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TORONTO ’07 DISCOVERY INTERVIEW: Paprika Steen: “I believe all desperate actions come from the lonel

TORONTO '07 DISCOVERY INTERVIEW: Paprika Steen: "I believe all desperate actions come from the lonel

Throughout the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, indieWIRE will be publishing interviews with filmmakers in the Discovery section of the festival, which TIFF describes as a showcase for new and emerging filmmakers from contemporary international cinema.

Fourteen filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an e-mail interview, and each was sent the same questions. Director Paprika Steen is at Toronto with her feature film, “With Your Permission,” which is about a is about a opera-obsessed hero who works as a cafeteria manager on a Copenhagen ferry. TIFF describes the film as pushing “every button it gets near” and “propelled by its characters’ complete inability to face obvious truths and by our extreme discomfort.”

Please tell us about yourself.

I was born in Denmark in 1964. My father was a Danish bandleader and my mother was born in the United States but emigrated to Denmark when she was 18. I grew up in a real poor bohemian home, with a lot people, cats and the smell of paint and loud music and smoke. A wild child through school, I was lonely and outsiderish but always the fun girl in class.

What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?

I moved from home at the age of 15, and survived the next eight years cleaning, waitressing and living in 20 different places in Copenhagen, New York and for a short time in Paris. I tried to get into theatre school for five years and succeeded in 1988 in Odense, Denmark. I was a comedienne for a lot of years, developed a sketch comedy television show with three other people called “Lex & Klatten“. After 5 years in the comedy world in TV, theater and film, I decided to make another turn at serious acting. I as then employed at the Royal Danish Theater for five years, while participating in the New Wave of Danish film called Dogme. My first big part on screen was the tormented neurotic sister “The Celebration,” directed by Thomas Vinterberg. That was followed by small parts in three other Dogme films (“The Idiots,” directed by Lars Von Trier; “Mifune,” directed by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen; “Open Hearts,” directed by Susanne Bier).

And that was the circumstances that lead me into directing. Although I have always been a film buff and escaped my life by visiting movie theaters four times a week in my teens, my courage grew as I worked with all these great, different and innovating Danish directors.

I did not go to film school – although I wanted to – but a mentor of mine told me not to and just do it. “Make a movie, Paprika! That’s your biggest passion and your biggest fear.” And then I did.. fearful, thrilled, estatic and deeply happy. I never thought that I would dare, but ahhh, this was the place to be for me. Film is what this life is about for me. As a curse and as a blessing.

When I started directing I read a book by Sidney Lumet and picked up a lot of good ideas and great tips for my personal handbook. All other inspiration comes from watching movies everyday. Good and bad, masterpieces, turkeys, etc., and then steal everything I can from everyone, and then mix it with my own subconscious, my love for human beings and definitely also my despise of human beings, the ridicule, sadness and above all the loneliness of everyone in the western world. I see loneliness as the most interesting feeling. I believe all desperate actions come from the loneliness inside you.

What are your goals for the Toronto International Film Festival?

Getting a distribution for “With Your Permission”, watching films and meeting interesting people.

How/where did the initial idea for your film come from and/or evolve?

The initial idea came from scriptwriter Anders Thomas Jensen. But he was very focused on the female version of domestic violence. When he introduced me to the story, I said I wanted to understand why the woman beat up her husband.

Then we worked on it for a year or so, and slowly the opera thing came, and it became the greatest love story about sacrificing your inner soul for marriage and what that does to you. Give up your talent and passion for love and both you and the love will suffer and die.

And also something about the Salieri type, who will not see that he’s never going to be Mozart and that he would be happier finding another dream.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution for the movie?

The comedy in it… God its so difficult to direct comedy, I find it so much easier to act funny thats just something you do…

But directing it, orchestrating it. You see, I wanted to make a Chaplin movie, a good old fashioned slapstick thing that grew into a big melodrama where we all cry at the end, and that was actually really really hard to figure out. I dont even know if the audience will see it that way. But that was my intention. Laugh hard and then cry.

What are your creative influences?

All of “them”…

But mostly contemporary American film, painters, music and books but also European directors I admire like Scola, Fellini, Leone, Bergman, Bunuel and Godard. All in all I’m very old-fashioned and very influenced by the 70’s. I wished I was part of all the “Easy Rider“-“Raging Bull” era.

What are some of your all-time favorite films? What are some of your recent favorite films?

City Lights“, “The Deer Hunter“, “The Conversation“, “The Last Picture Show“, “The Ice Storm“, “Happiness“, “Magnolia“, “Manhattan“, “The Bicycle Thief“, “Singing in the Rain“, “Midnight Cowboy“.

Recent films I like are “Brokeback Mountain“, “The Lives of Others“, “Meet the Fockers“, “The Sixth Sense“, “Crumb“.

What are your interests outside of film?

My everyday life and making it work.

How do you define success as a filmmaker? What are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

I can’t define that. Success is something other people must define for you. To become better and better and better, and one day dare to write my own personal story and then make it worth watching on screen. Not beeing afraid of reviews… maybe to work with all my idols and role models.

What are your future projects?

I’m going to be starring in a movie directed by Kristian Levring. Then I’m actually going to play Martha in “Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” And then I’m developing my next film which I hope is going to be a western-like psycho drama. I’ve always dreamed of directing a western in a desert with an open sky, and a technicolor sunset with the sound of gunshots cars and deep silence.

[Get the latest from the Toronto International Film Festival throughout the day in indieWIRE’s special Toronto ’07 section.]

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