Member of the Month - Stina Gardell, Mantaray Film, Sweden
In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group. Our EDN member of the month for January 2013 is Stina Gardell, Mantaray Film, Sweden.
Stina Gardell is educated from the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts. After directing several radio- and film documentaries and working as a producer at the Swedish Radio, Stina started the production company Mantaray Film in 2005. As a producer Stina has received some of the most prestigious Swedish awards; Guldbaggen, Kristallen and the Ikaros prize, and in 2007 and 2012 her films won Prix Italia for Best documentary and she was recently awarded a Prix Europa Special Commendation for the film He Thinks He’s the Best (2011), directed by Maria Kuhlberg. After focusing on the producer role for several years Stina is now returning to directing with the documentary Lost Boy, which is currently in development.
Stina’s filmography as a director includes Cornelia – the Rainbow Child (2005), Magen är mitt centrum (2002), The Perfect Arab (2002), See Me (2000), and För husfridens skull (1995).
As a producer recent titles include Dare Remember (2012, Ewa Cederstam), He Thinks He’s the Best (2011, Maria Kuhlberg), I Am My Own Dolly Parton (2011, Jessica Nettelbladt), Blood Calls You (2010, Linda Thorgren), The Nun (2007, Maud Nycander), and a Mother’s Comeback (2011, Åsa Ekman).
EDN has talked to Stina about her current productions and how it is for an experienced producer to return to the role of director.
EDN: What made you start your own production company back in 2005?
SG: Several things coincided. It was both my own inner journey and external circumstances which finally convinced me to start a company. I had worked with documentary storytelling as a director since 1994, both in radio and television. It's tough to be a freelance director and I felt just like many others, a great loneliness. I started fantasizing about starting my own company, where I, as a director, would make my own movies. I wanted to build my own dream scenario, "If I were a director I would like to meet such a producer." That was the basic idea. What I never had, others would find through me. I wanted to be a magician, who helped realize dreams and had the director's vision in focus. I wanted the company, at the same time, to be a sort of meeting place for documentary filmmakers. I fantasized about this a lot, even while I struggled on with my films, directing and self producing as many others do.
In Sweden, we have not had a tradition of documentary producers in the same way as you can see in Europe, and not least in Denmark and Norway. In Sweden it was normal for the directors to also be their own producer. But as I said, I had begun to formulate a kind of dream about my own company when one day I suddenly got a call from "the Danes", "the pros from the outside world, outside of Sweden." A major Danish producer from the company Final Cut Productions, Thomas Stenderup, called me and wanted to schedule a meeting about starting up a company in Sweden which they would support. The background of the idea was a discussion which had come up in Reykjavik, at the Nordic Forum, about why there were so few producers in Sweden. And the question was raised about why so many Swedish directors came to Norway and Denmark to find a producer. Thomas had, with Siggve Andreassen from Motlys in Norway, gotten an idea that those "old timers" would support a new Swedish producer. They had been probing the terrain and when my name had come up, Thomas phoned suddenly one day and wanted to meet.
For me it was absurd at the time, and Thomas was clear that I had to choose between being a producer and a director. You can not be both, he said. It was the start of many new ideas but in any case, I decided to give it a chance. His pep talks got me to start my company and the support gave me a way out into producing internationally, which for me was completely new. Mikael Opstrup was then the producer from Final Cut Productions who I worked with the most, and even Signe Byrge Sørensen, who now operates the new company, Final Cut for Real.
It's a pretty long story but several things coincided at the same time and with support from, among others Final Cut, I dared to take the steps and started the company in 2005. Another thing that has always driven me is that it is said that one can not make a living as a documentary producer. A theory worth challenging ...
EDN: Is there a common mission or overall idea that is reflected in the projects produced by Mantaray Film?
SG: Yes. For me it is very important to take note of the director's own vision. There must be a strong idea of why this film should be made. I do not produce films as a kind of factory, or because it is so fun to work with film. For me, the films must tell you something. The very first thing I look at is the topic. Form is number two. Form for me is a tool that you will find to best convey the particular story. So the movies I produce can be purely journalistic, it may be portraits of famous people, music documentaries, or personal films where the director themselves are their own protagonist. I have a wide range but what connects the dots is the strong vision. The thing I'm most proud of when I look at the films I've produced is that they actually bear the director's imprint. I do not really like to talk about a good or bad movie, but for me a good movie is one where I've managed to get that imprint across clearly.
I work a lot with movies that deal with looking behind the facades, to bring out the complexity of human beings. I want to deepen the media image of being human. I also have a lot of Gandhi in me where I believe in changing the world by daring to show one's face. The more people dare to show themselves, the more the world is changing, I think. Therefore, I work hard to develop courageous stories, such as rape, domestic violence, family secrets, social heritage; often told from the "victim's own perspective", i.e. that they make their film about what it's like to be in such a situation. I believe that sometimes we need to change perspective. Who am I when I get to tell my own story, when not only filmmakers look at people, but when people tell the story themselves. It often gives a different point of view.
Film for me is also very much about communicating. I want people to watch my films. It is incredibly important for me to reach the audience. To have films not answer questions but rather ask new questions that the audience can take home and think about in relation to their own lives. The dream is that my films start conversations and at the same time be entertaining and not least, filled with humor.
EDN: You started your career as a documentary director. What made you shift to the producer role?
SG: I finally chose to become a full-time producer because I had a daughter, and was alone with her, and realized that what I normally promise my participating characters, to be available to them day and night, I now had to promise her. I could not continue as a director and so I took the opportunity to start the company. Built an office filled with binders but also with baby toys ... I now have two kids and my oldest daughter is seven years like the company, but since I produce so many female directors quite a number of children are born during each production. It takes so long to finance and make a film that we usually count on between 1-3 children to be born per production. During one movie, it was five children ... so I'll never get rid of the kids toys....
EDN: You are now returning to the role of director with the project Lost Boy. Can you tell what this project is about and what attracted you to it?
SG: The film is about being a child, living in a violent family, and about building up a lie in order to protect the family. Jan is a boy who was in the wrong place. He is a footballer who hates football but who did what all the other guys did, played football. Unfortunately, it turned out that he was very good so it became a chosen career for him. At the same time he grew to despise himself and began to obsessively work out. He developed severe anorexia and orthorexia (an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food), and at age 18 his demons developed into severe psychoses. The lies made him sick and he as a boy had no place to talk about it.
I have long wanted to make films about other kinds of male narratives. Those which also do not fit the media image. I have kind of a reputation as a kind of female story teller who has produced many female directors and often had women in the lead role. It has never been because I'm particularly fond of women stories, but more that those stories have not been told. They stuck out. And that's the case with this image of the man. Who is the man when he tells it himself? Jan was speechless because he had no one to talk to. He found no place in the world of football to talk about feelings. Through pictures and paintings, he has now found his own language. I'm very fond of this story and of course I recognize myself in my main character. Parts of his story is also mine. I also carry the light as a protector of my family's secret, and it is that silence which has been hardest for me to live with. Constantly lying. Of course, this is also the basic engine to why I make films. About daring to share your story and through that see others become less ashamed of themselves. When Jan came to see me, I could not say no. I will be the one to tell this one, and even though my role as producer and president takes time, this is an important film for me
EDN: What do you see as the biggest challenge in returning to the director role?
SG: It's actually a bit nerve racking. It takes so much to get a strong film in place. I know that now after all these years as a producer. I'm nervous about the time, or the lack of my time. I also hope that the role of producer, dramaturge which has emerged in me will not stand in the way between me and the main character. That I can let go of the production and only serve the story. I'm afraid of the kind of ”film wisdom" that has accumulated in me over the years as a producer ... Have I lost my courage to still make a film or do I now know too much. Will it be a hindrance? I see this as my biggest challenge. Have my years as a producer and pundit ruined my own sensibility? Can I still direct? ... I think of stuff like that.. I need to try to just stay present in the director role.
EDN: Lost Boy is participating in the EDN co-production workshop Twelve for the Future, where the second part takes place in Helsinki this month. What has it meant for the project to take part in this workshop and how can you benefit from meeting the financiers in Helsinki, who already knows you as a producer?
SG: Yes, it will be exciting to be there as a director and not as the producer they usually meet. I've never directed a film for an international audience. So in one way, this is totally new to me and in another way it's a comeback as a director. But to meet financiers and sell movies is my job. So now to suddenly be standing there naked with one's own material is something else entirely. Lost Boy being accepted for Twelve for the Future has been very good for the project. It has forced me to start in earnest, to film, cut a pilot and formulate thoughts. I think I will need deadlines and challenges along the way. Many decisions have been made precisely because of the seriousness that you face when you are in this kind of workshop. You get a chance. For me it means a lot to have this opportunity to meet funders/financiers while in development, so that I can see if this is a movie that can touch them or not. I have fully developed this film with my own money and I am obviously nervous to see if they want me to do this movie. If they believe in me as a director.
EDN: You are producing Lost Boy together with Anna Weitz. Why did you choose not to dedicate yourself solely to the director role?
SG: Because I still own my company and must act as executive producer. Anna Weitz is employed by me. It felt strange not to take on part of the responsibility that will still have to fall on me. I also think of Anna as an upcoming, strong producer, so this movie will be an opportunity for her to grow as a producer in my company. I'll really try to let her in so she can be the producer I need so that I can focus on the role of director.
EDN: Besides Lost Boy you are currently also working as producer of The Hunted, which was presented at the Central Pitch at IDFA last year in November. Please tell a bit more about this project and how you became involved in it?
SG: It was director Rebecka Rasmusson, who presented the idea to me. She showed me excerpts from her first recordings and I felt right away that this was something I wanted to do. Rebecka and I have made a feature film together before. The very first thing that I produced and it will be great to make a new movie together. Rebecka has a particular ability to connect with very special stories. She has an ability to gain the confidence of those who usually do not want to be seen. The main character is one of the greatest female impostors of our time. She completely pulls away from the media, but Rebecka manages to reach her through a personal letter, which was processed and delivered by her lawyer. We have followed her sporadically for almost a year and the trust between them has grown. With full access, it will be a very strong film. The protagonist stole 160 million Danish kroner from the company where she held a top position. She had lied about everything in her past since she was 17 years old. Now everything has fallen apart. What will be left? Who is she? What causes a person to cross certain boundaries? Who will she become after a few years in prison, a single mother of two children. It is a film about the corporate culture and what money does to people.
EDN: How is it to pitch at IDFA’s Central Pitch and did it lead to any new concrete deals?
SG: It went very well indeed. This seems to be a movie for international TV. If we make the film as we have presented it as IDFA, we will have laid a super foundation for the entire financing. We have teamed up with the distribution company First Hand Films, who I always wanted to work with, and will try to use them as our sales agent already now. This is one thing I have never tried but have been curious about, so it feels great. They have also been clear that they want to work with us so that makes it fun. Then we also got three LOC in place. NRK, YLE and Swiss TV and a lot of great meetings with broadcasters from around the world. I had 24 meetings afterwards so it was very fun to pitch. But it was scary. Of course, it's one of the biggest Forums and anyone who does not get a little nervous presenting can not be real. All of a sudden one is hit with self doubt, questioning yourself and whether you are worthy enough to be there. But I got help from peppery pitch coaches who said - You are selected from hundreds of projects, obviously, you are good enough to be here .. That helped. Then when you're actually pitching, it's just fun. It's beforehand that the ghosts arrive, but once it starts, it just feels good. We were very well prepared too. We had control. IDFA was well organized this year too so I felt well taken care of… We're onto a good start after IDFA.
EDN: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges when it comes to producing documentaries today?
SG: It's unfortunately money. I do not really want to talk economy, but without money, it is difficult to create movies with the same high quality and for theatrical release which is what I really strive for. We can make a movie for the web and apps, but I want to make films for the screen also. Why invest so much in a visual expression that then only is viewed on a mobile phone. I hope that the industry continues to work in parallel with these different distribution systems and viewing windows. That we work to keep the movie in cinemas at the same time as we find all sorts of other fun ways to display it.
There is a kind of anxiety that I always worry about. I have my background in radio and think we should learn from it. It was said that new media would knock out the radio but it is now stronger than ever. For it chose to remain. Though many condemned it. I believe that we always will want to sit together in a room and watch a movie together. And at the same time we need to find new paths for documentary film. The big challenge is to make room for everything at once.
EDN: Several of your films are co-productions with other Nordic countries. The Hunted is for example a co-production with the Danish company made in copenhagen. What are the advantages of being part of the Nordic region when it comes to producing documentaries?
SG: There is a simplicity in that our countries are so similar. The Film Institutes work quite similarly, and we share the same language in principle. With a strong Nordic partnership I can finance a film in addition to the money I get from Sweden. There is of course a huge advantage that we have such a strong film policy in the Nordic countries. So even though we complain, I know exactly what it is like for my colleagues in Europe. With public service television and the Nordic film institutes, we have a strong position.
EDN: How do you find good co-production partners?
SG: I meet colleagues at the Pitching Forums I go to, and that's where I meet people I want to work with. I see the different Forums primarily as a venue for this particular form of contact more than a place that gives me money. In the beginning, I thought I would have a producer in every country in Scandinavia, more like a permanent partner, but over time I have realized that different projects require different production companies, also as co-producers. So today I maintain working relationships with several companies within the Nordic countries, depending on the kind of movie. I've also started some more lasting relationships with producers in the rest of Europe.
EDN: Last but not least - what lies ahead for you and your company?
SG: We have 20 movies in development at various stages, three of the films go into editing this spring, so we have a lot to do. In addition, there are three co-productions that will also go into production. We have a lot of fun ahead of us. I am also working hard to find new ways to screen the movies. It is difficult to make a movie. So when it is finished, one also wants it to be seen by someone. It has been a great disappointment to me that it is so at the mercy of what a distributor will say, if they take it on or not. It is awful to be so dependent on others. One of the reasons that I run my own company is to not have to ask others for permission all the time but just do what you yourself believe in. Since the distribution is so difficult, I've simply decided to do much of the work myself. Each film has its own possible journey. And there are other ways than just the traditional movie paths.
If festivals do not want to screen our films then we screen them. We bought a projector and a screen and do our own screenings instead. It has gone very well. He Thinks he's the Best, for example, a film that no one believed in and several film distributors in Sweden refused, we have independently screened at 60 cinemas around Sweden. And that film did not get a chance to pitch at a single forum, although we really tried, and it has now won six major awards, including the Prix Italia for Best Documentary in 2012, Special Commendation at Prix Europa, etc ... It is not certain that one's idea or movie is bad just because the industry declines to accept it. I've really learned that. We have the right to own our own productions and do what we want. We as producers and directors need to realize that we are the film's best ambassadors, and when I realized that I have the right to screen my movies myself, everything became a lot more fun. My company is at the moment working a lot on expanding the network, with individual theater owners and others who want to work with us. We do events surrounding the films. Tailor its own distribution for each film and look for those who want to screen the film together with us. My big challenge is to find an economy for this ... And if we find no economy then we find a way to do it anyway.
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