Tea Lindeburg went to the alternative Danish film school Super16 from 2003 to 2006. She wrote the TV series “Equinox” (2020) for Netflix, as well as the podcast “Equinox 1985” (2017) for the Danish National Broadcaster, DR, which was nominated for the Prix Italia in 2017. She has directed shorts as well as children and teenage series for DR and TV 2. From 1999 to 2007, she organized the Cosmic Zoom Film Festival and hosted a film show on DR from 2009 to 2010.
Tara Karajica talks to Tea Lindeburg about feminism and film and her debut feature, “As In Heaven,” based on Marie Bregendahl’s 1912 novel “A Night of Death” that follows fourteen-year-old Lise, her aunt and grandmother and their everyday life on a farm during the end of the 19th century. The film depicts three different generations of women struggling to find their place in society. The film premiered at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, has screened at several film festivals, including the San Sebastián Film Festival, where Lindeburg took home the Silver Shell for Best Director, and Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl the Silver Shell for Best Leading performance, shared with Jessica Chastain. “As In Heaven” is now screening in the Europe! Voices of Women in Film program at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.
How did you get into filmmaking?
Tea Lindeburg: Film has always been magical to me. As a child of the ’80s, I grew up with just one channel on TV. There would be the Moomies on for thirty minutes a day; the rest of the time was programmed for the grown ups. So, I remember Friday evenings watching Charlie Chaplin, Hitchcock, Truffaut or Billy Wilder films with my parents and not understanding much of what was going on, but it didn’t matter. It was magical. What was especially magical was how my mother was able to foresee the stories. How could she know when she hadn’t seen the film before? I could not understand how this was possible. I was mesmerized. When I was nine, my father bought a HI-8 video camera. To this day, I have no idea why because it was not an obvious choice in a family that still swore by the old black and white TV. But it was my luck! I quickly took over the camera and started making my own little stop-motion films. And, that was the beginning of a lifelong love. And, the more films I did and the more films I watched, I slowly learned my mother’s magic trick. Now, the films I love the most are the ones where that trick does not work. Films that take me on a journey outside and inside of myself that I do not see coming.
How did As In Heaven come about?
T.L.: As In Heaven is based on a book from 1912 that was always on the bookshelf in my childhood home. A Night of Dying is the title and it always drew me in. Three weeks after my son was born, I accidentally pulled it out and started reading it, and was blown away. Not just because I had just given birth myself, but because the story seems so universal and contemporary and I was blown away by the children’s position in the story. How they were witnesses to their own tragedy, but unable to do anything. That really blew me away and I knew I had to turn it into a film.
The film is a coming-of-age story of women and girls, about being forced to grow up overnight, about hopes and dreams bring shattered, about the fragility of life that can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye, but also about, faith, spirituality, childhood, imagination, realizing you cannot change your destiny, but you can do your best with what you have, finding hope when all seems lost, female struggles, dangers, disadvantages, dilemmas. Can you comment on that?
T.L.: I believe that all the things you mention is exactly why I was so drawn to this story. It might seem, on the surface, like a small simple story about a girl who looses everything overnight, but to me there is so much more to it. It is a depiction of a female destiny that has been a female destiny for centuries and still is in many parts of the world. At the same time, it questions religion, superstition, science, destiny and faith. It is a story about being human, about how we all try to find a meaning and a place in an unforgiving world and in circumstances that are harsh. But it is also full of beauty, imagination, love and hope. Because isn’t that what life is?
As In Heaven tackles worldly matters that overlap with the imaginary and the spiritual, laying out both the personal and social costs of exclusionist dogma and questions how it poses a threat to individual lives and social progress in more general terms. For instance, Lise’s vision impacts the outcome of the birth and other trivial matters depicted in the film – both significant and less important – are influenced by religion, superstitions, biases, beliefs, social traditions and customs, emotions. And, in that sense, a sort of struggle ensues between superstition and common sense and between folklore and faith. Can you delve deeper into this matter?
T.L.: I think there is no clear answer. Does the mother die because her dream came true or does she die because she held onto the dream? Would she have been saved if the doctor had arrived earlier? These questions of what ifs is human circumstance. As far as we know, we have this one life and the meaning we give to it is the meaning it has. In many ways, both truths co-exist because my truth is not necessarily someone else’s truth. Each of the characters comes away from this night with individual explanations as to why this tragedy happened. I believe that is very important and the reason why we as humans can find it hard to co-exist. We want to convince others of our truth, but in reality there is no universal truth. It is the dilemma we as humans have always struggled with and it is a lonely reality, but the more we can accept that, the more we can accept each other.
Are you superstitious?
T.L.: I think I am. No, I am for sure. But I also believe in science!
In that regard, the characters in the film are hindered by lack of education and fear, and a parallel can be drawn between these traits and what we are witnessing today in terms of fake news (misinformation), a strong anti-science current and paranoia. Can you comment on that?
T.L.: Obviously, I am all for education and science and vaccines, but I don’t believe the two necessarily are contradictory. Faith and religion have nothing to do with the lack of education, which I find is often a misinterpretation. Some of the most educated people I know still believe in something bigger than themselves. Faith is difficult to discuss. If you believe, you believe. It is not something you chose to do, it is just what you do. It often seems like atheists describe it as a choice that can be unchosen. That clearly just shows they do not know how faith works, which I understand, because if you don’t believe, it may for sure seem silly looking at it from the outside.
To me, what is scary is fundamentalism. And, fundamentalism can also thrive in science. When we think we have the final answer and that answer is the right one for everyone. We will never have the final answer. The sooner we accept that, the freer we are. This points back to my thoughts on a universal truth.
We need to look out for each other, embrace each other, be curious of each other – not condemn and hate. Only with curiosity and respect will we grow.
In these times, I think the biggest difficulty is that we seem to have forgotten basic common sense. Perhaps we should question if democrats really do eat babies, or if it seems logical to go out partying the night before Covid restrictions set in again or if we really have to wait for the light to turn green before crossing if there are no cars. Let’s try to bring common sense and inclusion back into humanity. And, let faith and science co-exist.
As In Heaven is a portrait of a young woman’s developing consciousness on several levels – social, sexual, and one related to gender issues. However, the film eschews taking any position on Lise’s both Lise’s life and obligations. Can you talk about this choice?
T.L.: I am not the one to tell anyone what to think. I am only interested in raising questions and telling a story and then it’s up to the individual viewer to take from it what they want. If the film has accomplished raising questions and evoking emotions in the viewer, then that is my highest achievement.
In that sense, you also tackle the submission of a woman’s life to her domestic responsibilities, without however openly expressed in dialogues. There is also an accent on childbirth and the relationship between mother and daughter, the film showing the mothers’ pivotal role in the children’s rearing through the sharing of their wisdom, their strengths and experiences. Can you elaborate on that?
T.L.: The film is a slice of a time period in Denmark. It was a time of change where girls were just on the cusp of getting education and having other possibilities than just following in their mothers’ footsteps. Men and women had different and equally important responsibilities in a household. This time period is often depicted from the men’s perspective, but I found it interesting to be in the women’s quarter.
Childbirth as the main catalyst for a story is not something I had seen, which intrigued me. Somehow, it is still taboo, which seems so absurd to me because it is the beginning of life for all of us and the end of life for some. How is this not the most common subject in all art?
I believe we all stand on the shoulders of the ones who came before us just as others will stand on ours. The more we understand our past, the more we will understand our present and our future.
Can you talk about the female characters in the film? How do you see them?
T.L.: I think the characters in the film speak for themselves. I have tried to be as loving and loyal to each one of them as I possibly could. I have tried to undertand them all. That was my main goal and main obligation.
And, the casting and shooting processes?
T.L.: I knew that the most important would be to find Lise. I needed a girl who was not quite a child and not quite a teenager. Just that exactly right age. So, we cast many, many girls for many, many months. When Flora came in, I immediately knew this girl had something special. After Lise, came the role of the mother. I already had Ida in my mind from the beginning, so luckily they also looked alike. Then came all the many children. In many ways, it is their story. That little group of siblings. Most of the children had never acted before, so we did many rehearsals and we shot for most parts in chronological order so they were able to develop emotionally with their character as the story unfolded.
What were the challenges when making this particular film?
T.L.: Many! We shot on film, during Covid, with children, elders and animals and had many exterior scenes, so were very dependent on the weather. We shot it in twenty-five days with the best little crew and lived together in the countryside of Denmark. I believe God was with us! Haha!
Are you a feminist? If so, how does this inform your filmmaking?
T.L.: Just by being a woman, I am by proxy, I would say. Of course, it is not something that consciously informs my filmmaking; the stories that speak to me, speak to me. I don’t believe in political art for politics’ sake. I have no political agendas setting out, I just want to tell this story, but if the art ends up having a political tone, I embrace it. This film has turned out to be way more feminist than I saw it coming. I have been working on it for ten years, but times have changed since I set out to do it and it ended up landing right in the peak of the new times of feminism. And, perhaps, it is not coincidental, perhaps it needed this time to be able to be made.
What subjects interest you and that you would like to tackle in your work? What would you like audiences to come away with after watching your films?
T.L.: I do feel that I am drawn to questions more than answers. I am drawn to the human condition, suffering, love and the search for meaning. The fact that we all are these little humans in this huge universe and we have a bit of time on Earth to live and how we find our way in that. I think the most important for me is that it has to feel honest. That we get to be in someone else’s life for a moment and we try to understand them. That we are able to step outside of ourselves for a time and perhaps see the world through their eyes. And, maybe we will realize that we are all the same deep inside.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker and what is your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
T.L.: I love Agnès Varda. The film Cleo From 5 to 7 is a film I always go back to. I don’t know exactly what it is; there is so much I don’t really understand about it, but what I do understand is the emotions it evokes in me. Like a long lost friend, a distant memory, a visceral visual journey. This woman waiting for answers while searching for her own existence and life through Paris in the ’60s. I have always hated discussing films right after I leave the theater –unless I hate it. If it invokes something in me, I need time to let it sit and for it to come back to me again and again in glimpses and feelings.This is the way I feel about Cleo From 5 to 7. It has never stopped coming back.
There has been a lot of talk about the situation of women in the film industry these past four years. What is your take on the matter? How is it in Denmark?
T.L.: It is a difficult question. Because I always felt very strongly that I absolutely did not want to have any privilige for just being a woman, I wanted to compete on the exact same terms as the men. But it also took me fifteen years to make my first feature. And, I am quite sure, during that time, I was just as talented as many of the men who got their films produced. But male films, male directors and male stories were the ones we knew. The ones we were used to. They were safer bets. I remember a male colleague of mine told this story of how he had cried while pitching his film at the Danish Film Institute and he got the money. And, I remember thinking: ”Had that been a woman, they would have deemed her unstable, hysterical, too emotional.” Times have changed and I am happy they have. And, my view on it has too. I believe now that Denmark should have been more progressive in developing female talent. Now, I feel we are on the other side of that, lots is being developed thanks to new visionary editors. I also have no need anymore to prove that I am as good as the men. I know I am. But in order for young girls to dream of becoming directors, they need other women they can mirror themselves in. And, I am proud and honored if I can inspire in any way.
What are you working on next?
T.L.: I am working on several projects. One is about the big witch hunt in Europe in the 1600s based on true Danish trials and accounts. Another is a tragic love story set on the Faroe Islands based on an old myth. And then, there are all the US projects – a new opportunity that has opened up after As In Heaven.
Photo credits: Courtesy of Tea Lindeburg.
This interview was conducted in partnership with: