Interview: Mette Carla Albrechtsen and Lea Glob on VENUS
Venus is the first collaboration between Copenhagen-based documentary filmmakers Mette Carla Albrechtsen and Lea Glob. It is Albrechtsen’s first documentary feature, Glob’s second.
AWFJ: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and the main characters in it?
Mette Carla Albrechtsen: Gender and sexuality have always been a big motive to me personally. Ever since I started making films this theme has been evident through my work. I guess it comes from a very deep personal question in me about what it means to be a “real” woman. I was a genuine tomboy growing up and I had trouble reconciling with my boyish looks and interests when I hit puberty. It felt like my entire identity was falling apart, so I had to reinvent myself as a young girl, I had no idea that I could just be myself. That feeling kind of shattered my teens and kept me from getting those first important sexual experiences with boys because I was so insecure that I couldn’t deal with it. It have been a very big driving force to me. How am I supposed to act as a woman? I needed to look at other women to see if I was different.
The characters in Venus were invited via an open casting call, I guess that the young women who felt compelled to sign up and those who ended up in the film are the ones we connected to the most. They carry some of the same questions within them, them as we do. There is a conflict of how to be a civilized person with a desire, in our society. What seems to be expected from women is not how we feel inside. That difference can be devastation to our sense of self as women.
Lea Glob: Two experiences in my life come to mind, when you ask what have motivated me personally to make this film. First, the shock of becoming a woman changed everything. I remember the time when puberty transformed my body from a child’s to a young woman’s. It was one of the most frightening and lonely experiences of my life. I felt that the whole world changed around me. From being treated as an equal human being, I felt degraded to second place. The boys who used to be my friends, became strangers. They now talked about our breasts and rated our body’s. I went home deeply humiliated from overhearing the locker room conversations. I utterly felt the worst thing that could happen to me was to become a woman. What would I not have given to be a boy I felt for the first time, that there were humans and then women. At the same time I realized that sexuality was also a power, and somehow thrilling. But as I grew up in a culture where we never spoke much about sexuality, I was unprepared for the changes of puberty, and how to deal with sexuality and the world seemed as an unsafe place.
Secondly, there was the contrast between the male and female gaze. I thought that my own inner images might not even be my own, but a product of the culture I grew up in. In my early twenties I was reading a book of Henry Miller. I realized, that the way he described the female character, while she was having sex, meaning from the male point of view- was actually the same perspective I had on my self, when I was having sex. This shocked me, and I started to reflect: Why do I look at myself sexually from this perspective? Is this due some sort of psychological personal issue? Or is it because all pictures, paintings and books we have are written from a male perspective? Or is it normal?
Growing up, sexuality was never an easy thing to deal with in my life. Quite a lot of shame was connected to it. I always was deeply curious about how other women dealt with the same issues. I was very shy as a person, but I experienced that whenever I had a camera in my hands, I would become another person. More Brave, and It was as If I could distance myself from the world, and see it mores clearly. Film to me was a way to discover the world. The themes where I felt most fragile were the ones where I had the biggest urge to work artistically- often as a not yet articulated motivation. I just went where it felt necessary.
In Mette Carla Albrechtsen, I found a fellow filmmaker who had the courage to take up the challenge with me, and investigate this big question on film. Together we decided to ask friends to help us investigate sexuality from a female point of view. Artistically we were fascinated by the casting-situation and decided that that was the best framework for this investigation on sexuality.
AWFJ: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?
MCA: I learned that a lot of younger women are so much more reflected and advanced about their sexuality than I was growing up. They are much more open and experimental, but also that they still have these very deep questions of intimacy and vulnerability and how to preserve these feelings in sexual situations. It’s a very big thing. Also how little vocabulary we have for pleasure and desire and how weird it is we don’t talk about the pleasures more.
LG: In the middle of shooting, I felt I got an answer to the questions about the images in our minds. It was a feeling of catharsis. After hours and hours of filming women’s stories about sexuality and identity, I felt my own limitation flow away, in the exhaustion of having to experience all those stories. It was a true gift, as if the mirrors of so many women, took me out of the prison of the personal body ad experience and limits of reflection. The woman in front of me answered me, the more secure, and the more you dare to explore your own sexuality, the more you reclaim and own your own gaze on your own body and sexuality. If you are fragile, all images and mirrors of women from our culture, do internalize into the mind, and you start to get separated from yourself. The more you dare to be honest and vulnerable, the more you close in to your own view.
This “shower” of different points of view, is what we hope to offer an audience. A mirror- not pornography, not Calvinism, not capitalism, not romanticism. But an attempt to go closer to a language created from experiences of real women.
AWFJ: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film?
MCA: Uh! It’s very difficult joggling 100 women and providing a safe space to film this kind of subject. It was a very big and well research process getting these cool women into my livingroom and getting them to open up about their inner fears, dreams, sorrows and fantasies. I learned a lot about the psychology of directing in this kind of delicate space. How much mental power you have to provide in order to hold op conversations like this, for sometimes, 9 hours straight in a shooting day. My brain was literally melting afterwards, I cried a lot. Sometimes we would listen to girls who had experienced so much sorrow over stuff done to their bodies, self hatred, insecurity but also amazing experiences of pure love and desire that we would envy. We were constantly confronted with our own experience of being a women. Im so happy that all of the stories are being published in a book soon. That way we preserve this treasure of erotic memories that didn’t make it in the film. The book is just as important.
LG: I learned, that my own limitations are the limits of the film. I will receive what I am open to understand. Often I was much more shy than the women in the film.
I also learned a lot about co-direction, this being my second co-direction, I learned to be humble and to deal with a total los of control.
Firstly I learned to trust the process of filmmaking and to trust our own methods. When we, often out of fear, walked away from our initial idea and methods, we began to loose the film. In documentary film, I think that you can always feel if we loose the authenticity in the premise of the film. Why are we looking. It is very simple but strangely easy to forget. If the directors try to cover their own reasons for making the film- out of vanity or fear or failure- the audience will see right through this.
AWFJ: What were your biggest challenges?
MCA: I think it was having enough time and production muscle to take care of the women. It took so much coordination and communication. Very difficult. We had an amazing caster working with us and also a very good producer during the pre-production who was very good in handling the women. It was also hard, personally, to overcome the “shame” of wanting to do this film in the beginning. I generally never use myself as subject in my films. It was very unpleasant for me to step in front of the camera but I felt like it was the absolute right thing to do in this film. Putting my own questions out there. In the end it proved to be extremely rewarding to me personally. I really feel I’m a very different women from when we started the project. I know so much about myself and I had so many amazing experiences during the production, just opening up and becoming curious with the film to the erotic. We have so much material that didn’t make it to the film. We want to do more with it.
LG: To make a film about sexuality is very confronting. It becomes very present in your life, as everything starts to become about sexuality. When people ask what you do- you get into discussions about sexuality- and this is constantly. The film has been made over a period of five years from idea through financing to a final film, and this is a very long time to focus on sexuality. After a while you cant escape it, and I felt that it was too much. I actually lost my own sexuality a bit while making the film, as it was hard to remain open. And it was artificial to constantly bee in this field in our minds.
Also it was very confronting- a big experience was also the sorrow I felt, when encountering so much younger women, who had so much more experience that I, an had come to conclusions I did only come to myself as I was much older. When some women were so happy and joyful, this was confronting as well, as I felt so far from this wonderful place myself. I learned a lot about how deeply connected sexuality is to happiness, sorrow and longing. To work for an artificially long duration with sexuality- due to the long process of film making and financing, was very challenging. How do you keep the energy up and maintain the curiosity to the subject after years of repeating the same idea at pitch-forums? Also we had many problems with our production company, who basically cared more about money than to make a good film. The hardest thing was to keep on going for these long processes- how to keep an intuitive approach, protecting intuition, and at the same time play the game.
AWFJ: Do you think that being female gave you a distinct perspective and/or way of handling the filmmaking process?
MCA: Yes I definitely feel only women could have made this film. The gaze is so different from the male, when you select material in edit for instance. I think it was something else than “sex” we were looking for. More like the spirit of female sexuality and desire and the force behind it.
LG: For sure. I think that this deep need for an understanding sexuality in our own gaze, made our approach more investigative, profound and filmic speaking very “searching”. Sometimes the dominating way is to declare that we know what the film will be from the beginning. We kept our selves open, and insisted of not drawing conclusions- as the investigation is a search in it self- a search to find a better language than the one we know. This might be a female approach, less focused on the dramaturgical safety, and more open to trust the process.
Also, I have to admit, that revenge was part of the motivation too. To show females, and their sexuality on a big screen, was a great drive. I often think about all the men from the village I grew up in, and how great it would be to show them this film. Perhaps not a very Noble reason, but as Danish director Jørgen Leth says- revenge is a real thing in the world.
AWFJ: What are your plans for the future?
MCA: We hope this film will go far. Our mission is to get it out in schools, this is the film we wish we would have seen as teenagers so its primarily for all the young girls out there. But we have had very good reactions both from older woman and men, so we just hope the film will inspire to some needed conversations! I’m working on my next project called Ghost Island, its a conceptual documentary about escapism and lost love. It’s taking place in the most touristic places on earth. Taking a break from sex and talk!
LG: I am currently editing a film that I started eight years ago. Apolonia, Apolonia is a coming-of-age story; an existential voyage into the mind of a young woman’s thoughts on sexuality, art, idealism and love as she lives and rethinks them during her twenties. The film follows young Apolonia from when she leaves Denmark to live out her dream of becoming an artist. We are with her when she enters l’Ecole Nationale Superieur Beaux Arts in Paris, when she parties, and when she tries conducts herself in the Aristocracy, and finally graduates and have the first professional meeting with the art-industry.
Also, I am making a political comedy with tragedy luring in all corners, set In the United Nations, where we have followed the process of electing the next secretary general Antonio Guterres. The film is nearly shot.
And then I am starting a next chapter in life, as I am expecting a little boy in the end of January.
AWFJ: Who are the Filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?
MCA: I’m very inspired by filmmakers and artist such as Chris Marker, Ulrich Seidl, Godard, Jesper Just, Andrea Arnold and Yorgos Lanthimos. I like the more anthropological and conceptual approach of mixing fiction and staged documentary.
LG: The poetry of classical documentary filmmakers as Pennebaker, Frederic Wisemann, Russian Victor Kossakowsky, Danish Max Kestner, Eva Mulvad and Jørgen Leth and the French Novel Vauges directors as Agnes Varda and Godard and Chris Marker are among my heroes.
AWFJ: What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?
MCA: It helps being stubborn and also you have to really believe in your ambition and vision, sometimes it feels like you have to prove twice as much to get there, but it helps having a good project. Try not to compromise and most important, surround yourself with skillful people. Your team is everything, so choose wisely.
LG: To insist on their own views on cinema, and to not fall into the pitfalls of prestige that comes often with reproducing the same narrative over and over again. A male hero overcoming obstacles and crying in the end, is one way of storytelling. We need other stories too. And to be aware, that often people are biased, and not to doubt their talent even though it is harder as a woman to get a shot.explore: documentaries | EDA Awards | IDFA | lea glob | mette carla albrechtsen | venus