[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE is publishing two interviews daily with Sundance ’07 competition filmmakers through the end of the festival later this month. Directors with films screening in the four competition section were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview, and each was sent the same set of questions.]
In “The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun,” 82-year-old Mr. Vig has always dreamed of making his crumbling Danish castle into a monastery. When a Russian Orthodox delegation decides to take it on, Mr. Vig meets his match in a headstrong task-master, Sister Ambrosija. Their ideas of what a proper monastery should be clash, yet eventually bind them in a close friendship. Anyone reading this description might assume that Pernille Rose Gronkjaer‘s film is fiction. In fact, Gronkjaer’s entry into Sundance’s World Documentary competition takes much from the filmmaker’s love of pure story. Previously, “The Monastery” won the Joris Ivens Award at the IDFA.
Please introduce yourself…
My name is Pernille Rose Gronkjaer and I am 33 years old. I work as a freelancer at Tju-Bang Film in Denmark where I just finished my latest film “The Monastery”. I have been a freelancer for about 9 years now and I have made a lot of documentary films and television programmes. I have been challenged in both artistic and commercial ways.
I was born in Aalborg in the northern part of Denmark where I also grew up. Education and the work situation made me move to Copenhagen – the capital of Denmark – where I live now.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
I started doing radio on a local radio/television station in Aalborg. I was curious and liked asking people questions. I was also very preoccupied with beauty and therefore very visually interested so the switch from radio to television was natural. At one time my wise mother told me to get an education and she found the ad in the paper from The National Film School of Denmark. I applied and luckily got in!
How did you learn about filmmaking?
At the National Film School of Denmark I was also introduced to the fiction film tradition. With the inspiring education from very good teachers – especially head of the documentary department Arne Bro – I learned a new language of filmmaking. It was time for developing my artistic expression. Elements from the fiction world – storytelling and developing characters – together with exploring my own personal stories and experiences opened my eyes to the way I tell stories today. Both fiction and documentary filmmaking are very appealing to me. In the end the most important thing is telling a story that touches, moves and entertains the audience, and at the same time respects your main characters.
Please elaborate a bit on “Monastery,” how did the idea for the film come about?
“The Monastery” is the story about the 82-year old bachelor Mr. Vig, who has never known love, and Sister Ambrosija, a young Russian nun, who by chance or destiny becomes part of his life.
50 years ago Mr. Vig bought Hesbjerg Castle, situated in the Danish countryside, with the purpose of turning it into a monastery. Now, many years later, he is about to realize his old dream. A group of Russian Orthodox nuns are on their way, and thus Mr. Vigs life-long dream is about to come true. But nuns have plans and wills of their own, and Mr. Vig must realize that the road to fulfilling his dream is very much different than what he imagined.
I have always been fascinated by old people: Strong old people with a good strong character. They hold a lot of wisdom from a life-long experience. At the same time I am interested in visual beauty and as I found this old wonderful man and his castle in this fairytale forest, I knew I had to make a film. The lighting at Hesbjerg Castle is of another world.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film, as well as your overall goals for the project.
I wanted to make a fairytale – actually a funny fairytale, because I very quickly discovered that Mr. Vig had a great sense of humour. I liked Mr. Vig very much so it was very important for me that the audience liked him too. I think that humour is an important element when you want to create sympathy. Humour and laughing opens us up to understanding and accepting the harder things in life.
How did the financing for the film come together?
Seven years ago, when I met Mr. Vig, I was the only one who believed in his story. Nobody gave my any funding for the film so for 5 years I was on my own, filming without any money. After 5 years I met my producer Sigrid Dyekjær from Tju-Bang Film who was the first to really take an interest in the project. She saw a lot of my material and was convinced that I had shot at pretty good film. After that we got funding from The Danish Film Institute, Yle and Nordic Film and TV Fund and DR2 in Denmark. We got the greatest team: Film editor, Pernille Bech Christensen, Sound designer Kristian Eidnes Andersen and composer Johan Soderquist and a lot of other great people. Today we have made a great film. I am very honoured to work with all these great people and proud to have kept on believing in the project from the early beginning.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the movie?
Keeping on believing when no one else did.
What do you hope to get out of the festival?
I hope that the Sundance Film Festival will give me an opportunity to meet new people. I would very much like to make films in the US and this might be the opportunity to make new acquaintances for that purpose. Overall meeting people, seeing films and talking is always very inspiring.
Describe the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance.
I was at the office. My producer Sigrid (reading the e-mail) cried out from her office: WE ARE ACCEPTED AT SUNDANCE! We were very happy and danced around the tables.
What are some of your favourite films, and why?
“Forrest Gump” – because it always makes me cry.
“Brokeback Mountain” – because life is all about love.
“Citizen Kane” – because the pain is unbearable.
“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” – because it is a fairytale and “real life” combined in a great way.
“When Harry Met Sally” – because it is the best romantic comedy ever made.
“Sleepy Hollow” – because I love the visual universe.
“Grey Gardens” – because that is what documentary is all about.
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