Sanna Lenken was born in Gothenberg, Sweden, and studied directing at the Dramatiska Institutet in Stockholm. She has directed two seasons of the series “Double Life” and the short film “Eating Lunch.” “My Skinny Sister” is her feature debut. (Press materials)
“My Skinny Sister” will premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on September 12.
W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.
SL: The film tells the story of two sisters, Stella and Katja. Just as Stella enters the exciting world of adolescence, she discovers Katja is hiding an eating disorder, which slowly tears the family apart. It’s a story about sisterhood, love and betrayal told through the eyes of a young girl who is trying to find out how to be herself.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
SL: There have been so many stories about alcoholism and drugs. Eating disorders are also a form of abuse, but rarely a theme in feature films that aren’t documentaries. I think the subject of eating disorders is very common, and it is an abuse that affects all the people around the sick person, just like alcoholism. Family and friends also become co-addicted. I wanted the film to be more universal, and that’s why I chose the younger sister as my main character. Through her, we can understand the disease, but also feel the frustration when you try to help someone you love who doesn’t want help.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
SL: The biggest challenge was finding my main actress. My main character is only 11-years-old and she is in every shot in the film. She had to be absolutely fantastic — and we found her only a month before shooting after searching for a year. Another challenge was to make the actors into an actual family. I wanted them to be able to show strong emotions in a way where you have to trust each other 100%. I rehearsed a lot, and in the end they became a real family.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
SL: I hope I have touched them in some way, and then I hope they will process their own experiences. I think sharing experiences is a great thing in order to change things in society.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
SL: Work hard and find stories you want to tell from your heart. The great thing for women is that there are so many stories which haven’t been told from our perspective and there is a huge audience just waiting to watch it.
W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
SL: The main discussion during financing for “My Skinny Sister” was that it is a ”girl’s film,” even though I find the film very universal. It is about human beings: a family and how they cope when a family member is not feeling well. Everyone should understand that — not only girls. I find it very interesting that I have watched so many films with men and I have never had a problem understanding their stories, so why would a man have a problem identifying with very human emotions just because the main lead is a girl?
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
SL: My producer Annika Rogell was in a European workshop course called EAVE with my script, and we got a co-producer there from Germany, Ilona Schultz. So the film is a co-production between Sweden and Germany. Both ZDF/Arte and Hamburg filmfond financed the project. Then it was nearly two years of financing, and during this period, I made a short film, “Eating Lunch,” about the same subject — it was good for us to show because it proved we could handle the subject and also make it artistic. Most of our money, we got it from the Swedish Film institute. They have been a great support when it comes to female directors.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
SL: French director Martine Dugowson’s “Mina Tannenbaum.” It was released when I was 16 (in 1994), and it is about the friendship between two women and how they try to find out how to be and how to be loved. I have watched it millions of times. Maybe it wouldn’t be my favorite film now, but it is by far the film that has affected me the most, since it was so rare to see a film about girls and made by a woman during the ’90s.