Why She’s On Our Radar: Norweigan filmmaker Jannicke Systad Jacobsen turned heads at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival with her sweet (albeit provocatively titled) debut, “Turn Me On, Dammit!,” a coming-of-age tale that turns turns the tables on its American counterparts by centering on a female teenager (Helene Bergsholm) who wants to get off. The film charmed the pants off of critics and audiences (our own Eric Kohn was a fan), and walked away from the festival with distribution via New Yorker Films in the US.
What’s Next: “I’m writing my next script, which is an original idea,” Jacobsen told Indiewire from Norway. “It’s a tragic comic love story about people trying to be grownups. It’s different, but I think it has some of the realistic bittersweetness. It’s seeing everything subjectively from one person.”
The film, despite its racy title, is pretty endearing. How has the reception been in Norway, where the film came out last summer? Were people expecting a film that played more like its American counterparts?
In Norway, people know the book the film’s based on pretty well [by Olaug Nilssen]. I think they were prepared for something that was moresexually loaded than the film is. I think they were a bit surprised, actually.
Nobody had seen the film in Norway when it premiered at Tribeca. The marketing of the film was extremely sexual here, so expectations had a lot to do with sex. So some people were disappointed. But it did attract a lot of people, especially in their 20s. In the end, I think it turned out well.
Did you make this film for that generation?
Yeah. Back when I was a teenager, I always liked films that were about people that were older than me; films that challenged me. We didn’t set out to make a film for just teens, but for an older generation, too.
Having not known about the source material for “Turn Me On, Dammit!” prior to seeing it, I came out of the film presuming it was a story close to your heart since you penned the script. Did the book speak to you on a deep level?
I related to it in a kind philosophical and artistic way. I loved the sense of humor. The book had several small everyday episodes that resulted in one big drama. That’s what I like in films — it doesn’t have to be big and dramatic to be existential. That’s how life is in a way. It’s like this for teenagers. But also as a grownup, all the little things you go through every day make up your life. I think it was more that aspect of the work that appealed to me than the story itself.
You work with such a young cast. It was so refreshing to see a teen film actually populated with teens, and not 20-year-olds playing teens. Given the racy nature of the material, how did you make sure your cast was comfortable?
Well, first of all we did the casting in a town similar to the small one depicted in the film. All the teenagers had the experience of growing up in a remote location, so they could easily relate to the characters and their lives. During the casting we did tons of exercises, training them on how to act, playing out a scene through improvisation. When we got to shooting, I didn’t have the actors learn the lines by heart. I would just show them the script on set, so it felt like it was happening for the first time.
Was is difficult to get their parents’ consent?
No, it was not difficult. I think they were all under 18 before we started filming. They all needed to have their parents’ signature on their contracts. I met with Helene’s parents together with the casting director, and they really liked the script. I laid out my intentions and what the film would be like and how we were not going to exploit her; basically that I would make her comfortable. They were very proud that we chose her, and they trusted me. That was very important to me, to get their trust.
What do you think a male’s take on the material would have been?
It’s very hard to say because all people are different. Working with art in the first place is a soft thing, it’s not super masculine to be an artist. Directing a film of this nature depends on your sensitivity.
What’s the thing that irks you the most about how sex and nudity are portrayed in American film?
I think we just have a very different way of dealing with naturalism. I don’t understand how characters in American films sleep with their bra on. I don’t know anybody in their right mind who does that! It’s so painful! If you wake up in bed with your lover in an American film, you wake up with your bra on. To me that’s very artificial. I don’t think that happens… even for Americans.
It’s been this way for so many years, it’s like buying into a cliche in a way. But I think that’s why when you see foreign films that treat sexuality differently, you feel deliberately liberated in some ways.