Josefine Kirkeskov graduated from the National Film School of Denmark in 2015, with a Master’s in directing. Her graduation film “Heaven” was very well received among both the audience and film critics and was nominated for Best Short Film at the Premiers Plans – Angers Film Festival as well as Best Nordic Short at Nordisk Panorama. A recurring theme in Kirkeskov’s films is the confrontation of norms and ideals against human nature. She emphasizes the psychological issues between characters in order to create powerful dilemmas that stay with the viewer.
Her debut feature “Lifeboat” premiered in the “First Features” Competition section of the 2018 Black Nights Film Festival where Tara Karajica caught up with her.
How did Lifeboat come about?
Josefine Kirkeskov: I had the idea to make the film after the Syrian refugee crisis happened in Denmark and I started working on the film with the scriptwriter, Nanna Westh. We wanted to create a meeting of two women from different cultures and different positions; one was supposed to be the helper and one was easily put in the role of a victim and someone who needed help. We wanted to see how this would unfold in reality.
The title is particularly suggestive. Can you talk about that choice?
J.K.: The title refers to a lifeboat which is where you rescue people and we thought it was interesting in terms of who was actually saving whom in this film.
But it’s also a bit like the boat of life at the beginning where they are having this romantic holiday and life is taking its course and then the boat switches to being a lifeboat.
J.K.: That’s very nice! That’s how we thought it too; that it’s also how life changes…
Wonderful! In your directing, you show an ability to create real life with your characters, very raw and authentic. Your premise doesn’t seem like something that could not ever happen; it actually seems like something that might have already happened and something really real and palpable. Can you talk about that?
J.K.: I’m very happy that you see it like that because it was very important for me to make a film that was somehow realistic but, of course, taking the freedom that Film gives you… I interviewed Syrian women in order to create the part of Amal and I talked to women who lost a child for Sofia’s character. I also spent a lot of time putting myself in the shoes of the characters.
In that sense, how did you create them? What’s behind that particular choice? Why are they the way they are? Why did you choose to make them lose a child?
J.K.: We started with having Amal lose a child and that was the big story. But we wanted very much to tell a story about how it is to be the one who has to rescue someone or what is it that we don’t do right so that gave shape to Iben. And then, I was pregnant at the time and I was so afraid of losing the child… I was very interested in motherhood and what it is like when you either have to lose a child or to choose to leave a child behind and how that affects you; what that sorrow is like. We chose it because they would have something to meet over and, in the film, Iben thinks that they’re the same and that’s something that happens a lot when we meet people. If we think we can relate, we feel safer. So it was interesting to give them something that was similar but not the same at all.
You have a lot of close-ups, which denotes intimacy but it also enhances and reflects the psychology behind every character because they’re stuck in a small space and it leads to the exploration of space as they are confined to this small space in the middle of this bigger space and the way that everything unravels in this small space because there is no way out…
J.K.: Yes! You say it so well! That was basically what we wanted! To make the space a narrow space that no-one could escape and to also focus on the characters in it because what I wanted with the film was to put the people in this refugee crisis situation and how they handle it and then just say this is just people meeting each other and being confronted with their own inner fears or own stories.
There’s also this touch of mystery…How did that come into the story?
J.K.: We thought that it was very interesting to work with it as a genre, especially Nanna, the writer, who took that very much into the process of the film; to go into Iben’s head thinking how she is exploring Amal’s character and, in that sense, it was very good to make it as a sort of mystery.
Yes, because you expect that something bad will happen all throughout the film and that the climax will result in death, but then you fool us!
J.K.: That’s interesting!
Can you talk about shooting the film on the boat? That must’ve been quite an experience!
J.K.: Yes, that was quite intense! It was intense for the actors not to have any space to move around and it was intense for me. Having a small child while making a film is also a test! It was also because it gave something to the project that made everyone come together all the time. But it’s hard and I don’t think I would do it again.
The film was made by women. Can you talk about these choices? Were they conscious?
J.K.: They were – first of all, because they were the most talented and right for this film. But that said, I also think that I was also drawn to some very strong female personalities. They were all very strong women that I’ve been working with; all very clever when it came to the theme, and each of them had something very personal to give to the process.
Today women in film are a very hot topic. How do you see the situation? How is it in Denmark?
J.K.: I think that the focus #metoo has brought to the film industry is very important. I think, for myself, that I’ve become very aware of structural things from this debate and have grown a lot in my own perspective on things. I think we’ve learnt a lot from it, but I don’t think we’ve taken so much action about it in Denmark. I think we’re still working on that.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker and what is your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
J.K.: It used to be Sofia Coppola but I don’t know if it is anymore… When I was younger, I was very inspired by her. Lost in Translation was very much a film that I felt was made by a woman; that I could kind of relate to the things that she was interested in. I remember that when I saw it, there was this scene where she’s sitting in the window, calling back home, and they don’t understand that she’s in pain and that really did something to me.
What are your next projects?
J.K.: Right now, I’m shooting the Netflix TV show The Rain – 2 episodes – and then I have a film project that I’m developing the idea for.
This interview was conducted at the 2018 Black Nights Film Festival.