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TORONTO ’06 DISCOVERY INTERVIEW: Arni Olafur Asgeirsson: “It’s a personal journey. There is no “one

TORONTO '06 DISCOVERY INTERVIEW: Arni Olafur Asgeirsson: "It's a personal journey. There is no "one

Every day through the end of the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, indieWIRE will be publishing interviews with filmmakers in the Discovery section of the festival, which TIFF describes as “provocative feature films by new and emerging directors.”

Nineteen filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an e-mail interview, and each was sent the same questions. Director Arni Olafur Asgeirsson is at Toronto with her feature film, “Thicker Than Water,” which is the story of a man living a comfortable existence who suddenly abandons his family after discovering he is not the birthfather of the child that he and his wife had together.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What jobs have you had? Where are you working now?

I was born in 1972 in Reykjavik and grew up in a suburb, much like the one the characters in my film live in. Since I was about twenty years old I’ve been involved in different fields of the film industry in Iceland. I began working for free as a runner on smaller projects and slowly worked and developed towards my dream, which was to become a director.

At one point I was lucky enough to get a chance to work as an assistant director. First in shorts, then commercials and ended up as First Assistant Director on three feature films. That was a priceless opportunity for me to learn about the director’s role.

Currently I’m fortunate enough focus primarily on my own work as a director and screenwriter. I also teach at the Icelandic Arts Academy, where I provide workshops for drama students in film acting and I direct TV commercials.

What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker? What other creative outlets do you explore?

I belong to the first VCR generation. I grew up watching films on video with my brother and then gradually I began understanding that films are perhaps not just a cheap form of entertainment but in some instances they can be a powerful form of expression and personal vision and that intrigued me.

I seek a lot of my inspiration in films from around the world. But I think I’m a “realist” as a filmmaker so therefore I seek most of my inspiration primarily in the people that surround me and the immediate environment.

Did you go to film school? Or how did you learn about filmmaking?

I graduated in film directing from the Polish National Film School in Lodz in 2001. It’s one of the oldest schools in Europe and therefore it’s very disciplined and classic in its ideology. That was very healthy for me, coming from the much younger and restless culture of Iceland. At the same time the Polish school is very liberal and freethinking and it is a wonderful place to contemplate, soul search and experiment with what you have to “say”, through film, in a protected environment.

That doesn’t mean though that going to film school is the only way to become a working filmmaker. Many of my icons through film history never finished any film schools and many outstanding contemporary filmmakers found other roads towards becoming what they are. It’s a personal journey. There is no “one way” in this business.

What are your goals for the Toronto International Film Festival?

My goals for the Toronto International Film Festival is simply to present my film to people from around the world and hope they find something in it that they connect to.

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

The initial idea came about around the time a graduated from film school. It’s was a blurry idea about a middle aged man who one day, for no apparent reason, decides to leave his wife and children. It seemed like an interesting idea at the time. If only I’d known it would take me almost two years to figure out why he should leave them.

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

I think the most difficult part for me personally was the writing of the script and deciding what the film should really be about. Without Denijal Hasanovic and Jon Atli Jonasson, my co-writers, I would never have made it.

When it comes to the distribution of a film in a language that 300,000 people speak, things can get a bit tricky. So we are hoping that the story has a universal tone and that people outside our small domestic market will identify with the characters and their conflicts.

How did you finance the film?

Thankfully I didn’t have to finance my film. My producer Sorri Thorisson took the heat for that and did a great job and I’m very grateful to him for that. The film is a European co-production with the primary funding coming from the Icelandic Film Fund.

What are your biggest creative influences?

My biggest fear is that I’ve been heavily influenced by all the crap films that I’ve seen in my life because there are so many of them. But I hope that I’ve been able to learn a few bits from people like Milos Forman, Krzystof Kieslowski and recently the Dardenne brothers. I admire their faith in us.

What is your definition of independent film?

When people make a film and the driving force is the fear of loosing money, everyone involved becomes dependent. So being independent, in my opinion, is when financers take a chance and put their genuine trust in the artist’s vision and allow them to do the film according to their instincts, taste and temperament. This doesn’t mean any cooperation between the two, not at all. But I think it’s about trust. Putting trust the artists and last but not least, trusting the audience.

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

The film I return to most often is “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” Every time I see it again the reasons for my love for it change. It never seizes to amaze me. It works on so many layers. It’s genius. I’m patiently waiting for someone to make something like that again.

What are your interests outside of film?
I like to have people around me, people are always very interesting.

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

The filmmakers I look up to are the once that stick to it and keep on doing their thing, despite all the temptations. For me that’s success.

My personal goal as a filmmaker is to try to do the next film. My brain doesn’t reach further than that.

[Get the latest from the Toronto International Film Festival throughout the day in indieWIRE’s special Toronto ’06 section.]

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